In Love Ranch, a movie with Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci that is the semi-fictitious story of the early years of the Mustang Ranch Brothel in Nevada, there is a scene where religious protesters come out to the Ranch (carrying signs that say "God's Law not Man's Law," which encapsulates the Radical Right's position on the entire subject of "vaginal Management" perfectly), demanding its closure, because it is an unfit occupation for women, and a blight on the community. Helen Mirren's character--who is playing the titular Love Ranch's madame and part owner--steps out of the building with her "working girls." Ms. Mirren then makes a declaration that is the most publicly sympathetic reason ever stated by Hollywood for why every non-coerced sex worker in the world does what they do: "Do you think any of these girls dreamed of being hookers when they grew up. They are doing the very best they can with the hand they've been dealt."
Many of the worst parts of every sex worker's life in America, and particularly prostitutes, or as I prefer to call them professional sex providers, are directly attributable to the barrier of government's laws and society's attitudes that are imposed, directly and indirectly, between every sex worker and any hope of their ever finding a place within society. This barrier is particularly imposing for the professional sex provider. Public condemnation, as well as the ingrained indifference, if not outright hostility, of law enforcement and parts of the medical establishment--especially mental health social workers and some members of the psychiatric community--places barriers in the sex workers life that are currently impossible to overcome. One example is law enforcement's infamous special descriptive term for crimes where certain individuals--including sex workers, and especially professional sex providers--are the victims: NHI-no human involvement.
Human trafficking and all of the other coercive problems which the public associates with sex work has as their underlying cause the fact that prostitution has been criminalized. Every business needs protection from theft, fraud, and violence by its customers, and sex work is not an exception. Some sex workers--exotic dancers for example--in theory at least, have limited protection provided by law enforcement agencies. However, most of them could use protection from the predation and fraud inflicted on them by the owner or managers at their workplace.
Because prostitution is illegal, professional sex providers cannot call the cops if a customer doesn't pay, or beats her up (yes, I know that there are male and trans-gender professional sex providers, but I will refer to all professional sex providers in this article as "her" for the sake of simplicity) and/or robs her. In fact, at times law enforcement are the worst exploiters of professional sex providers, demanding "freebies" in exchange for turning a blind eye (The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City; John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Center For Court Innovation, 2008; p. 93; http://www.courtinnovation.org). While the popular stereotype of the pimp exists, he is in reality such a small factor in prostitution today that he can almost be ignored.
No sane person--including professional sex providers--wants to see the television archetype of a thirteen or fourteen year-old runaway being forced into prostitution by some pimp who broke their will by having them gang raped for a week while being fed a steady stream of booze and drugs. As relatively rare as this phenomenon may be in real life , any form of coercion, any type of sex trafficking of individuals who are below the age of consent (18), should open the perpetrator of this crime against the child to charges that puts them away for decades. These coercive crimes, even when perpetrated against individuals who are of consenting age (18+)--especially in the case of individuals brought across state lines or from outside the country--should warrant long stretches in prison, say five years plus per count.
Right now, prostitution is at its lowest point in terms of percentage of the female population who are professional sexual providers in our nation's history. According to Nickie Roberts' book Whores In History (1992), historically five to ten percent of the female population throughout human history--varying by time and location--has engaged in prostitution at least part-time. Up until the early Twentieth Century, prostitution was often the only alternative women had to starvation and homelessness for themselves and their children if their spouse abandoned them. The social safety net that was established under the New Deal and the Great Society programs has done more to reduce these numbers than any moral crusade.
One source gives the total number of active, declared professional sex providers in the United States as 443,323 . The total number of professional sex providers in the United States that is usually given by law enforcement is 203 per 100,000 , and supposedly includes streetwalkers, message parlor workers, and escorts, based upon a study done by law enforcement in El Paso County Colorado in the 1970's and 1980's ( American Journal of Epidemiology Copyright - 2004 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Vol. 159, No. 8 DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwh110). If that report is correct, that would mean that there are approximately 631,000 full-time professional sex providers--female, male, and trans-gender--in the United States at this time.
I believe both of these numbers significantly underestimates the total number of sex workers who work as professional sex providers in this country in a given year.
First of all, El Paso County's major city is Colorado Springs, with an average population of 300,000 during the time of the study. Colorado Springs is a city with a large number of military bases (Fort Carson, Falcon Air Force Base, NORAD, etc.), as well as being the "Vatican" of the evangelical Christian movement. Those three facts mean that El Paso County is not exactly a realistic or representative sample for estimating the scope of prostitution for the entire nation. It is too small and specialized of a sample, in an area where the largest proportion of professional sex providers will be streetwalkers (to satisfy the needs of the military in the area), and the pressure by the evangelical Christians in Colorado Springs is likely to cause an under reportage of professional sex providers by governmental authorities.
When I look at these figures from El Paso County--with their reports of high incidence of STD's, drug use, and other negative statistics about prostitution--I am led to a single conclusion: whoever it was who collected this data and then converted them into these statistics, concentrated on the poor drug-addled streetwalker in order to give the most negative view of prostitution that they could.
I believe that the 631,000 professional sex providers figure that is arrived at using the El Paso County's study numbers is only between forty and sixty percent of the number of active professional sex providers in the United States today. This would mean that there are somewhere between 1,052,000 and 1,578,000 sex workers working as professional sex providers--full or part-time--in our country today.
I base my estimate on the fact that there are higher numbers of professional sex providers per 100,000 in Western Europe and Canada than there are officially admitted to in the United States, a number that equals one percent ( http:/ / www. amnestyforwomen. de/ _notes/ FInal Report TAMPEP 8 BRD 2009. pdf, ) of the female population in Germany.
This is a number at least two and one-half times that given by Maggie McNeill on her "Honest Courtesan" website at the low end, and roughly two and one-half times the number arrived at using the El Paso County figures on the high end. Ms. McNeill at least qualifies her statement by saying "declared," full-time professional sex providers. I believe that there are at least twice as many "undeclared" professional sex providers, i.e., part-timers, than Ms. McNeill's estimate.
Before we have any discussion on professional sex providers and their legal status, we must have a serious discussion of sexual slavery. There is increasing evidence that the stories of large scale sexual trafficking--especially of children--in the United States and elsewhere, are exaggerated , and that the numbers that are being used by governments, religious leaders, and radical feminists to further their own agendas are wildly inflated . The estimated number of children being exploited in sex trafficking in America varies according to sources from 1,400 to 2.5 million (Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire; Fact sheet written by Michelle Stransky and David Finkelhor, 2008; http://www.unh.edu/ccrc).
I believe that the first number is almost certainly too low, probably by a factor of ten. The best number (from Ms. McNeill's Honest Courtesan website) I have seen for the total number of professional sex providers under the age of 18 in this country is 15,694 . Not all of these are trafficked, exploited individuals; very few ( 8% according to one study by New York City Police) may have been coerced into the world's oldest profession. A 2008 study estimates that the total number of trafficked individuals in the United States, of all ages and employment types, including that of sex worker, at somewhere between 14,500-17,500 . The second number (2.5 million) is obviously impossible. It is at least fifty percent higher than my highest estimate of the total number of professional sex providers in this country. It is nearly four times the figure arrived at using El Paso County's 203 per 100,000 population estimate for all professional sex providers in this country, which is the number most commonly used by law enforcement, and nearly six times Ms. McNeill's number.
The extremists in the United States are not alone in their excessive estimates. In Great Britain a bill was passed to stop the influx of trafficked individuals ( Police Bill of 2009 ), by making it a crime to purchase sex from an individual who had been trafficked. This was in answer to the " Poppy Report ," and other research papers that estimated there to be tens of thousands of trafficked women in Great Britain, perhaps as many as 80,000 .