Re: Information on health effects

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Carol Leigh (
Wed, 21 Oct 1998 12:16:12 -0800

from Donna Hughes-

>In response to the request for information on the health effects of
>prostitution/sexual exploitation, I can suggest the following:

>Prostitution, Violence Against Women, and Posttrauamatic Stress Disorder,

The sources you list (primarily referring to the above) regarding
prostitution and health are not accurate for a number of reasons. In the
first place, there was no effort made to cull statistics from a
representative portion of prostitutes. In the US, for example, *most* of
those surveyed were street workers which, according to most texts
(including -- I believe, not sure??? -- the book Backstreets, which is
abolitionist in perspective) most street prostitution in the US and many
European cities, comprises only 10-20% of prostitution. That is also an
estimate, of course, and basically there are no scientific stats on the

Populations of prostitutes include escorts, independents, massage workers
etc. and are underground and have not been included in a representative
proportions in the study you site. It is difficult, and no one yet has,
presented any honest scientific attempt to find representative samples.
This skewing of the results points to other inconsistencies and
inaccuracies in this 'study.' Diana Prince's ("A Psychological Profile
of Prostitutes in California and Nevada," San Diego: United States
International University, PhD. dissertation, March 1986) makes an attempt
to compare stats on prostitutes in different milieu.

In fact, there is a history of inaccurate and supposedly scientific
statistics on prostitution that obviously arise out of a moral need to
condemn an occupation that many consider 'a temptation.' 19th century
phrenology (measuring by bumps on the head) provided a series of convincing
studies claiming that prostitutes were inherently inferior and 'mentally
retarded.' It is not hard to find pathologizing statistics on marginalized
populations, in general. Gays, lesbians and transgender people have long
objected to studies which represent them as mentally ill, for instance,
completely out of context, and mostly with a more agenda and an aim towards
pathologizing their identities. The statistics in the studies you mention
mirror stats on female prisoners, and the populations surveyed represent
that population more than others.

I do have that study linked at my site as well, because it most definitely
does represent a population of the most marginalized prostitutes and it is
very important that the issues for these communities be recognized and
addressed. It is problematic that the study passes itself off as something
it is not, and it is not a report on prostitution in general. This falsity
undermines the importance of the stats addressing the issues of violence
against women who are marginalized and obscures relationships of violence,
marginalization and poverty. In fact, I have received complaints from
those who had assisted with that study regarding the methods used in South

My site includes a number of studies which paint a more accurate picture of
the general work being done on the issues of health and prostitution. includes material from various
perspectives, not focusing on, but including, studies done by those with
an abolitionist agenda.

Carol Leigh
Prostitutes' Education Network

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