Is Prostitution Just Another Job?

Attempts to Make the Oldest Profession Legitimate

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, APRIL 6, 2008 ( The March resignation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer due to revelations regarding his escapades with a prostitute renewed the public debate over the issue of selling sex.

Writing in the opinion pages of the March 13 edition of the Los Angeles Times, Patty Kelly, an anthropology professor at George Washington University, said that prostitution is part of our culture and it should be decriminalized.

From Canada, opinion writer Jeet Heer commented that politicians probably frequented prostitutes with regularity. As well, her March 12 article opined that prostitution would be better off being regarded as just another job and should be legalized.

Prior to the Spitzer scandal, David Aaronovitch, opinion columnist for the London-based Times newspaper, said he saw nothing wrong with paid sex between adults in his Jan. 15 article. British authorities have been debating for some time now possible changes to the laws on prostitution, although any change seems to have been sidelined for the moment.

A number of articles in the English papers were opposed to any legalization. On Jan. 19 the Times reported on a book recently published in France by a person known only as Laura D, who is 19 years old. She paid for her first year of university studies by working as a prostitute and wrote the book to warn others against following her example.

In her book, according to the Times, she describes the unpleasantness of the experience, describing it as financial domination. She also said that even after leaving the activity it is difficult to have a relationship with the opposite sex.

Janice Turner, writing in the Times on Feb. 23, commented that the vast majority of women involved in prostitution wish to escape. She described the legalized brothels in Holland as “magnets for organized crime, drug dealers and traffickers.” Conditions in the legalized centers for prostitution in Nevada are no better, she added, with many women often cruelly treated.

Meanwhile, in Canada’s National Post newspaper March 13, Barbara Kay replied to the Jeet Heer article, saying that prostitution is in no way just like another job. “Prostitutes are doing something that is fundamentally dehumanizing in order to accommodate instincts that in a truly ‘better world,’ would be channeled into more fruitful and dignified relationships,” Kay said.

“Selling your body is not a behavior to take pride in, for as we humans are psychologically constructed, a woman’s sense of self-respect is invariably tied up with her sexual behavior,” she added.


Coincidentally, just as details about Spitzer were coming out, a book was published in Britain examining the issue of government policy and prostitution. In “Prostitution, Politics and Policy” (Routledge-Cavendish), author Roger Matthews sets out his conclusions of 20 years of research and writing about prostitution.

Matthews, professor of criminology at London South Bank University, points out a number of drawbacks with prostitution and its legalization. Some who favor its decriminalization describe prostitution as a victimless crime, he observes. This, he replies, is a very superficial affirmation.

Those involved in prostitution, especially the women who practice it on public streets, are one of the most highly victimized social groups, Matthews argues. Many of the women involved have long histories of abuse and neglect, and a large number are addicted to drugs. Estimates vary, he observes, but studies carried out in various countries put at 50-90% the proportion of street-based prostitutes who have suffered from child abuse or neglect.

As a group they are also more prone to suffer from homelessness, unemployment and poverty. Their vulnerability and low self-esteem often makes many of these young women open to exploitation by those who groom them for prostitution, Matthews adds.

Contrary to those who portray prostitution as a free choice or as a means of liberation for women, Matthews points out that many of the women do it to support a drug habit or to find money for other pressing needs. He also cited research that put at 10-15% the number of those who are coerced by pimps to prostitute themselves.

The media sometimes presents a glamorized view of prostitution, but according to Matthews: “Behind the facade of independence and autonomy there are a large number of disillusioned women, whose sense of self-worth is continually being eroded.” A problem that becomes more acute as the women age and their looks fade.


Legalization, combined with taking it off the street, may appear to solve some of the problems associated with prostitution, but is only an attractive option on the surface, one of the book’s chapters explains.

Matthews looks at the experience of the Australian state of Victoria and finds that the legalization of prostitution has not only led to an explosion in the number of brothels, but also to an increase in illegal prostitution. Work conditions for in many cases have not improved and the number of women trafficked has actually increased. Violence against women, another problem associated with prostitution, has likewise increase with legalization.

The same problems occurred in the Netherlands, Matthews commented, which in recent times has led authorities to close down many legal brothels. Turning to Germany, he said that rather than reducing the scale of street prostitution, legalization has instead encouraged its expansion.

With regard to the claim that regular health checks carried out in legalized establishments would be a positive move, Matthews maintained that this does little to improve matters as checks are not carried out on clients. Health checks, he continued, are of limited value and may even lead to a false sense of security.

Offending dignity

The Church’s teaching on prostitution is clear. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that those involved in providing such services injure their dignity, as they are reduced to being instruments of sexual pleasure. Number 2355 also criticizes those who pay for sex as being guilty of sinning gravely.

In recent times the Church has placed particular emphasis on prostitution being a violation of human dignity. The Second Vatican Council document “Gaudium et Spes” listed a series of offences against life and the integrity of the human person, among them prostitution. Such offences “poison human society,” the council commented (No. 27).

In his encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” Pope John Paul II mentioned the list of offences in “Gaudium et Spes,” placing them in the context of acts that are by their nature “intrinsically evil,” and therefore always seriously wrong (No. 80).

John Paul II returned to the same list in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.” He quoted the offences listed in “Gaudium et Spes” and said that 30 years later “I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church” (No. 3).

Benedict XVI spoke of the problems caused by prostitution in his address Dec. 13 to the new ambassador of Thailand to the Holy See. He referred to the Church’s concern for the “scourge of AIDS, prostitution and the trafficking of women and children, which continue to afflict the countries of the region.”

The Pope lamented the trivialization of sexuality in the media and the problem of the degradation of women and even the abuse of children. Resolving to confront such crimes will lead to a turning point of hope and dignity for all concerned, the Pontiff augured. Sentiments shared by many concerned for the fate of women caught up in prostitution.

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