Freakonomics: The Evolution of the Sex Industry

Following the old adage, “you can’t get something for nothing,” Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, a 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner, combines pop culture with economics by applying economic theory to a wide variety of subject not covered by traditional economists. The book does so through a collection of articles written by Levitt who accepts the standard neoclassical microeconomics model of rational utility maximization, but argues along with Dubner that economics, at its core, is the study of incentives. Due to the success of the first book, a second book, SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, was released in early October 2009 in Europe and October 20, 2009 in the United States. The theme of the book explores the idea that we all work for a particular reward therefore we should look at problems economically e.g. the preference for sons in India, the hardships Indian women face and the horse manure issue at the turn of the 20th century.

The first chapter to the long awaited sequel explores prostitution specifically in South Chicago along with pimps who Levitt and Dubner compare to real estate brokers lending some insight into the much hated profession that could help society make prostitution a  less common profession according to Matthew Bandyk’s article, The SuperFreakonomics of Prostitution: Levitt and Dubner in Trouble Again. According to Dubner and Levitt, the pimps are like brokers who sell or provide a service to a larger market and takes on the inequalities of pay grades for men and women. Bandyk like the authors come to the realization that some see prostitution as a money making enterprise or like any other business and not just for the desperate, poor, and drug addicted as many believe which is the key to eliminating some of the problem. The chapter uses the example of one modern day escort named Allie who charges $500 an hour making over $200,000 per year, according to the authors, who got into the business she saw a money making opportunity. This insight into the profession may explain why incentives matter even when selling sex as higher wages means more prostitution. At the low end of the scale, the authors point out that many street prostitutes in the poor Chicago neighborhood of Washington Park will work busy holidays like the Fourth of July weekend when the demand is high and as a result the number of part time prostitutes crop up for this one busy time of the year much like department store Santa (the chapter is aptly named “how is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?”). Many of the women during the year do not resort to prostitution, but for this particular weekend the high wages draws them in making a difference. Bandyk comes to a similar conclusion as the authors that in order to reduce prostitution and the negative effects on women the profitability needs to be eliminated thus less women will want to pursue the profession. This is what the authors had to say about Allie and the fact wages have gone up since the softening of sexual mores:

“The truth is she would be distraught if prostitution were legalized, because her stratospherically high wages stem from the fact that the service she provides cannot be gotten legally.”


On the Freakonomics website, Dubner posted an article entitled “Is There a Better Prostitution Policy?” based on a research paper written by Samuel Lee (New York University (NYU) – Leonard N. Stern School of Business; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)) and Petra Persson (Columbia University; Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN)).  The research analyzes in theory the impact of prostitution laws on voluntary sex workers and sex trafficking while proposing a new policy that combines legalization and criminalization to protect voluntary prostitutes and reduce trafficking restoring the free market arising from an absence of trafficking. If the aim for regulators is to eradicate prostitution, the optimal policy, according to the duo, is to criminalize all johns but not criminalize prostitutes as it is ineffective and unjust because it fails to eradicate trafficking and penalizes the victims. According to their abstract, the following were included in their analysis: cross-border trafficking, sex tourism, social norms, and political support for prostitution laws.The model used concludes that the female-male income ratio plays a key role in what share of prostitutes is trafficked, the consequences of prostitution laws and the political will to enact or enforce them e.g. countries with high income level and low male-female income ratios should see higher levels of trafficked prostitution, but are more likely to enforce laws against prostitution such as criminalizing johns. A portion of the concluding policy is as follows, according to the Freakonomics website:

” We propose a “safe harbor” approach that combines legal regulated prostitution with severe criminal penalties on johns who purchase sex elsewhere. This policy is much more effective and can eradicate trafficking precisely because (!) it creates a “safe harbor” for voluntary sex workers. The logic is that, because (coerced and voluntary) suppliers of sex are competitors, we need to channel demand to the “desirable” suppliers. The above policy achieves that and so not only eradicates trafficking but also safeguards (the rights of) voluntary sex workers. The paper explains in more detail how that works, how it could be implemented, and whether this policy would be more or less expensive than the current approaches against trafficking (outright criminalization & law enforcement actions targeted directly at trafficking organizations). So far, this policy has not been tried by any country.”

Does the above arguments by any means lessen the struggle of so many in the sex industry or make prostitution whether legal or illegal okay…no, but without discussing all aspects of the argument an informed decision and logical discussion cannot take place. While Levitt and Dubner use economics and pop culture to analyze prostitution, the reality of prostitution for many is controversial and in some cases life threatening as sexual violence and physical abuse sometimes comes with the territory. The discussion of prostitution leads back to the need for an open discussion of sexual expectations and emotional needs and to realize that sexual behavior has consequences for everyone involved. The culture of today trains men to dominant and women to be submissive partially because the past has dictated so making it hard to see that these behaviors have the potential to hurt someone. According to the Sinclair Intimacy Institute, the first step to changing this behavior is to listen to women and girls talk about their experiences of being hurt by men and frankly the reverse as well with each party taking responsibility for their actions. This ownership will allow both genders to pay attention and stand up when they see men and boys even friends hurting someone sexually or with violence. Society today in some ways encourages even tolerates cruelty e.g. pornographers make money selling images of men humiliating women sexually, boys referring to girls as a ho or slut without thinking about the hurt it causes and men talking about how women they abuse deserve or asked for it. The fact that people for the most part turn away and do not address these problems has allowed people to become less empathetic and more selfish even cruel at times. This toughness or aggressiveness may make men and women both seem more manly or dominant  in nature, but can damage both genders in the long run preventing us from feeling love and giving love.

The sex industry covers the commercial enterprise related to the sale or purchase of sex related services ranging from prostitution to the pornography end of the entertainment industry. Pornography is defined broadly as written or visual material that stimulates sexual feelings with the purpose to arouse the observer or reader. Other names include porn, smut and obscene material. The term pornography, according to the Sinclair Intimacy Institute, comes from porneia a Greek work for prostitute meaning “the writings of and about prostitutes.” The definition between individuals varies as people have their own standards of obscenity, however the courts have a consistent way of defining its use. Porn itself is not illegal, but sexually explicit material judged as in violation of the penal code is called obscene or often referred to as “hard core pornography” which is not illegal unless the courts find it to be obscene after testing it. The United States Supreme Court defined obscenity in the 1957 case of Roth vs. United States and several lower courts have added to this definition since. As the Sinclair Institute points out, erotic material is legally obscene for the average person if it meets the following criteria:

  • Its predominant appeal is to a prurient interest in sex
  • It is contrary to the contemporary standards of the community
  • It is without social value, or judged to be without artistic, literary, or scientific value

The problem with such criteria is that standards vary from community to community and judgements about artistic or literary value cannot be made using such a simple formula. Hard core pornography is strictly for commercial use with the understanding that no artistic merit is present yet works of art are sometimes claimed to be obscene despite the artistic value.

While most people would like to think pornography is something relatively new to the human experience, it is something has been present in society for thousands of years. As Tom Head puts it, “pornography’s consumers and pornography’s would-be eradicators have something in common: both are reliably excited by unrealistic fantasies.”Although pornography has been around quite a while, prostitution is not the oldest profession in the world even though people would like to believe it is so. The oldest profession would more so be hunting and gathering followed by subsistence farming, but let’s not count it out completely as every civilization throughout recorded human history has had some form of prostitution or bartering for sex much like one would pay money, trade goods or barter their services. Here is a brief history lesson of the many examples throughout history that humans have created some of these unrealistic fantasies.

  • 5200 BCE -German hunter-gatherers sculpt a statue of a man and woman having sexual intercourse.
  • 18th Century BCE – Code of Hammurabi has provisions to protect the inheritance rights of prostitutes who had no male providers:

“If a ‘devoted woman’ or a prostitute to whom her father has given a dowry and a deed therefor … then her father die, then her brothers shall hold her field and garden, and give her corn, oil, and milk according to her portion …
If a ‘sister of a god,’ or a prostitute, receive a gift from her father, and a deed in which it has been explicitly stated that she may dispose of it as she pleases … then she may leave her property to whomsoever she pleases.”

  • 6th Century BCE – Greek literature refers to three classes of prostitutes: pornai, slave prostitutes; freeborn street prostitutes; and hetaera, educated prostitute-entertainers who enjoyed a level of social influence that was denied to nearly all non-prostitute women. Pornai and street prostitutes, appealing to a male clientele, could be either female or male. Hetaera were always female. According to tradition, Solon established government-supported brothels in high-traffic urban areas of Greece–brothels staffed with inexpensive pornai that all men, regardless of income level, could afford to hire.Prostitution would remain legal throughout the Greek and Roman periods, though later, Christian Roman emperors strongly discouraged it.
  • AD 79 – the city of Pompeii after excavation in the 18th and 19th centuries was found to contain hundreds of sexually explicit frescoes and sculptures found in the ruins.
  • 590 – Reccared I, Visigoth KIng of Spain, banned prostitution in order to align himself better with his new found Christian ideology. No punishment was given for men who hired or exploited prostitutes, but women found guilty of selling were whipped 300 times and exiled which is comparable to a death sentence.
  • 950 – Chandravarman started construction of the first of 85 temples at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, India where many extremely intricate and sexually explicit sculptures cover their outer walls.
  • 1161 – King Henry II, during the medieval era, discouraged but permitted prostitution even mandated that prostitutes must be single and ordered weekly inspections of London’s infamous brothels to ensure no other laws were broken. It became a fact of life in major cities.
  • 1358 – The Great Coucil of Venice declared prostitution to be “absolutely indispensable to the world” in 1358, and government-funded brothels were established in major Italian cities throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.
  • 1557 – Pope Paul IV prepared the first Roman Catholic Church index of banned books which included 550 titles due to theological reasons, some for sexually explicit content and some for both reasons such as Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. The Vatican continued to public the index until December 1965 when Pope Paul VI eliminated it following the institutional reform by the Second Vatican Council.
  • 1586 – Pope Sixtus V’s claim to fame came in the form of trying to enforce the death penalty for prostitutes as the laws in many European states already included this form of punishment even maiming. Thought no evidence exists that anyone actually listened, he was also responsible for declaring abortion as homicide regardless of the stage of pregnancy. Before that, the church taught that fetuses did not become human until quickening (about 20 weeks).
  • 1748 – John Cleland distributes a sexually explicit novel titled Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (later titled: The Life and Adventures of Fanny Hill), but the British authorities confiscated it a year later. However the book was pirated and redistributed even though it was banned in both the U.S. and Britain until the 1960s.
  • 1802 – Following the French Revolution, the government replaced bans on prostitution with a new Bureau of Morals first in Paris and then throughout the country. The agency was a police force responsible for monitoring houses of prostitution to make sure they comply with the law and did not become centers for criminal activity. The agency remained in operation for over a century before being abolished.
  • 1857 – Robley Dunglison’s Medical Lexicon: A Dictionary of Medical Science coins the English term “pornography” meaning “a description of prostitutes or of prostitution, as a matter of public hygiene.” The next decade saw widespread use as a general term for sexually explicit material.
  • 1865 – Edouard Manet’s Olympia, a nude portrait in which Victorine Meurent portrays a prostitutes, scandalizes the Paris Salon not because of the nudity but because of the earthy and unladylike frankness of the piece making women appear merely as naked women and not as an idealized goddess. Traditionally, the glamorization of women to the point of fiction was not considered pornographic.

“When our artists give us Venuses,” Manet’s contemporary Émile Zola explained, “they correct nature, they lie. Manet asked himself why he should lie. Why not tell the truth? He has introduced us to Olympia, a girl of our own times, whom we have met in the streets pulling a thin shawl of faded wool over her narrow shoulders.”

  • 1873 – Anthony Comstock founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice begins his career as America’s national censor in earnest.
  • 1899 – In Eugéne Pirou’s Coucher de la Mariée, the first known softcore erotic film, Louise Willy—who starred in eight burlesque comedies from 1896 to 1913—performs a striptease and bathes on camera.
  • 1908 – L’Ecu d’Or ou la Bonne Auberge, the earliest surviving hardcore pornographic film, is distributed. Censors and nervous owners destroyed most other early examples of the genre, which were typically shown in brothels.
  • 1932 -“The women cried out,” Japanese WWII veteran Yasuji Kaneko would later recall, “but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.”During World War II, the Japanese government abducted between 80,000 and 300,000 women and girls from Japanese-occupied territories and forced them to serve in “comfort battalions,” militarized brothels that were created to serve Japanese soldiers.To this day, the Japanese government has denied responsibility and refused to issue an official apology or pay restitution.
  • 1956 – Even though The Immoral Traffic Suppression Act banned the commercialized sex trade in 1956, Indian anti-prostitution laws are enforced as public statutes with prostitution restricted to certain areas. India today has the largest red light district in Asia, Mumbai’s infamous Kamathipura, which originated as a massive brothel during British rule and shifted to local clientele following independence.
  • 1969 – Denmark legalizes pornography, becoming the first country on Earth to formally do so.
  • 1971– Nevada permits brothels
  • 1973 – In Miller v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court defines obscenity using a three-part test:

“the average person must find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest ;the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law ; and the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

  • 2007 – A semi-industrialized nation with a growing economy, South Africa has become a haven for international sex traffickers. In addition, South Africa has a serious domestic prostitution problem with 25 percent of prostitutes being children, but the government has started to crack down with the Criminal Law Amendment Act 32 of 2007.  The act targets human trafficking and a team of legal scholars, commissioned by the government, are drafting new regulations to govern prostitution. This legislation successes and failures will provide a blueprint for other countries to use.


Sex trafficking in the historical sense shows us that is was not only relegated to alleged criminal activity but even governments participated. The comfort women or in Japanese the ianfu were women and girls who were forced into prostitution corps created by the Empire of Japan. Ianfu is actually another word for shofu meaning “prostitute.” The earliest reports on the issue in South Korea state that it was not a voluntary force with many women since 1989 coming forward to testify to being kidnapped by Imperial Japanese soldiers. The term is also used for women and girls engaged by the South Korean government for sexual services for U.S. Military personnel in the 1950s. Historians Lee Yeong-Hun and Ikuhiko Hata believe that the recruitment of these women was voluntary, while others using the testimony of ex-comfort women and surviving Japanese soldiers argue the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy has directly or indirectly coerced, deceived, lured and kidnapped young women throughout Japan’s occupied territories. The number of women involved varies from 20,000 as asserted by Japanese scholars to 410,000 as asserted by Chinese scholars with debate over exact numbers continuing. A majority of the women came from Korea, China, Japan and the Philippines with women from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Japanese-occupied territories being used at military comfort stations. The stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, Burma, New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and French Indochina. A Dutch government study described how the Japanese military recruited women by force in the Dutch East Indies revealing that some 300 Dutch women were forced into sex slavery.

While prostitution and pornography continue to be controversial subject, stripping even burlesque are no less a problem for most people. The difference according to Randy Johnson seems to be “strippers make money, burlesque dancers make costumes.” The word “burlesque” comes from the Spanish or Italian word “burla” meaning mock, trick or joke which in its original use in the 16th and 17th century described parodies and grotesque or ridiculous imitation of authors or artists of the time. Victorian burlesque is nothing like its modern day counterpart as the musical theater parody of popular ballets, operas and plays were only moderately risque in style with no nudity or striptease involved. This form of entertainment at the time was similar to English pantomime than to burlesque. The striptease shows only started to appear in the 19th century in America and Paris. In America, the stripping was part of vaudeville and burlesque acts with Charmion, a trapeze artist, performing a disrobing act on stage in 1896 which later appeared on film taken by Edison. In Paris, the Moulin Rouge theater among others featured scantily clad women dancing and in pictures. The 1920s and 30s striptease become a part of burlesque with shows in America featuring high profile “star strippers” such as Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr, in 1930s England there was Laura Henderson who started doing nude shows in the Windmill Theater and in Paris at the Folies Bergere Josephine Baker danced in a banana skirt, semi-nude. Prohibition and a crackdown on such shows led to a decline in the 1940s in America, however in England in the 1950s there was touring striptease shows used to attract people back to the declining music halls. By the 1960s, the U.S. and England saw the introduction of topless go-go dancers causing the further decline by the 1970s of burlesque. The 1990s saw a revival and updating of traditional burlesque with performers from a range of performance backgrounds and stripping is more of a tease rather than a strip with most performers finishing with a G-string and pasties on rather than full nude.

Back to the bone of main contention with societal mores, prostitution as mention before has always been a part of society even before formal laws against prostitution were even written into the books which only happened in the last 100 years or so. Sex workers rights are largely unprotected and remain a political battleground, while people who buy and sell sexual services are arrested, shamed, branded with criminal records and forced to rehabilitate their behavior. While modern society struggles to accept the reality, American history shows that this was not always so as laws against selling sex are fairly new and came long after the sex trade started in America, according to Melissa Gira Grant (When Prostitution Wasn’t a Crime: The Fascinating History of Sex Work in America). Just look at pop culture from the 19th century:

“The miners came in forty-nine,
The whores in fifty-one;
And when they got together
They produced the native son.”
19th century San Francisco song

According to Grant, “From New Amsterdam to the Louisiana colony to San Francisco’s Gold Rush founding, historians have identified prostitutes, or women who make some or all of their earnings selling sex, as some of the first women in early American settlements.” This continued right up until the 19th century where prostitutes were integrated into society whether it was socially acceptable or not to talk about which allowed for the establishment of Red Light Districts because of the failure to informally govern prostitution and in many cases the matters concerning such scandalous behavior was handled with the up most secrecy. In the 19th and 20th century, social reformers decided to end prostitution outright makings it a social disease that could be cured or in other words prohibited and abolished. These groups encourage police to crack down on brothels and red light districts, while anti-prostitution policing and social campaigns increased causing many cops who took bribes and grafts for protecting brothels to come under scrutiny from religious reformers and women’s rights campaigners. The turn of the 20th century saw the opening of New York’s first women’s jail. Reformers also wanted policies aimed at the red light districts to criminalize operators that relied on prostitutes such as rooming houses and saloons, Grant explains. Because of these efforts, the “Red Light Abatement” laws were put on the books in most states making property owners liable and culpable for prostitution on their premises. By1916, 47 cities saw their red light districts closed forcing Washington DC area prostitutes, according to Grant, to fight back by righting a letter to the New York Evening Journal:

“Knowing that public opinion is against us, and that the passing of the Kenyon ‘red Light’ Bill is certain, we, the inmates of the underworld, want to know how the public expects to provide for us in the future? We don’t want ‘homes.’ All we ask is that positions be provided for us. The majority will accept them. We must live somehow. We are human…”

Along with these laws, came two federal policies that helped to end the red light districts. The passing of the Mann Act or “white slave traffic act” provided the first federal law around prostitution in 1910 followed by a Navy decree at the start of WWI demanding the closure of sex related businesses near military bases under the premise of protecting enlisted men from sexually transmitted diseases. The rapid change, Grant explains, in that 20 year period gave the sex trade a boost into the mainstream yet exiled it into the margins. Historian Ruth Rosen in The Lost Sisterhood, a study of prostitution at the turn of the last century, comments that:

“Before 1917, most laws had been directed at commercialized vice, rather than at the prostitute herself. By the end of the war, however, the law had recognized a class of prostitutes who would constitute a social group of criminal outcasts.”

The profit and policing of prostitution goes hand in hand not just for those selling, but those trying to prevent it as reformers and governments continue to blamed a laundry list of social ills on prostitution even though history has proven that crime, decaying property values, disease, violence, and a whole host of supposed moral failings are not inherent in the practice of selling sex. As Grant explains quite well, there are only two constants in prostitution, the exchange itself and the willingness of people who sell sex to ignore the law, discrimination and social stigmas that happen in order to work. Furthermore Grant explains the willingness of women to sell sex:

“I say “willing” in a deliberate push back against our contemporary ideas about sex, sex for sale and consent: the false premise that no one, and in particular, no woman would sell sex if she had any other options. It’s an absurd notion, given the endurance of the sex trade and the explosion of considerable other options for women’s employment. From personal experience, I can tell you that there are as many reasons people sell sex as there are people who do it. This is the truth that shapes the social, legal, and economic environments in which we produce and consume commercial sex.”

She sees it as a way not only for the prostitute or sex workers to profit, but also see cops, governments and social reformers as part of this environment  as they each profit from commercial sex. In American cities today, vice cops arrest customers to fill seats in “john school” where men are lectured by social reform employees that aim to abolish prostitution with “scared straight” tactics. The vice cops receive some of their salary from making these arrest, while anti-prostitution lectures are paid sometimes with fees paid by those arrested in order to avoid conviction. The programs provide an incentive for cops to police the sex trade and support a professional class of people called anti-prostitution campaigners who make their living on trying to abolish the way others make a living. It’s hard to imagine what prostitution is really like or what it could be like without perpetuating the supposed social ills imposed on it by those opposed to prostitution. For the last hundred years, the opposition has tried to contain and isolate the sex trade in America yet despite all their efforts, they keep on losing.

Some food for thought as you go through your day. In order to understand the sex industry one must look at the clear facts, then and only then can one tackle the problem appropriately. So here goes nothing:

  • Today, more women are employed in the sex industry than any other time in history.
  • The United States has more strip clubs than any other nation in the world with global annual revenue at $75 billion and U.S. annual revenue at $3.1. billion. The U.S. has 4,000 strip clubs with 400,000 strippers employed.
  • Hollywood releases 20 times more adult movies per year than mainstream movie production around 11,000.
  • The 2006 revenues for the porn and sex industry in the U.S. are bigger than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined at 13.3 billion.
  • The sex industry worldwide in 2006 made $97 billion which is more than Microsoft did worldwide at only $44.8 billion.
  • Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on porn.
  • Human trafficking is second in the world of organized crime generating $31.6 billion each year with sex trafficking bringing in $27.8 billion per year.
  • 1.39 million people are victims of the commercial sex trade worldwide.

Getting the church involved.

  • Promise Keeper men who viewed pornography in the last week amounts to 53%.
  • 33% of clergy admit to visiting sexually explicit website with 53% doing it a few times a year and 18% doing a couple times a month even more than once a week.
  • Out of 81 pastors surveyed with 74 male and 7 female, 98% have been exposed to porn and 43% intentionally visited a sexually explicit website.
  • In March of 2002 Rick Warren’s Pastors.com website did a survey on porn use by pastors finding that 54% viewed internet porn in the last year and 30% of these had visited within the last 30 days.

Women in the sex trade face insurmountable odds in some cases.

  • Some research indicates that women who work in the sex industry face higher rates of drug addictions, sexually transmitted diseases, violent assaults, and mental health problems such as Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than the general population.
  • Between 66% to 90% of women were abused as children.
  • 70% of women saw their childhood sex abuse as influential in their entry into prostitution, according to a study done by Silbert and Pines.
  • Women experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at rates equivalent to veterans with diagnosis per country of prostitutes as follows: Canada: 74%, Colombia: 86%, Germany: 60%, Mexico: 54%, South Africa: 75%, Thailand: 58%, Turkey: 66%, USA: 69%, Zambia: 71% with combat war veterans at 69%
  • 89% of women in the industry want to leave but have no other means of survival, while 73% in prostitution have been raped more than five times.
  • 70% of the females trafficked are trafficked into the commercial sex industry e.g. porn, strip clubs and massage parlors in the U.S.
  • An examination of the content in 50 of the best selling adult videos reveals across all scenes that: 3,376 verbal and/or physically aggressive acts were observed, 48 percent of the 304 scenes analyzed contained verbal aggression, while more than 88 percent showed physical aggression, 72 percent of aggressive acts were perpetrated by men and 94 percent of aggressive acts were committed against women.
  • A study of exotic dancers found a 100% have been physically assaulted in clubs where they work with a prevalence of 3-15 times over the course of exotic dancing including physical assault, attempted vaginal penetration, attempted rape, and rape.
  • One study found that women engaged in street prostitution have been physically assaulted in prostitution at 82% and 68% were raped.

Supply and demand becomes a problem in more ways than one.

  • 70% of men ages 18-28 regularly view porn sites according to XXXChurch.com
  • 40 million U.S. adults regularly visit Internet porn websites.
  • 1 of 3 visitors to these sites are women.
  • 9.4 million women access adult websites every month.
  • 47% of families say porn is a problem in their home.
  • According to attorneys who attended the 2002 conference for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conclude that roughly half of all divorces is due in some respect to excessive interest in online porn.
  • 41% of surveyed adults admit to feeling less attractive due to their partner’s porn use.
  • 77% of online visitors to adult sites are males with an average age of 41, an annual income of $60,000 and 46% are married.

Children are now affected by the widespread availability of porn and the demand for sex.

  • 116,000 searches for child porn every day
  • Average age when a child first sees porn is now 11 years old.
  • The average age of prostitutes in the U.S. is 12-14 year old.
  • Of the 2.8 million children who run away each year, one third are captured by pimps and lured into prostitution or porn within 48 hours of leaving home.

While women are the main focus of the sex industry, men are also an important as well either as male or transgendered sex workers. Chi Hui-jung, Gender dominates the sex industry, believes that deregulating and decriminalizing the sex industry is questionable due to the fact many believe that it is a necessary evil rooted in human nature. While the business seems a fair trade with someone who wants the service and other willing to provide it, a closer look shows that gender domination is an important element not to overlooked. The idea of decriminalizing and legalizing the sex industry would indulge the male necessity for sexual pleasure which Hui-jung believes indulges a so called necessary evil in men and shows the implicit chauvinism inherent in the sex trade, while putting disadvantaged women in an even worse position than now. In most countries, according to statistics, shows that women are mostly the providers who are forced to choose to sell their bodies to survive, while places like the Netherlands have only 10% of sex workers being men who provide services mostly to other men even with the sex industry operating openly. Most of the men see these services as entertainment and an outlet for sexual desire, but many women do it for survival not lust like men. Taiwan like many places in the world must deal with the growing sex industry due to the state’s inability to offer better welfare to disadvantage women and society’s indulgence of men. Hui-jung points out that this is not a fair trade and the trade taking place is not the same as normal labor as the social costs of health issues and spread of sexually transmitted diseases means the potential for more harm to women than drug use. As many have said before, national policy must offer more resources, employment opportunities and welfare benefits for disadvantaged women in order to attract less to the sex industry. In conclusion, in order to deal with the influx of women and men into the sex industry, society needs to take a different view of male indulgence with more sex and gender education.

While the male sex worker is the minority in the sex industry, they still experience much of the same risks that their female counterparts do with some exceptions. In terms of commercial sex work, transsexuals are usually male to female transgenders. While transvestites which are men who dress as women who do not undergo hormonal or surgical modification are involved with sex work, for purposes of this conversation will not be discussed and make up a very small percentage of male sex workers. The term transgender refers both to transsexuals who possess physical attributes of the opposite sex while retaining their natural genitalia and individuals who have undergone gender reassignment surgery. Male sex workers may be homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual in orientation and may serve male as well as female clients. According to William Spice, Management of sex workers and other high-risk groups, a study of 94 male commercial sex workers attending sexual health clinics in Sydney found 6.5% of the male sex workers were HIV positive compared to only 0.4% female and 24% non-homosexual male sex workers with 21, 5 and 12% having anogenital warts. Injecting drug use was twice as common among male sex workers than the other two groups and higher among workers who reported female non-paying clients than males. Male workers had more non-paying partners than females. Condom use happened a 100% of the time with 86% of male sex workers in the past 3 months, while women did it 88% of the time. Many transgenders enter the commercial sex industry due to discrimination in conventional job markets as the incentive to earn are higher in this group compared to other groups because of the cost of hormones and surgery needed to enhance feminine attributes. The misuse of drugs among transgender has led to increasing rates of HIV, hepatitis and syphilis as well as high rates of needle sharing with drugs and hormones. Post-operative transgenders will engage in vaginal and anal intercourse making them at higher risk for both violence from clients and coercion into providing unsafe sexual services for money. The group is heavily stigmatized in society and by other sex workers.

Linda Lowen’s article, Sexual Assault Commonplace Yet Rarely Prosecuted, provides the reader with a better understanding of the damage that sexual violence has on a prostitute’s psyche and the sometimes brutal consequences of this abuse in society. For women, whether a sex worker or not, experience physical and emotional trauma when raped sometimes opening old wounds and buried memories of unbearable abuse to resurface. As mentioned earlier, many prostitutes can experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorders similar to their war veteran counterparts. In the 1990s, researchers Melissa Farley and Howard Barkan interviewed 130 San Francisco prostitutes about the subject of violence against women and PSTD. Their finding, Prostitution, Violence Against Women,and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,  indicate assault and rape are all too commonplace. According to Lowen:

“Eighty-two percent of these respondents reported having been physically assaulted since entering prostitution. Of those who had been physically assaulted, 55% had been assaulted by customers. Eighty-eight percent had been physically threatened while in prostitution, and 83% had been physically threatened with a weapon….Sixty-eight percent…reported having been raped since entering prostitution. Forty-eight percent had been raped more than five times. Forty-six percent of those who reported rapes stated that they had been raped by customers.”

The researchers comment that other studies have demonstrated that most women who are prostitutes have been physically or sexually abused as children with some, as the study confirmed, experiencing the abuse so early and unable to understand what is happening to them:

“Fifty-seven percent reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, by an average of 3 perpetrators. Forty-nine percent of those who responded reported that as children, they had been hit or beaten by a caregiver until they had bruises or were injured in some way…Many seemed profoundly uncertain as to just what ‘abuse’ is. When asked why she answered ‘no’ to the question regarding childhood sexual abuse, one woman whose history was known to one of the interviewers said: ‘Because there was no force, and, besides, I didn’t even know what it was then – I didn’t know it was sex.'”

Writing in the Criminal Practice Law Report, Dr. Phyllis Chesler, Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York, describes the violence that permeates the life of a prostitute and why it’s rare for her to report a rape:

“Prostituted women have long been considered ‘fair game’ for sexual harassment, rape, gang-rape, ‘kinky’ sex, robbery, and beatings….A 1991 study by the Council for Prostitution Alternatives, in Portland, Oregon, documented that 78 percent of 55 prostituted women reported being raped an average of 16 times annually by their pimps and 33 times a year by johns. Twelve rape complaints were made in the criminal justice system and neither pimps nor johns were ever convicted. These prostitutes also reported being ‘horribly beaten’ by their pimps an average of 58 times a year. The frequency of beatings…by johns ranged from I to 400 times a year. Legal action was pursued in 13 cases, resulting in 2 convictions for ‘aggravated assault.'”

Lowen notes, “The 1990 Florida Supreme Court Gender Bias Report states that ‘prostitution is not a victimless crime… Prostitute rape is rarely reported, investigated, prosecuted or taken seriously.'”

By far the most interesting part of the article comes in the form of a discussion of Aileen Wuornos who, according to Lowen, was dubbed “the first female serial killer” and a known prostitute who allegedly killed five men in Florida. Chelser argues that her past history and the situation surrounding the first murder was in self-defense.

“Wuornos, a seriously abused child and a serially raped and beaten teenage and adult prostitute, has been under attack all her life, probably more than any soldier in any real war. In my opinion, Wuornos’s testimony in the first trial was both moving and credible as she described being verbally threatened, tied up, and then brutally raped…by Richard Mallory. According to Wuornos, she agreed to have sex for money with Mallory on the night of November 30, 1989. Mallory, who was intoxicated and stoned, suddenly turned vicious.”

Chesler notes that the jury was denied access to the testimony of expert witnesses who are important in understanding the mind of Wuornos. The experts in the group included a psychologist, a psychiatrist, experts in prostitution and violence against prostitutes, experts in child abuse, battery and rape trauma syndrome. Lowen points out that Chesler saw these testimonies as necessary:

“…to educate the jury about the routine and horrendous sexual, physical, and psychological violence against prostituted women…the long-term consequences of extreme trauma, and a woman’s right to self-defense. Given how often prostituted women are raped, gang raped, beaten, robbed, tortured, and killed, Wuornos’s claim that she killed Richard Mallory in self-defense is at least plausible.”

The rape and assault of Wuornos and many other women reveals that the perpetrators are never one time offenders as was the case with Richard Mallory who had been incarcerated in Maryland for many years as a sex offender. Chesler explains:

“…the jury never got to hear any evidence about Mallory’s history of violence toward prostitutes, or about violence toward prostitutes in general, which might have helped them evaluate Wuornos’s much-derided claim of self-defense.”

Unfortunately, due to the lack of education and evidence available for the jury, the jury of five men and seven women found Wuornos guilty after a 91 minute deliberation and sentenced her to death for the murder of ex-convict Richard Mallory after 108 minutes of deliberation. Aileen Carol Wuornos was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.

Every year on March 3 sex workers of the world unite for one day, International Sex Workers Rights Day, to raise awareness of sex workers’ rights as human rights and to highlight laws and conditions making their work less safe due to misguided attempts to end prostitution. Dr. Brook Magnanti (Is pornography a social ill? Or are there benefits to be recognized, if it creates rewarding work and offers entertainment, education and inspiration?), a formerly Belle de Jour, notes that the most vital and influential activism is taking place in the developing world as the day originated in 2001 with 25,000 sex workers marching on Calcutta to bring attention to the problems sex workers encounter. These problems unfortunately permeate other areas of work as well. Sex workers of all kinds (men and women, cis and transgender, escorts, streetwalkers, porn stars, etc.) are stigmatized all over the world causing their work to become much more dangerous e.g. in New York, a person can be arrested for carrying condoms on suspicion of prostitution forcing many sex workers to stop carrying them decreasing their ability to prevent disease. Magnanti notes that places like Cambodia where Western funds are meant to criminalize sex worker to combat forced trafficking instead goes to throwing sex workers into internment camps where abuse and violence take place to the willing and unwilling workers who are rounded up. When sex workers who are attack try to go to the police for protection, they find that they are the ones getting arrested even abused.

This longstanding relationship between sex workers and the people outside the industry trying to help has led more so to police coercion, unwanted interference and sometimes abuse, according to Magnanti. One program has led to high rates of convictions against those who attack and sexually assault people in sex work as the police are urged to treat crimes against sex workers as a hate crime in Merseyside. Although the model has been shown to work, it has not caught on with many following the ‘Swedish Model.’ Early feminist movements were influenced by sex workers who in the 19th century had more rights than many women, however feminism would later try to erase the connection turning away from “women’s business grounded in women’s property and capital”, as Paula Petrik put it in her survey of prostitution in 19th century. Magnanti makes an excellent point that the sex work is about the work rather than the sex as sex workers stand up for their rights which are vital in the struggle for workers’ rights everywhere. The problems people have with prostitution are not different than illegal employment and widespread exploitation found throughout most industries, however people view sex work as a special case. Something to think about that Magnanti points out:

“We know of the dozens of trafficked people who died cockling in Morecambe Bay; no one suggested an ‘end demand’ strategy of outlawing the purchase of seafood to ‘solve’ this. And yet that is the sort of thinking driving most policy considerations today: from Ireland to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Sweden, people seem to have bought into the idea that because they dislike the type of work someone does, the people doing it need to be punished.”

5 thoughts on “Freakonomics: The Evolution of the Sex Industry

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  4. Any law prohibiting payment for sexual services would be impossible to enforce. An escort and/or an escort agency advertise that they offer “companionship”. However those in the know understand that sex is, in fact on offer and hire the escort who meets them in the privacy of their own home where sex is paid for and takes place. Prooving what goes on behind closed doors is extremely difficult and the level of intrusion required to do so would, I believe be unacceptable to most liberal minded people. Kevin

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