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Prostitution is an ugly fact of life. And it’s not going to go away by either ignoring it or looking down one’s nose at women who are out walking the streets all hours of the day and night.

They are people. Females who did not embark on this as a career pursuit, got sucked up into a dead-end existence and more than likely would love to find a way out but can’t seem to devise the means.

Tons and tons of research over the years has identified over and over again that an incredible majority of women who prostitute themselves have been physically or sexually abused as girls, not infrequently as far back as childhood. One would do well to reserve self-righteous disdain and disgust for the men who commit unconscionable acts against children and young women.

Melissa Farley and Howard Barkan, authors of Prostitution, Violence, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Haworth Press, Inc.), in the 1990s conducted a study on prostitution, violence against women and post-traumatic stress disorder. They interviewed 130 San Francisco prostitutes. Fifty-seven percent reported a history of childhood sexual abuse by an average of three perpetrators.

Forty-nine percent said that as kids, they had been hit or beaten by a caregiver until they had bruises or were injured in some way. Many seemed unsure what abuse actually is. When you are young enough and it is routine enough you don’t know enough to realize it’s abuse.

Asked why she answered “no” to the question about suffering sexual abuse as a youngster, one woman related, “Because there was no force, and besides, I didn’t even know what it was then — I didn’t know it was sex.” That is how young she had been. There is, by the way, no reason to believe women in Minneapolis, St. Paul and anywhere else, for that matter, fare any differently.

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We need to be able to see past the stigma and quit knee-jerk ostracizing people who desperately need programs and institutions to help them save their lives.

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A 1982 report “Victimization of street prostitutes” in Victimology: An International Journal states that the average age a youngster enters prostitution is 13 or 14. You really think that, at that age, they looked up from reading about their favorite celebrities in one of those teen magazines, a light bulb went off and they said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. I’ll go be a hooker!”?

There’s pretty much three ways they get trapped into it. They are runaways who get lied to and lured in by some slick-talking pimp or madam. They’re forced into it by being threatened and beaten. Their drug habit, which someone may very well have started them out on with purpose in mind to first string her out, then turn her out on the corner.

There are, of course, also grown women who find themselves — especially in this economy — in the position where it simply seems like a viable option instead of starving to death. As well, consider women with poor job skills who escaped or were abandoned by abusive husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and quite possibly to support their children.

Even entertaining the notion that prostitution is a so-called victimless crime is a form of willful denial and you needn’t be a clinical psychologist to figure that out. Because she’s out there, holding down the stroll, maybe even cracking a joke with the other girls or acquaintances on the street don’t prove she is doing this of her own volition.

No, you don’t see a gun being held to her head. Doesn’t mean it’s not there. It could simply be at home, in the hand of Sweet Leroy, Bubba or whoever controls her, sending her out the door each day with a promise of an ass-whippin’ or worse if she doesn’t come back with enough money.

Could be the gun is figurative. Could be it’s her circumstance: kids to clothe and feed, the anchor of drug addiction dragging her life down. It can be anything you, yourself, have never had to deal with, never had to contend with in the course and cycle of self-destruction that baffles even you, yourself.

These women are human beings who caught an extremely nasty break in life. It can happen to anybody. And it does.

Hopping up on a high horse and looking down on them is base snobbery and doesn’t help a thing. Programs in place to support and salvage these souls do. It helps by providing a way women can get in off the street by doing the kind of outreach that let’s them know they actually can get in off the street. That rehabilitation is a reality.

We need to be able to see past the stigma and quit knee-jerk ostracizing people who desperately need programs and institutions to help them save their lives. People who go around with an attitude against prostitutes, yet aren’t willing to at least acknowledge, “There but for the grace of God…,” miss the boat.

People who condescend, judge and basically act like their own stuff never stinks don’t get it. And, in fact, are part of the problem.

 

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.


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