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