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On Prostitution

By Kristi Holsinger

The media request came to a few of the faculty in the Criminal Justice and Criminology department at UMKC.  They were looking for an expert to interview about “why prostitutes are easier targets for serial killers than people who work ‘regular’ jobs?” Although I have learned a great deal about prostitution over the past ten years, largely from advocates working in our community, I declined for a variety of reasons, but couldn’t easily dismiss the request from my head — there was just too much wrong with it.

First, there is the use of the word “prostitute” and all of the even less flattering terms that come to mind used to describe this group of people–all terms which dehumanize and separate “them” from “us,” all terms which ignore the victimization and trauma that lead to involvement in prostitution and are part of the experience of prostitution. Advocates and scholars prefer the term “people used in commercial sexual exploitation” as this societal practice often looks more like slavery than a regular job. With the prevalence of human trafficking the face of prostitution is more complex than ever.

Second, certain women and girls in our society are easier targets, not just for serial killers, but also for sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, and rape. Varying reporting, conviction, and sentencing outcomes make it clear that some of us are more “valuable” and “worthy” of protection than others. The list of factors that matter is probably not all that surprising: age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, marital status, sexual orientation, disability status and immigration status.

I was pretty sure it would be impossible for these thoughts to be accurately conveyed in a 5-second sound bite; however I do have regrets about not at least having the dialogue. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation are enormous worldwide problems which inflict tremendous suffering. We all ought to be learning about, talking about, and working on addressing these issues. I hope you’ll take the time to learn more.