Whores Are My Heroes: A plea for the decriminalization of prostitution.
This was originally a persuasive speech for a class
(Node your homework)
I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded and responsible woman when it comes to my sexuality, and I’ll even admit that I’m a bit of a pervert, in a good way. Needless to say, one of my favorite topics to research and talk about is sex. Many of you have expressed the belief that an individual should be allowed to live and let live, and be afforded basic human rights despite their sexual preferences. You may have also heard about my role in the sex industry as a phone sex operator -- which is actually a big challenge for even me to enjoy on a regular basis because of how much attention and energy I’m required to employ as an both an actress and a seductress. Of course, in my future career as a Sex Therapist and widely acclaimed public speaker, I’ll usually have the upper hand.
However, there is one category of sex workers that are not afforded the same legal freedoms and protections that I am, and they are the ones who need it the most and work the hardest – prostitutes. It is time to cut loose from the Victorian ideals that still have a hold on our sexuality. There are people at risk, and by keeping prostitution illegal we are also preventing these women and men from making legitimate contributions to society. As a small step forward in the battle for their basic human rights, I’d like to rally your support for the decriminalization of prostitution.
There are three main reasons prostitution needs to be decriminalized. First, you may have heard the claim that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession – why isn’t it treated as such? Earlier I used the terms “sex workers” and “sex industry.” People involved in this business sell services related to sexual fantasy and reality. The industry already legally includes phone sex operators, strippers, retail workers at your local vibrator store, and, if you think about it, aren’t porn stars in essence performing the same acts that occur in prostitution? They do have sex for money after all. If you ask the people involved, sex work is just that – work, a job, and even a career for some.
Adult film actress Nina Hartley says it best: “My bad days at work don’t have that much to do with the fact that I’m making a sex film. Some days I do have a sore back or my feet hurt or I’m just in a bad mood. It’s no big deal. Work is work: you have good days and bad days, but my worst day at work is still better than the best day selling shoes at Kinney’s.”
San Francisco sex worker Carol Queen describes prostitution like this: “It’s like the person going to the massage therapist; you’re paying to be touched without having to worry about intimacy, reciprocity, and long-term consequences…Same thing with seeing a psychotherapist; there you are paying someone to tell your secrets to.” Isn’t that more intimate than sex, I ask you?
The fact of the matter is that we have people among us everyday that will utilize their physical, instinctual, and emotional talents throughout their careers. Actors, Dancers, Models, Teachers, and even nurturing Registered Nurses, like Nina Hartley, and like a woman named Maryann, who worked as a prostitute while maintaining an A average in nursing school. However, every time she went to work Maryann lived with the risk of being jailed for 6 months to 8 years.
On that note, let’s discuss law enforcement. According to statistics cited by the Prostitutes Education Network, only 10% of overall arrests are customers, and a high proportion of prostitutes jailed are women of color, while customers infrequently get jailed. The process itself is a form of entrapment, where police officers pose as customers and attempt to obtain services, sometimes exposing their genitalia or fondling the prostitute. If they are unable to achieve a bust this way, they can arrest the worker for being a public nuisance or loitering instead. In addition, mere possession of a condom can be used as evidence in some states.
It’s no wonder that customers are hardly harassed – a report by the Kinsey Institute stated that 70% of adult men have utilized a prostitute’s services at least once, and these are men from all classes and races. Clearly there are double standards placing the sole blame on prostitutes, and we must remember that this is an act between two consenting adults. Last but not least, prostitutes are often victims of physical violence, emotional abuse, and rape – about 60% of which is by clients, 20% domestic partners, and another 20% is perpetrated by police officers.
I should note that according to statistics, some populations don’t show a higher incidence of abuse of prostitutes in comparison to violence against any women. The difference lies in that these women and men are fearful about seeking justice against their abusers -- more often than not the prostitutes would be the ones to end up in jail, not the violent criminals that attacked them. Are you going to sit there and tell me that a human being deserves to live in silence about a violent crime merely because they choose to make money providing sexual services?
So, what do we do about this? There are two plans already in existence from the law of the land: In 1949 the United Nations, representative of most nations in the world, decriminalized prostitution; an astonishing fifty countries ratified this resolution, and many countries complied. In the state of Nevada, prostitution is legal in several counties just outside of Las Vegas. Prostitutes and Brothels both register with the government. Prostitutes pay taxes. Street solicitation is illegal, which I support fully. Most importantly, workers are required to get tested for STD’s on a regular basis.
In addition, a task force was formed to study the effects of prostitution in San Francisco, a city comparable to NYC, my home, in its economic and cultural stature. This committee found that legalizing prostitution would serve to quell a majority of quality-of-life complaints made against the industry.
In no way do I ask your support for participation in this trade by people who are forced into it or are damaged by it. Prostitution is not for everyone, nor is teaching, for that matter. They’re both very emotionally demanding jobs. For those who DO want out, additional social services should be provided, and you’ll see momentarily where we’re going to get the funding for that.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits to society of decriminalization. First, the costs of prostitution remaining a crime are high. The average cost per arrest is around $2000. A law journal article in 1987 cited New York City spending 23 million dollars combatting prostitution; with inflation that’s over $36 million dollars today. And to reiterate an important point made earlier in the case of Nevada, legal prostitutes pay taxes.
Now, people say I’m a bit of an optimist at times, perhaps even a bit of an idealist, but let’s also look at the situation in terms of the jobs that would be created. Well, “I’d rather work at McDonald’s than have to do that,” you might be thinking right now. For $100 an hour, I personally know many women that would be quite comfortable going the extra mile if prostitution were a viable option. Frankly, I know I would.
In fact according to the Prostitute’s Education Network, a 1986 study found that call girls and brothel workers gained self-esteem on the job -- Working a corporate job didn’t do that for me. The trouble comes when you have to keep your profession a secret, sometimes even from your best friend.
Next, I’d like to dispel a major myth about prostitution that will in fact, show you how prostitutes really are assets to any society. While some prostitutes have reclaimed the term “whore,” the U.S. Department of Health statistics show they’re not “dirty whores,” contrary to popular belief. I was surprised at the numbers myself! Prostitutes account for only 3-5% of the sexually transmitted diseases in this nation, whereas, teens, account for 30-35%! Why? Because prostitutes generally are responsible about their sexuality, use condoms properly, and learn what symptoms to look for that could indicate disease. In fact, studies of women in the Nevada brothels show a condom breakage rate that’s virtually nil. The actual failure rate for ordinary users can be up to 10-14%. Consequently, men that visit prostitutes could actually learn how to practice safer sex.
While you don’t have to raise a prostitute to the level of a hero, all I’m asking for you to do is judge the basic facts of this situation that I have presented to you, and join me in supporting the decriminalization of prostitution so that our voices can be united in demanding basic human rights for these workers. Also, I encourage you to solicit the opinion of friends and lovers on this topic. I firmly believe that open, honest, and shameless communication about sexuality, along with academic research, is vital to making an informed decision when judging moral issues relating to sex. Besides, talking about sex is a fun way to perk up a dull party. Prostitutes have been known to do that sometimes, too. :)
(As a final note, I encourage you to adopt the basic values of “honesty, equality, and responsibility” when it comes to both your own sexuality, and again, in judging what works for others. Thank You. )
- San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution Final Report 1996. November 20, 2003. http://bayswan.org/SFTFP.html
- Model Legislation for Decriminalization of Prostitution (South Australia). November 20, 2003. http://bayswan.org/decrim.html
- Chapkis, Wendy. Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor. New York, NY: Routledge, 1997.
- Maglin, Nan Bauer and Donna Perry, eds. “Bad Girls”/”Good Girls”: Women, Sex, and Power in the Nineties. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
- Pearl, Julie. The Highest Paying Customers: Americas Cities and The Cost of Prostitution Control. Hastings Law Journal, April 1987: 769-800.
- Prostitution in The United States – The Statistics. November 20, 2003. http://www.bayswan.org/stats.html
- Reiss, Ira. Solving America’s Sexual Crises. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997.
clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap;
(visualizing myself completing the speech successfully to accolades from my classmates)