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Ten Big Myths About Prostitution

Deconstructing the deception of the sex industry

The true profiteers of prostitution are pimps, traffickers, and other predatory stakeholders. As such, the commercial sex industry has devised a clever cover narrative that conceals the deeper truth of what is actually happening to those being sold, preventing the outside world from seeing the injustice. Here are 10 popular myths about prostitution.

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Myth #1: Prostitution is a legitimate form of work.

TRUTH: Research reveals that prostitution is an institutionalized form of violence against women. For example, a study of 854 women in prostitution concluded that 60-75% of them were raped, 70-95% were physically assaulted, and 68% met the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans and victims of state-organized torture.1

Myth #2: Prostitution is a victimless crime.

TRUTH: Women who have worked in prostitution exhibit the same incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) as has been documented in torture survivors. This is as a result of being beaten, hit, kicked in the head, strangled, or having their head slammed into objects.2 (Also, see Myth # 1)

Myth #3: Prostitution is a choice.

TRUTH: Prostitution is primarily the result of a lack of choice among the most marginalized, vulnerable, and defenseless people in the world. Most women in prostitution are suffering from poverty and are pulled into the industry by their desperate need for money. The sad fact is that almost no one gets out of poverty through prostitution. In fact as legal scholar Catherine Mackinnon put it, “they are lucky to get out with their lives given the mortality figures.”3 No one chooses to be poor when given other options. In addition to the pre-condition of poverty, a prior history of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse is commonplace amongst prostituted women. It is extremely rare to find a person in prostitution who has not suffered from abuse before their time in the sex industry. No one chooses to be abused.4

Myth #4: Prostitution is a form of women’s empowerment.

TRUTH: Prostitution is a system of gender inequality in which men are the buyers and females are the ones being bought, perpetuating a system of male domination and female subordination.

Myth #5: Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession.

TRUTH: Prostitution is the world’s oldest oppression.

Myth #6: Prostitution is different than sex trafficking.

TRUTH: Sex trafficking simply describes one way people are brought into prostitution.

Myth #7: Legal prostitution provides women with a safer work environment and healthier conditions.

TRUTH: Legal prostitution does not expunge the misogyny in men’s hearts that fuels the violence so common in it, nor do health checks prevent women from contracting STDs or PTSD. For example in the United Kingdom where prostitution is legal, more than half of women in prostitution have been raped and or seriously assaulted, and at least 75% have been physically assaulted at the hands of pimps and johns. The legal status of prostitution does not change the violence inherent in it.5

Myth #8: If prostitution is made illegal it will go underground.

TRUTH: Prostitution requires visibility for men to gain access to the women. If the sex buyers can easily find them, the police can as well. Furthermore, prostitution has never operated “above board” or “above ground.” It has always been, and always will be, run by criminals and those with no regard for the law.

Myth #9: If prostitution is illegal it prevents women from accessing help and services.

TRUTH: Under the “Equality Model” or “Nordic Model” (which solely penalizes the sex buyer) women in prostitution are not criminalized, but are offered programs and services to help them. Under this model there is no cause for fear on the part of prostituted women since they can only benefit from the governmental services. Conversely, in countries like Germany where prostitution is legal and benefits are offered, only a tiny fraction of those in prostitution actually register for the benefits.

Myth #10: Pornography and stripping are not prostitution; they are a form of adult entertainment.

TRUTH: In pornography and stripping sexual acts are coerced for a price. That is, by definition, prostitution. In addition, many women involved in pornography and stripping were themselves coerced into these “jobs” by recruiters using manipulative tactics similar to traffickers.

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Chris Barbalis


  • 1. Farley, Melissa et al. (2003). “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74; and Farley, Melissa. ed. 2003. Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress. Haworth Press, New York.
  • 2. Jacobs, U., & Iacopino, V. (2001). “Torture and its consequences: A challenge to clinical neuropsychology.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 32, 458-464.
  • 3. J. Potterat, D. Brewer, S. Muth, R. Rothenberg, D. Woodhouse, J. Muth, H. Stite, and S. Brody, “Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women,” American Journal of Epidemiology 159:778–785, (2004). Longitudinal study of prostitution in Colorado Springs – sample size: 1,969 people in prostitution from 1967-1999. Longitudinal study of prostitution in Colorado Springs – sample size: 1,969 people in prostitution from 1967-1999. “They identified 117 definite or probable deaths and had sufficient information on 100 to calculate a crude mortality rate (CMR) of 391 per 100,000 (95% confidence interval (CI): 314, 471). In comparison with the general population, the standardized mortality ratio (SMR), adjusted for age and race, was 1.9 (95% CI: 1.5, 2.3).”
  • 4. MacKinnon, C. A. (2011). Trafficking, prostitution, and inequality. HARv. cR-cLL REv., 46, 271.
  • 5. UK Home Office (2004) Solutions and Strategies: Drug Problems and Street Sex Markets: London: UK Government.