Comments, Globe, Human Rights, In Focus, Politics, World

Prostitution, abuse and human rights

Prostitution is often reduced as an issue of sex labour or it is associated to sexual freedom. However, a broader approach illuminates that prostitution is the result of violence against women.


  Mabel Encinas


‘Sex work’ is defined as an exchange of sexual services for remuneration. Such an exchange is commonly assumed to be negotiated by adults, who choose to participate as providers or clients in the ‘sex industry’.

The issue of the freedom to choose can be questioned in many ways. Also, if prostitution is seen only as work, as ‘sex work’, some facts can delineate the spiteful conditions in which such a work is undertaken. What is the shape of prostitution? First of all, a great majority of sex workers are women, while a great majority of pimps are men. The customers, those who pay for sex, are also mostly men.

Child prostitution and a history of early entry into prostitution (among prostitutes), the control and power of pimps over prostitutes, and the fact that many become prostitutes as a result of human trafficking (local, national and international) show that there is not so much of a choie (or sexual freedom) for those that ‘provide services’ in such an ‘industry’.

The greater rape rates of prostitutes than among the total population (perpetrated mostly by both ‘buyers’ of sex and pimps), as well as police ill-treatment, evidence the everyday discrimination and abuse faced by prostitutes.

Prostitutes’ and ex-prostitutes’ testimonies make evident that they are perceived and treated as things.

Being abused, prostitutes often see the other side of the coin in men’s behaviour, who elsewhere often behave in quite an adapted way to society.

In many countries, public services are denied to prostitutes. The lack of physical and mental health services, housing, education, and parenting rights, as well as the no recognition of a documented immigration status, add up to the difficulties that this social group face. In brief, prostitution is not about sexual freedom, but about sexual abuse. Sexual work objectifies human beings. The moral issue involved in a strategy to face prostitution does not have to do with questioning sexual freedom, but with questioning the objectification of women (and men) implied in prostitution.

Prostitution is not the world’s oldest profession, but the world’s oldest abuse on human beings.

The moral and practical issue that needs to be faced has to do with empowering prostitutes, so that they have better living conditions and real choices about what they do and what they want to do.

Both, the criminalisation or the decriminalisation of prostitution, which put everybody involved in prostitution in the same boat, has neither changed dramatically the current or potential living conditions of prostitutes, nor has it reduced prostitution.

In both cases, prostitutes continue subordinated to the powerful networks that dominate the sex business.

In order to defend women’s human rights and to build a fairer society, the law needs to be used to transform the power relations in the ‘industry’.

This can only be done by the differentiation of those involved and the acknowledgement of the abuse involved in prostitution. This means the decriminalisation of prostitutes, together with the criminalisation of those who buy sex and those who exercise control on prostitutes. Changing the law, however, is not the only need. We need to change the approach to prostitution. Educating the police force as well as the general population is a most. Offering social support and creating real opportunities and choices for prostitutes in terms of their present lives and aspirations for the future too.

This has been done in Sweden, for example, as part of the Nordic Model.

We need to face the human rights issues involved in prostitution.

(Photos: Pixabay)



Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *