Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Opposing Viewpoints

By: Carly Romano

Even though the two issues are so intricately connected, countless politicians, activists, and academics have all attempted to put a dividing line between prostitution and sex trafficking, which has only added more confusion to the topic. Where does prostitution end and sex trafficking begin?

I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for a long time now, but the topic is so complex and involved, I feel like I would write a novel before it was finished. So I’ve decided to break it up into many smaller posts. Bit by bit, we’re going to see this issue for what it really is.

I found this book (Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Opposing Viewpoints edited by Louise Gerdes) at the library and was naturally curious. The way I tend to learn about the world around me is through debate and argument. Looking at opposing viewpoints is how I build a complete opinion that incorporates as much information as I can. To find all of those things in one book was a very intriguing prospect. 4 months, 10 renewals and $3.00 in library fees later, I finally finished it. It wasn’t what I expected, but it did add to the scope of my knowledge on the subject.

Instead of comparing prostitution and sex trafficking (like the title implies) numerous viewpoints on various facets of the issue are presented as a collection of journal articles. I would say that some of them are opposing, but the ones that are tend to lack a cohesive argument. Overall, I was sort of underwhelmed at all the “academic” opinions I read that were inadequate or even worse, full of stereotypes and name calling.

The book is divided up loosely into chapters: Is human trafficking a problem; Societal views of prostitution; Aggravating factors to both human trafficking and prostitution; What policies should govern prostitution.

Firstly, I was surprised that the question of “is human trafficking a problem?” was still being contested. One of the difficult parts of reading this book was the fact that the statistical references and bibliography of the original articles were not reproduced in the book, so it was difficult to reconcile the conflicting “facts” without ascertaining the sources. Many of the articles were based entirely on opinion, so it was doubly difficult to know where the authority of the words were coming from. One article says that non-profits are biased and inflate their figures of human trafficking, therefore, they can’t be trusted. But you could easily turn this argument around. Is the government really finding unbiased figures even when they have financial and politic motivations not to? At least someone is attempting to produce a figure at all. Until a completely impartial third party takes it upon themselves to do a meaningful study, you have to take all the figures with some sort of caution, but you can’t ignore them entirely. The big picture (no matter whose statistics you’re looking at) is that human trafficking is on the rise and is a problem worthy of attention, so this chapter seemed a little unnecessary to me.

Another article focused on the issue of human trafficking within Eastern Europe. One was a personal account. Another article countered with an opinion about how victims know what they are getting into prior to going. I was shocked and outraged by this, because it was based on little fact and employed peer pressure techniques to win over the readers. To quote one gem:

According to the International Office of Migration [IOM] which rescues and shelters these women, there are an estimated 400,000 enduring this existence. But as anyone who works closely with prostitutes and who isn’t infected with victimitis knows, the IOM version of events is nonsense.

Really? So I suppose that means anyone who disagrees with him is automatically infected with victimitis. Wait, I’ve seen this tactic employed before, but who used it? Oh right! Elementary school bullies. bullyGee, I don’t want people to think I’m infected with the victimitis disease, so I should probably just agree to whatever he says next. I then checked to see where the article came from, and my jaw dropped when I saw, Phelim McAleer, “Happy Hookers of Eastern Europe,” The Spectator, vol. 291, April 5, 2003.

The Spectator! You mean this was published by a respectable journal? Wow.

So I shake my head and continue on to some other articles. A common theme throughout the chapters was to add in a bit about either prostitution or sex trafficking as a health issue. I will get into this in another post, but public health concerns are something that people love to use to needlessly complicate the issue. If we are trying to answer the question of where prostitution ends and sex trafficking begins, then health concerns are irrelevant.

The rest of book deals with prostitution and how society views it. Here, for me, is where all of the confusion surrounding this issue comes into play. People try to talk about “prostitution” in terms of: criminal or not? But as I will get into in a different post, “prostitution” is a word we use for many different facets of an industry. Does it mean the service being sold, or the women, or the violence perpetuated towards women, or the act, or the money that transfers hands, or the pimps or the Johns? There are far too many facets and complexities to judge it in such narrow terms. It reminds me of the time I emailed an MP and asked for his party’s stance on prostitution and he replied in one sentence, “I don’t support it.” Don’t support what? The prostitutes? The John’s? The pimps? The legalization of any of the above? The financial support of any of the above? It’s a tad more complex than for or against. In retrospect, I should have also asked, “the environment: yes or no?”

In the same far reaching way, the articles chosen in the book tend to compare prostitution in overly broad terms that end up comparing apples with oranges. Many who argue for the “legalization of prostitution” (could mean anything) tend to focus on their opponents as being moral puritans sticking their noses in where it doesn’t belong and even harming women in the process. One article in particular has another gem entitled, “Sex is their business,” by scarily enough, the Economist.

Two adults enter a room, agree [on] a price, and have sex. Has either committed a crime? Common sense suggests not…


I see, so we’re talking to the expert on common sense now. I wonder if the Economist‘s financial advice is as simplistic as their moral advice. Two investment options are available, one in stocks and one in real estate. Should I choose the stock? Common sense suggests not…fool. I can hear Mr. T’s voice now. “I pitty the fool who thinks prostitution is a crime and invests in stocks!”

But please don’t think I’m being biased in my criticisms of this book. I was underwhelmed by all of the viewpoints supposedly supporting the “criminalization of prostitution”. Here’s a stand alone paragraph taken from Elaine Audet posted on

When we consider who would profit from the liberalisation of prostitution, it becomes clear that it would NOT be prostitutes or women in general. Rather, the beneficiaries will be pimps, dealers, organised crime, customers, and all those who view sexuality as but a mechanical act, deprived of reciprocity and of any responsibility. Liberalisation will only benefit those, whatever their social status, who want to be able to purchase power over a woman. [emphasis added in bold]

Been reading the Economist lately Elaine? Nasty habit. Am I the only one that had teachers drilling into them to support all opinions with facts? Nowhere in an essay was I allowed to use words like “common sense says” and “when we consider this topic, it’s clear that opinion A is correct: period.” How easy would English class have been if we were all allowed to talk like that?Teaching To use words like: A will only benefit B is a gross oversimplification of the “liberalisation of prostitution”. To Elaine and many others who attempt to deal with this topic, they see it all as simply black or white and can’t understand why others don’t see what they see. But as most things in life, there is a vast grey area that comprises 98% of the spectrum. To ignore it is to ignore 98% of the reality of the situation.

But I did mention one redeeming quality of the book (aside from learning that one of my blog posts could be submitted to the Economist for publishing). I read one article about human trafficking from Eastern Europe to Italy. On one hand, Italy makes their immigration policies entirely prohibitive to Eastern European women, and on the other, a representative of the Interior Ministry in Italy admitted that their care system for the elderly is entirely supported by Ukrainian women. Yet they fund and support programs that teach Ukrainian women the horrors of human trafficking. These conflicting messages all paint a terrible picture of a government that in the open denounces slavery, but in the shadows, secretly supports it. I had never considered human trafficking through an immigration lens before. Immigration policies play a large part in international human trafficking. If these policies better reflected the reality of the supply and demand of the job market and allowed people to enter the country legally, then less people would be unwittingly lured into slavery. I plan to go more into this topic soon, so I owe this book gratitude for at least making me consider a side to human trafficking I had not considered before.

However, overall, I found the book to use vague definitions of the terms and very little fact to support inflammatory and unsubstantiated opinions. I also found it odd that only the first 40 pages dealt with sex trafficking and the other 130 dealt with prostitution. For a book entitled, “Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Opposing Viewpoints”, I expected the majority of the book to contrast the two concepts, but I can’t remember one article that actually compared both topics at the same time.

I would not recommend this book to anyone new to the topic, as it will most likely confuse and enrage you. Neither would I recommend it to veterans who already know the subject material, as it will most likely confuse and enrage you. I suppose I’ll have to search deeper to find an opposing viewpoint that uses facts instead of bullying tactics. But when I do find it, you’ll be the first the know!


One response to “Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Opposing Viewpoints

  1. Hi Carly, Thanks for the helpful review. I tend to be easily “confused and enraged”, so you probably saved me the trouble. If you have written any similar reviews on any of the books I have listed on my blog, I would like to link to them, or even repost them on my blog with your permission. I’d love to know if any of the books on my lists were particularly illuminating and/or disturbing to you.
    Thanks again,

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