Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Five Truths About Prostitution

Sudhir Venkatesh is wrong about prostitution. In his recent Washington Post column, “Five myths about prostitution,” he presents a set of skewed and harmful untruths. Here are some real truths here in Chicago and, almost certainly, across the country:

1. Venkatesh says that many men who pay for sex end up “just talking” to prostituted women instead of requiring them to perform a sex act. This is false. Of the 113 men interviewed in a CAASE study about the demand for prostitution, 100% of the men who self-identified as buying sex were purchasing a sex act. Of those interviewed, 53% purchased sex as frequently as once a month to several times a week.

2. He claims that prostitutes are motivated by money and are not coerced or abused. His examples of “high-end” and well-educated women in prostitution are misleading. In “Sisters Speak Out: The Lives and Needs of Prostituted Women in Chicago,” more than 60% of prostituted women reported domestic violence in their household and 21.4% of women in escort services being raped more than 10 times.

3. The relationship between women who are prostituted and the police is not nearly as rosy as Venkatesh asserts. Of all the prostitution-related arrests in Chicago over the course of a year, approximately two thirds of arrests are people who are being prostituted while only one third are customers. Less than one percent of arrests are of pimps and traffickers.

4. Until Craigslist closed its U.S. adult services section last week, there were hundreds of local postings in Chicago every single day. Most were extremely graphic and dehumanizing. These listings continue to be posted on Craigslist’s international websites.

5. More must be done to show our culture the harms of prostitution and the ways to end sexual exploitation.
What can you do?

1. Share this link with 5 people you know, and leave us a comment on this blog post.
2. Sign up for our newsletter! Send an email to Kristin “at” caase.org with the subject line “newsletter” to learn more about our events.
3. Read and take action with one of these 100 meaningful ways you can demand change.

-Kristin Claes is Communications Manager for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.


  1. Thanks for the great links to CAASE resources to back up these points. Interesting post!

  2. Thanks for sharing a link to the study "Sisters Speak Out: The Lives and Needs of Prostituted Women in Chicago."

    I couldn't believe "Eighty-seven percent of early starters had someone suggest that they engage in prostitution while they were growing up." Early-starters being 12-15 year old girls who enter prostitution. That is something I was not expecting. :-(

  3. As for the relationship between police and prostituted women being rosy, i can tell you from past experience that is not always the case, maybe there should be a study on the way the police speak to us and treat us on arrest..

    I recall one incident when the police followed me and a punter to a far out woods at 2am in the morning. When we reached the destination they approached the car and asked the man what he was doing, suggested he should have more sense that to picky up "something like that(me) " and told me to get out of the car...they suggested that the punter get home where he is safe, and then watched him drive away, i assumed at that point that I was to be arrested and taken to the station, but instead one smirked at me and said i would give you a lift back but we just cleaned the car...you are lucky you are not getting arrested and drove off leaving me in the middle of nowhere alone to make my own way back over a mile to my local area.

    How rosy is that !!!

    Great article though some interesting facts

  4. Thanks for this.

    I am so sick of such a rosy picture of indoors prostitution.
    It is utter rubbish that johns just want to talk, they more than likely want not just sex - but having the privacy of being behind closed doors, to doing any sadistic sex act their minds can imagine.

    I did indoors prostitution for a long time, from aged 14 to 27, and in that I was moved many aspects of the sex trade.
    I found the more money that johns, the more they could pay for complete privacy and time.

    This meant they could buy for a long a period as their money lasted - and had full permission to be as sadistic as their porn fantasy would let them.

    Indoors prostitution is highly dangerous.

  5. In the 6+ years I spent in the business I was only paid once for just talking (it would have been twice but the second time I didn't accept money for it). I did on numerous occasions get paid for multiple hours, of which only 20-30 minutes involved sex and the rest of the time was spent talking or enjoying a meal together. And it was certainly a quality of mine men sought me out for; I'm no great beauty, but I've had a decent education and I can hold up my end of a conversation.

    I also saw several men who were of an age where they could no longer "perform" as it were, who were happy just to have a younger, naked body beside them. But for the most part, the number one reason why men (and occasionally women, too) came to see me was for the sex. Though I feel bad for all the women whose experience in the sex trade was terrible, I –for the most part- enjoyed being a sex worker. Most of my clients were good people and I’m still friends with a few of them (one is now my husband, and he’s the kindest, most generous man a woman could hope for). No matter how many times I say it, though, I’m afraid it will fall on deaf ears on your end.

    The saddest part of what you’re doing is that you dissuade the good men from paying for sexual services and not the bad. By cutting back the demand you’re taking away the freedom of sex workers to pick and choose their clients. When money is tight and business is slow, sex workers will make compromises, boundaries will be crossed and gut feelings will be ignored.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone, really insightful and interesting. We want you to know that we value the perspectives of all women impacted by the commercial sex trade.

    Beautiful Warrior—how scary that must have been. So glad that you are safe.

    Rmott62: You make an excellent point—Johns with more money aren’t necessarily classier or nicer, they just have more power. Being indoors seems to compound that. Thanks for sharing.

    Fkiss—Thanks for your perspective. CAASE’s position is to support and advocate for public policy that will reduce or eliminate violence faced by the majority of prostituted people who, sadly, never benefit from the luxury of choosing the people who buy sex.