Not Even Close: Efforts to Fight Violence Against Women are Missing the Target


Domestic policies for prostitution perpetuate violence against women. Unless we are willing to address the root cause of society’s acceptance of violence against women, efforts to decrease it will continue to be done in vain.           

According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), prostitution is an epidemic. Reports from the DOJ indicate that the average age of entry for prostitution is 12 years. Again, let me repeat that due to absolute absurdity, the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12 years young. Young girls, much like the women who enter prostitution come from broken families, live in poverty and are vulnerable to exploitation for many of the same reasons. They tend to be runaways from both families and the juvenile justice system or are ‘throwaways’ where parents have kicked their children out of their homes and into the streets. More than 90% of prostitutes have been beaten, sexually assaulted by a family member and/or emotionally abused before entrance. Aside from abusive situations, entrance into prostitution puts young girls and women at a higher risk of violence. A Kaiser Family Foundation supported study reported that 78% of prostitutes were threatened with a weapon in the past 6 months, 82% were physically assaulted and 82% reported being raped. Seventy-three percent of women reported being raped more than five times in the past 6 months. This is violence against women.

Intertwined with the dangers of abusive pimps, coercion into prostitution, rape, beatings, stabbings, untreated STIs and drug use, on top of environmental hazards, prostitution is inherently dangerous. A Canadian report found that mortality amongst prostitutes was 40 times higher than that of the national average. If any other cohort of our population showed such an increased risk of mortality, our nation’s leaders would be dedicated towards decreasing this number, and fast. Unfortunately, this population of young and abused women is not only vulnerable, but they are also more or less invisible from policy and laws that would help protect them. Policies protecting prostitutes can help lead towards an end to the root of violence against women in our society.

Policies protecting women and young girls from being subjected to crimes against their bodies are undeniably absent. Our nation has done little to standardize procedures within police departments in order to make prostitutes feel safe in reporting beatings, rapes, being pimped and other bad experiences due to their jobs. Unfortunately, the legal and judicial forces that are in place to keep prostitutes from harm often stigmatize them. Prostitutes are further victimized when they report abuse to police and have reportedly been mocked. Abuse against them seems to have been justified due to their ‘occupation.’  Another barrier to reporting abuses is the fear of reporting an illegal activity such as prostitution. When reporting, women and young girls can be prosecuted for admitting their involvement in illegal activity even if they are only reporting crimes against themselves. Due to the absence of policies protecting all citizens equally, crimes against prostitutes go severely underreported. This not only leaves women and young girls vulnerable to repeated trauma, but more alarmingly, allows men to get away with their acts of violence against women.

For men who are caught soliciting prostitutes, which need I remind you are often young girls under the age of lawful consent, they get off fairly easily by merely following policies and ‘programs’ to help men rehabilitate. A program started in California in 1995 and has since spread to major cities throughout the nation, allows an offending man to take a class that has been compared to Stop Class. As long as it is a first offense, men are able to participate in a daylong training class and leave with a six-month probationary period. If they are not caught soliciting within those 6 months the offense does not go on their record. Ironically prostitutes, even the youngest who get caught do not get such an easy route. Larger cities have begun allowing girls to receive counseling and rehabilitative help through local nonprofits, but girls and women still go on trial and have criminal records opened against them. This hypocrisy allows society to continue treating men as victims of passion and lust and permits the real victims to be violated in another form instead of confronting the true crime, society’s silent consent to the continuation of violence against women.

Even more shocking and appalling is the fact that rehabilitative programs allow and assist men who were involved with underage girls, which in itself against the law. In any other situation, these men would be tried as sex offenders and be forced to register with the national registry. However, only because their actions were against a prostitute this crime will not follow and haunt them (as long as they are not caught soliciting again within the six-month probationary period). With this program, men who prowl streets soliciting young girls for sexual acts are simply allowed a ‘free pass’ if caught. This allows men the ability to continue their acts without a criminal record and without the stigma that is imposed and warranted. Sex with any minor girl is a violation of her innocence, regardless of her personal situation. Violence against women is not being curbed through current policies that further victimize the victims while justifying innocence for the perpetrators.

Further victimizing prostitutes are the new policies targeted to curb prostitution. These policies actually cause increase arrests of prostitutes if they are in possession of sexual paraphernalia such as condoms. The primary mode of protecting against long-term effects of sexual contact is now a crime for those who are most at risk.  These policies support society’s view that it is okay to demean and treat this population differently. Such policies provide proof that society does not believe that this particular population has the right to protect themselves. This is simply criminal, inhumane and unjust.

Breaking the cycle of violence against women requires society to help those forced into prostitution.  It begs policy makers to start addressing the root problem. Prostitution is not a voluntarily chosen ‘occupation’ for many who are found on the streets. With the increased risks of violence and dangers to health, it is a shame we have not worked more diligently to reduce the harm and stigma faced by the victims. Embarrassingly, our nation does more to help those who perpetrate against young girls and women in the name of prostitution then it does to protect them. Allowing this injustice in any part our society allows for a silent acceptance of the system. With no current policies that draw boundaries or set parameters on what is acceptable and what is not, the silent acceptance of violence towards prostitutes grows deeper. Developing clear policies to protect prostitutes is an important first step in the real fight to stop violence against women.


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  • prerucha

    Isn’t it insane that because a girl is a “prostitute” she isn’t considered a child who needs protection under the laws that already exist?   Wouldn’t that mean she needs more protection, help, care….?  A guy who does violence against children, teenagers and other prostitutes is still a sick man.   Why DO we protect them?  Quite a wake up article.

  • ndreisbach

    Thanks so much for your post! Reading your post reminded me of some research former colleagues of mine conducted. They found that in one large US city, 56% of all unsolved female homicides were of women who had a history of sex work. That study was conducted 7 years ago and I’ve never forgotten that statistic!! After the report came out, part of the talk throughout the city was that such crimes were not taken seriously by police and were pushed to the bottom of the “to-do” list. Luckily these colleagues were part of the women’s death review team and were trying to use such data to shine a light on this terrible situation.

  • mollyrose

    Thank you so much for your post and for shedding light on the fact that violence against women permeates every facet of society and is not just a women’s issue, but a fundamental human rights issue.  Violence against women does not discriminate based on age, race, or social class and we have the duty to protect the rights of every woman and to pay special care to those who are most vulnerable, including children and sex workers.  What struck me most about your post was the fact that our nation does more to protect those who perpetrate violence against girls and women in the name of prostitution than it does to protect them.  This is yet another example of the lack of value and worth we attribute to those who’s life circumstances do not provide them with either the options or the support to escape terrible conditions. Thank you for the wake-up call. 

  • freshtamohammad

    Thank you for you post. I am ashamed to say that I was not aware of such devastating problem in our society. The thing that shocked me the most about your post was the California program for men offenders. A one-day class and six months of probation is absolutely ridiculous.

  • simershein

    Thank you for bringing attention to this important breech of trust.  Young girls should not be victimized by the system but protected.  Instead the ‘johns’ are protected from prosecution by their ‘rehabilitation.’ They only get into trouble if they get caught! Even then – the girls are not protected from the system whether their ‘working’ or ‘caught.’

    and it’s happening here at home not just in other countries…



  • pnayak87

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I learned a lot of information on a side of women’s health that isn’t talked about as much. Gender violence and prostitution needs to be on the table and policies regarding these issues must be addressed. While I tried to think of some reasonable policies, I was stumped between developing a policy that targets the supply side (prostitutes) or the demand side. I am leaning towards the demand side – if there is not demand, the supply will have to reduce and eventually be eliminated. But there is something said for educating the supply side and advocating for them to earn through other means. Any other thoughts? Does anyone else know of policies (or programs) that have worked?

  • crowepps

    If an adult man gets arrested, put in jail and ends up on the sex offender list as a predator for having consensual sex with a mature looking 15-year old he meets at the mall, it seems reasonable to me that exactly the same thing should happen when the 15-year old is a prostitute.

  • krerucha

    While I was doing research for this I had started with the opinion that legalization of prostitution was the first (hard fought battle) step. Legalizing helps provide access to family planning services as well as contraception and more ownership of their own situations where they can decide who and have a say in where they will be at. This can decrease many of the dangers that are inherent. Nevada has been a great place for researchers to watch how the atmosphere changes once prostitution is legalized, however as I researched further there is actually a large push from public health that this is not really the answer. The reasons they stated were because that pushes those who are victims of sex trafficking into further danger and does little to stop the actual abuses.

    I am not sure how I’d frame policy.  it would depend on which part of the population you want to work with – towards prevention or on helping those who are victims of. I really think at least equalizing the consequences would be a start though, quite frankly it is a double standard that I think is disgusting. 

  • cristenbates

    I am absolutely disgusted at the gross inequalities faced by these invisible women. They are children! They are being brutalized daily and stigma prevents them from basic protections that should be afforded to all citizens.

    I definitely agree that serious prosecution of johns should be at the forefront of true reform. K, you definitely highlighted the central cultural issue blocking this, the “boys will be boys” attitude that men are unable to control their sexual urges.

    But let’s go back to the beginning of this article. Who are these women? They are survivors of violence and abuse before they even begin or are forced into prostitution. Is it possible that domestic violence prevention could decrease the number of girls entering sex work?

    Another social issue that encourages this behavior is the combination of objectification of women’s bodies and a minimum wage that forces people into poverty. A woman without an education knows that she always has one thing she could sell. Her body is advertised on every billboard and the media never stops supporting a culture where men will go to any length to get her “commodity”.

    So, I think a policy should be framed as a comprehensive package, with elements of domestic violence and rape prevention, poverty alleviation, and cultural progress. However, The Eliminate Violence, Poverty, and Sexism Bill might be hard to write…

    So if we move away from prevention, we could talk about some true rehabilitation. Hard time and sex offender status for johns and counselors availible for all women arrested or picked up for involvement in prostitution. Better yet, fine the men as well. The money can go toward drug abuse counseling, shelters for girls on the streets, and organizations that investigate human trafficking. And if men indeed cannot help themselves, these programs will be protecting women all around the world in no time.

  • ack

    Considering that an absence of a diversion program wouldn’t result in jail time, I think it’s a huge step in the right direction. A day of confronting why you felt entitled to pay to rape a child, or have “consensual” sex with an adult, is a heck of a lot better than six months of probation and no intervention.

  • ack

    The issue of domestic sex trafficking of minors is incredibly complicated. When a prostituted child is found, police don’t have a whole lot of options. They can send them back to a potentially abusive household, keep them in custody if there are charges, or let them go. Most vice cops know that when they send her back home, she’ll be gone in a few days.


    I think the part that people are particularly reluctant to confront is that sex trafficking and domestic violence are inherently linked. In the same way that we don’t want to consider that a woman could love or feel emotionally connected to an abusive husband, we don’t want to consider that a prostituted girl or woman could love or feel emotionally connected to her pimp. Or the other girls she works with. The tactics used by abusers and pimps are the same: patterned force, fraud, coercion, and isolation that locks people into relationships and situations.


    And with teens: how can we possibly expect a 14 year old who’s been working the streets for two years to just go back to middle or high school? When we live in a culture that shames sex in general, and those girls potentially go to schools where sex education consists of disparaging people who have sex before marriage, what exactly do we expect them to do? Add violence and money and the situation looks even more hopeless.