Prostitution as a Market Element and Sexual Violence
Prostitution is universally regarded as one of the oldest professions. Sexual activity in society is riddled with a plethora of taboos, stigmas, and stereotypes even when practiced by consenting adults. In such a scenario, sexual activity as a part of the money-driven market becomes layered with various opinions, interpretations, and consequences. It is not new information that the majority of sex workers are women, transgenders, and children regardless of their gender. The inherent differences in the relations between genders have a crucial role in determining whether a sex worker is trading sex out of their own will or due to the visible and invisible forces of society. Dignity in all conditions is a universal fundamental right of all human beings. If the sexual dignity of an individual is being violated by another individual, society, or systemic forces, then the crisis should be dealt with utmost diligence. Often, individuals offering sex in exchange for money face sexual violence, financial insecurity, and threat to life. Rapes occurring in red light areas are not unheard of. However, justice is meted out to perpetrators of sexual violence in red light areas is surely unheard of. The peculiar nature of sex work and the multifarious points of view that arise as a society become more aware of gender disparities make it difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all solution that retains the dignity and agency of sex workers while allowing them to seek justice in case their humanity is violated.
What is the Meaning of Decriminalizing Prostitution?
People address the issues of prostitution through three perspectives- abolitionist, sex-positive feminist, and decriminalization. Abolitionists believe that unless sex work is abolished from its roots, the violence and discrimination following sex workers will not end. For them, decriminalization is not enough and it would certainly not result in the reduction of rapes. Legally, decriminalizing refers to repealing or amending provisions of a statute that had earlier made certain actions criminal offenses. Prostitution has been considered an immoral, wrongful, and often sinful act. However, such perspectives do not give due importance to the faults of society that create conditions where a person engages in sex work. Sex-positive individuals may even strip any moral obligation out of sex work. They argue that labor is done through the body and is paid by the employer which makes the sexual labor of a prostitute no different than the physical labor of a construction worker.
What Happens When Prostitution is Criminalized?
If prostitution is criminalized, it makes it impossible for sex workers to seek legal recourse or social justice. They are considered outcasts of society and are ruthlessly marginalized in every facet of life. Their outcast status ensures that they cannot assimilate into society again and keep them away from fundamental rights like education and dignified employment that can help them quit prostitution. When prostitutes are deemed to be criminals, it makes it impossible for them to seek health services, resulting in a rise in sexually transmitted diseases. Even non-sexually transmitted diseases like cancer, tuberculosis, asthma, or other ailments of prostitutes cannot be addressed because of the stigma that follows their profession. It is no surprise that incidences of rapes in red light areas go unreported because no legal aid exists for prostitutes in a society that criminalizes rape. Therefore, the decriminalization of prostitution does seem to bear the hope of creating a society where prostitutes can access legal aid, healthcare, and education.
Does Decriminalization of Prostitution Reduce Rapes?
Before progressing with the above-mentioned quandary, it is important to understand that rape is an all-pervasive problem in society. It occurs due to the power imbalances between genders and is essentially an act of asserting dominance by the perpetrator over the victim. Since rape is a heinous problem pervading society, it will obviously manifest itself in red light areas which are also a part of society regardless of how much they are outcasted or marginalized. The Nordi model criminalizes only the buying of sex work, not its sale by the prostitute.
While it was aimed at reducing the demand for sex work in the market and safeguarding the rights and dignity of the sex workers, it has been found in studies that it also results in an increase in violence and threatens the safety of sex workers. This propels one to think about the ramifications of decriminalizing sex work for both the buyer as well as the seller. It is assumed that such an approach would reduce the moral policing and stigmatization of sex workers in society and also reduce resentful sexual violence perpetrated by clients who use force under the garb of seeking consumer satisfaction.
However, it has also been noted that decriminalizing sex work stems from the stereotypical and discriminatory notions of society because it aims at satisfying sexual desires in exchange for money. When it comes to finding whether decriminalization of prostitution can reduce instances of rape, there is no straight answer. There are both merits and demerits to the idea. However, the strength of the decriminalization of prostitution lies in its ability to destigmatize sex work and change the attitude of society towards the profession. Decriminalization and destigmatization of prostitution would raise awareness about the sexual violence perpetrated upon prostitutes which might deter a client from committing such violence. It would also make legal recourse easier for prostitutes if they do face sexual assault.