Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Christine Stark: Prostitution, even when legalized, destroys lives


LITTLE FALLS, MINN. - The one point on which I agree with Steve Chapman ("Prostitution: The sex act that's illogically illegal," March 16) is that it is hard to feel sympathy for a hypocrite like Eliot Spitzer. However, the rest of his piece is woefully misinformed.

As a formerly prostituted child and young adult, I disagree that prostitution should be legalized. Prostitution is an industry of sexual exploitation, predominately of women and youth. Prostituted women and youth are raped, beaten and otherwise tortured by pimps and johns. A study in Canada reveals that prostituted women and girls have a 40 percent higher mortality rate than nonprostituted women and girls.

Many of the women lack high-school educations. Many end up with severe physical, mental and emotional disabilities. Another study also reports that prostituted women have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder than war veterans.

Most prostituted women and youth are coerced by poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, and drug and alcohol addictions. The average age of prostitution is 13 in the United States, so a woman has likely been abused for five years when she turns 18 and supposedly chooses to be a whore.

Another study conducted with thousands of prostituted people found that 89 percent of those interviewed wanted to get out of prostitution immediately. This backs up what those of us used in prostitution know from experience: Prostitution is organized rape and battery of women and youth, and the vast majority of those in it want out now.

Studies in countries where prostitution is legal reveal that when prostitution is legalized, international and domestic trafficking increases, child prostitution increases, and the women are actually treated worse because the johns become more violent. What we need are better laws that treat as sexual predators those who use, rape, batter and kill prostituted women and youth.

We also need direct services for prostituted women and youth. They know that men like Spitzer are not an anomaly. Wealthy, powerful men use and sell prostituted women and youth in this country all the time. He just happened to get caught.

Christine Stark is an author and coeditor of "Not for Sale: Feminists Against Prostitution and Pornography."

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