Given the overall decline of moral standards in our society, it is not surprising that moves to legalise prostitution have become almost irresistible. While most advocates of law reform stop short of saying that prostitution is good, many claim that it is harmless. It is, they say, a “victimless crime”, and therefore should not be subject to legal censure.
But prostitution is far from a “victimless” activity. The damage it causes to the well-being of a society is considerable. Indeed, it undermines social justice in at least four ways.
Firstly, prostitution demeans women by encouraging men to view them as sex objects. It separates sex from love, respect, commitment and relationship. In a brothel, a woman becomes merely a product that possesses the attributes and responses necessary to satisfy a man’s physical urges. If, by frequenting a brothel, a man comes to view one woman as a sex object, what is to stop him from viewing other women likewise? Through prostitution, the dignity of all women is degraded, including that of the prostitute herself.
Secondly, prostitution undermines the institution of marriage by encouraging promiscuity among single men and adultery among married men. A single man who has frequented a brothel will find it difficult to adapt to a normal marriage relationship. (Prostitutes boast, “We will do what your wife or girlfriend won’t do!”)1Apart from that, what young wife would not be emotionally wounded by the knowledge that her husband has slept with a prostitute? For married men, the use of a prostitute constitutes adultery, which is one of the deepest betrayals of love and trust possible between two human beings. Added to the emotional degradation of adultery, the wife may find she is expected to perform in the same raunchy or perverted manner as a prostitute. Worse still, she risks contracting a range of sexually transmitted diseases, some of which are incurable, and others lethal.
Thirdly, prostitution lowers the health of the community by facilitating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Because of the unhygienic nature of their “work”, prostitutes are constantly at risk from a range of diseases, including AIDS, hepatitis B and C, Chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhoea and syphilis. Once infected, prostitutes infect their “clients”, who in turn infect their wives and girlfriends.
Fourthly, prostitution impoverishes the community financially by diverting funds to health and welfare programmes. The cost of regular health checks and treatment of prostitutes is met, at least in part, from public revenue. Men who get infected from prostitutes claim on Medicare, as do the spouses they infect. When a marriage breaks up because a husband commits adultery with a prostitute, the community pays for the divorce, along with any welfare benefits needed by the broken family.
Prostitution contributes to social injustice, to say nothing of personal immorality. Far from being a “victimless” crime, it harms the whole community.
Prostitutes as victims
Attempts are often made to portray prostitutes as the victims of abuse or poverty. In contemporary thinking, to confer victim status is to exonerate from blame.
Women choose to become prostitutes, we are told, because of “a background of childhood poverty, violence and incest and the resulting low self-esteem.” While there may be some truth in such a claim, how does it support the cause of law reform? Are we to believe that if a woman comes from an oppressed background she will benefit by entering an oppressive occupation? Are we to credit that if she suffers from low self-esteem she cannot be harmed by an occupation which affords her no self-esteem? Are we to think that if she has been degraded by relatives the law should permit her to be degraded by strangers?
No doubt some prostitutes come from emotionally and/or economically deprived backgrounds. It does not follow from this, however, that such disadvantages either compel women to become prostitutes or excuse women who do. Several million people in Australia—many single mothers among them—cope on low incomes without resorting to prostitution. It is an insult to these people to assert or to imply that there is a necessary or inevitable connection between poverty and prostitution.
The issue is not whether we concede that some prostitutes come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The pertinent questions are these: Is prostitution morally wrong? Is it socially harmful? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then we must oppose attempts to liberalise prostitution laws.
The main reason women in Australia take up prostitution is money. When it comes to economics, prostitutes are not so much exploited as exploiters. For while it is true that men use prostitutes, it is equally true that prostitutes use men.
The American name for a prostitute—“hooker”—is highly descriptive in this regard. A prostitute is a woman who catches men with sex as an angler catches fish with a baited hook. She has no concern for the individual she has hooked, or the wife he may be betraying, or the family he may be breaking. Her only concern is to use him for financial gain.
In certain respects prostitutes are victims, but in other respects they are victimisers.
“Clients” as villains
One way to advance the notion that prostitutes are victims is to present their “clients” as villains. Of course, any move to vilify prostitute-users ought to be welcomed. Men who use prostitutes are guilty of personal immorality and social irresponsibility. They should be utterly condemned for their depravity.
However, condemning the client should not lead to exonerating the prostitute. A prostitute is not virtuous because her client is craven. To blame a man for being lustful does not excuse a woman for being loose. Both, in their own ways, are guilty. Both should be condemned.
Supply and demand
Another argument used to deflect criticism from prostitutes is that prostitution exists only because men want it. Without the demand, it is claimed, there would be no prostitution.
Certainly, demand affects supply. There can be no doubt that some men are debauched, and go out of their way to hire women for sex. But it can also happen the other way around. As every good advertiser knows, a well-marketed supply can create a demand.
Prostitutes are not in the “business” for personal satisfaction. Those who comment publicly about their “profession” usually indicate that they do not like men or the things men do to them. So why are they involved in prostitution? Men are in it for pleasure. But what about women? The answer is that women enter prostitution for money.
Prostitutes want money—big money, quick money, easy money—and to get it they must have clients. The more clients they solicit the more money they make. Hence, they have a vested interest in creating demand.
In many instances, the supply of saleable sex produces a demand for it. The more prostitutes there are and the more respectable and visible they become, the more demand for their services will increase.
If a man passes a brothel each week on his way to the fish-and-chip shop, he will be tempted to use it. This does not mean, of course, that he will inevitably succumb to the temptation, or that he would be excused if he did. But it does mean that he must continually resist a temptation to which he should never be subjected.
The man who is good simply because he does not have the opportunity to be bad has nothing to boast about. And yet he is better (and better off) than the man who does what is bad. Some men do not use prostitutes because they are not readily available. This is not praiseworthy, but it is preferable to debauchery. If brothels are legalised and consequently become both more numerous and less odious, some men who would not otherwise have done so will begin to purchase sex.
When it comes to sex, men are the weaker sex. Their desire is easily inflamed and their self-control is easily subverted. Society and governments should be mindful of this weakness, and should not allow pimps, madams and prostitutes to exploit it. It is a grave evil to do anything to cause anyone to stumble. “Woe to the man [the woman, the government] by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7).
Men at risk
Sexual desire, especially for men, has considerable and continual power. Even men with high moral standards—including Christian men—may be adversely affected by the proliferation of prostitution.
One Christian man has given an account that illustrates how easily men can be seduced by a prostitute. Writing with deep regret and without self-justification, this man recounted that he was asleep in a hotel when he was woken early in the morning by a knock on the door. He continues:
I opened it cautiously to find an attractive blonde who spoke in a gentle but tantalising tone. She told me her name which I immediately forgot and asked if she could come in.
It was obvious why she was here and I had a few seconds to consider an offer from her I could refuse. To my own amazement I invited her in, still considering a path of action.
She sensed my hesitancy and as we sat on the bed together she caressed me and in her gentle, inviting tone reiterated her proposition. With my mind still considering a course of action, but with my senses and emotions stirred, I finally agreed to her tempting business proposition.
We negotiated a price and as if in a virtual state of oblivion to my situation I collected my purchase. A purchase which was to haunt and follow me for many months.2
This account should alert us to three truths concerning prostitution. Firstly, the prostitute is not always a passive “victim” but rather is often an active predator. Second, the mere supply of prostitution influences the demand for the “service”. Thirdly, even men with high moral standards may fall prey to prostitution.
Women at risk
But it is not only men who are at risk. Lenient attitudes and laws on prostitution place temptation in the way of women, too. Advertisements in the personal employment columns of daily newspapers constantly entice young women to enter prostitution. “Great money to be made,” says one. “Suit any girls on holidays or in need of fast money,” says another. “Earn more than anywhere else,” says another. “Earn up to $800 per shift,” says yet another.3Madams and pimps do not place these advertisements in vain. They offer young women money that cannot be matched by any other “profession”.
At $800 per shift, a young woman could earn $4,000 for a five-day week—or over $200,000 per year. And she could earn it without any skills or qualifications. If she studied six years without pay at university to become a doctor, she would be unlikely to earn half that amount in her seventh year.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that some women succumb to the temptation of prostitution, with its promise of “great” and “fast” money. And even more women will fall to this temptation if prostitution is legalised. When the Western Australian government proposed to legalise prostitution in 1987, for example, Perth brothels and escort agencies reported a marked increase in the number of women enquiring about “work”. “One brothel had six women applying for work on one morning”, which was “more than it would usually receive in two weeks.”4
Who are these young women who yield to the lure of prostitution? Each one is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. Why not yours, mine?
We become offended when it is suggested that our daughters (or sisters) could be lured into prostitution. Why? It is because we know that prostitution is a vile, disgusting business—and we cannot bear to think of our daughters being involved in it in any way. We cannot bear to think of them being degraded by scores of depraved men.
Given that we feel this way about our own daughters, shouldn’t we experience a similar outrage at the thought of other people’s daughters being degraded by prostitution? If prostitution is vile for our daughters, isn’t it also vile for our neighbours’ daughters?
And given that someone’s daughter is lured into prostitution every day, can we be entirely confident that our daughters will not be lured? Again, this is an offensive notion. Our daughters are decent girls. Precisely! And so, too, were once all the girls who are now prostitutes! No girl is born a prostitute. If our neighbour’s daughter, who was once an innocent girl, could be enticed into prostitution, why couldn’t our own daughters be similarly enticed?
Prostitution will become increasingly attractive to young women as it becomes increasingly approved. If society excuses the behaviour of prostitutes, pretending that they provide “a necessary and harmless service”, and if society sanitises prostitutes themselves, pretending that they are merely “working girls” in “the world’s oldest profession”, then why should young women shy away from this “profession” when making their career choices? In short, if young women get the impression that to be a prostitute is really not so bad, then why should they pass up $200,000 a year in a brothel for $20,000 a year in a supermarket?
Law reform arguments
Legalising and accepting prostitution puts young women at risk. Yet advocates of law reform seem unconcerned about this. Rather, they fret about the risk to police if prostitution laws are not repealed. Police could be corrupted by having to enforce the law, they claim.
There is a potential for police corruption, of course. However, the same could be said of other laws that police have to enforce, such as those governing drug trafficking. Should governments legalise narcotic drugs because police could be “bought off” by dealers? The potential for police corruption is an argument for caution, not legalisation.
Some people argue that prostitution laws should be repealed because they are not enforced. However, governments could resolve this problem by the simple measure of instructing police to compel compliance. Governments could further help by strengthening the law, so that penalties are more severe and definitions are more precise. Small fines need to be replaced by hefty fines, and definitions need to be broadened to include “massage parlours” and “escort agencies”. Governments should strengthened legislation against prostitution, then direct police to abandon containment policies and implement suppression policies.
It should be noted, however, that laws against prostitution are valuable simply because they exist. While it is preferable for laws to be enforced, the prosecution and punishment of criminals is not their only function. Laws educate citizens concerning minimum standards of acceptable behaviour. In this way they help to prevent a further decline in standards. Un-enforced laws also create an air of uncertainty for those who break them: law-breakers must keep on guessing about just how far they can go, and so they can never be quite as brazen as they might like to be. In some respects, therefore, laws do not have to be enforced to have some beneficial effect. They merely have to exist.
Some advocates of law reform argue that it is hypocritical to prosecute the prostitute but not the prostitute-user. This argument is entirely correct. The solution, however, is not to decriminalise the prostitute’s activities, but to criminalise the client’s. Let the law condemn the man who buys sex along with the woman who sells it!
Some people claim that legalising prostitution will allow governments to control it more effectively. Politicians who try to sell law reform legislation say things like, “We are not condoning prostitution. We are tightening up. All those brothels working outside the proposed new legislation will face severe penalties.” Why should anyone believe assurances like these? If madams and prostitutes flout the existing law, why would they feel obliged to abide by new laws? And if the police are lenient on brothels when the law is strict, why would they become strict on brothels once the law is lenient?
Some who support law reform claim that legalising prostitution will help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, because new laws will mandate weekly medical checks for prostitutes. But weekly health checks, even if rigorously enforced, will not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The symptoms of some diseases are not discernable within a week. But more importantly, a prostitute could become infected immediately after her medical examination, by the very first client she services after leaving her examining doctor, and then go on to infect every man who uses her for a full week before her next check-up uncovers her infectiousness. Unless every prostitute is examined immediately after every sexual encounter, and unless such examinations can accurately detect every sexually transmitted disease, there is no foolproof way to prevent the spread of disease through prostitution.
Arguments for prostitution law reform are flawed, and should not sway right-thinking people.
Prostitution subverts personal goodness and social justice. It involves private immorality and public irresponsibility. It causes individual and collective harm.
Rather than enjoy legal status and social acceptance, prostitution ought to be outlawed by any society that aspires to protect its citizens from the ravages of greed and lust.
1.Advertisement, personal columns, The West Australian, 19 August 1998, p.101.
2.“The Warsaw Proposition”, On Being, April 1986, p.50.
3.The West Australian, 19 August 1998, p.100.
4.“Girls clamour to join brothels”, Western Mail, 9 October 1987, p.1.
First published by Life Ministries under the title “Prostitution” in 1988. Reprinted in 1988. Revised & reprinted in 1998. Reprinted in 2007.
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown, 2007
Prostitution and rape
by Andrew Lansdown
An elderly Christian woman once berated me after I had given a lecture on the biblical view of prostitution. She said that I was wrong tooppose prostitution because it helped to keep “ordinary women” safe by catering to men’s urges. She was adamant that rape would increase if prostitution were suppressed.
Even if this woman’s claim that prostitution prevents rape were correct, how would it oblige us to support prostitution? There is nothing moral or noble about sacrificing some women to prostitution so that some other women might be spared rape.
However, we need not even be tempted to make the sacrifice, because there is no evidence that prostitution safeguards decent women from lustful men. Quite the reverse, in fact, as the rape and murder of a woman in Perth some time ago continues to make clear.
On a Christmas Eve, Gregory Maddison attacked his 45-year-old neighbour, Kathleen Groves. He entered her home by trickery, raped her twice, then mutilated her until she died.
Yet Gregory was a frequent customer of a nearby brothel. In fact, he used to cut across Kathleen’s property on his way to the brothel. So it wasn’t as if he were denied a sexual outlet.
In sentencing Gregory in October this year to 22 years behind bars, the judge said that “when the brothel was unable to satisfy his desire for sexual experimentation, he targeted a vulnerable woman who could not fight back.”1
Here we see the heart of the problem. Far from making Gregory safe for women in general, the brothel made him dangerous. The prostitutes did not satisfy him—they simultaneously jaded and inflamed him. They ensured that he viewed sex separately from love and morality. They dulled his desire for normal sexual activity. They led him on the path of sexual experimentation. And when he went down that path further than they liked, they left him to find someone like Kathleen.
By the way, Gregory was not some “dirty old man”. He was only a youth when he became habituated to the use of prostitutes, and he was barely eighteen when he committed his crime.
And no doubt his youthful addiction to prostitution came about, in part at least, because there was a brothel close to his house. Almost too enticing to refuse: across the road, women eager to please!
It is a sobering thought: Quite probably, but for that brothel, Gregory would not have become debauched. And but for that debauchery, Kathleen would not have died.
So much for the notion that prostitutes save “ordinary women” from rape! Such a notion is not just naïve and unbiblical: It is positively dangerous!
The West Australian, 1 November 2000, pp. 1 & 6.
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown 2007