Cherie Jimenez, who directs the survivor-led EVA Center in Boston, an exit program for prostituted women and girls, tells me that she believes people don’t understand that decriminalization effectively means “a complete open market of abuse and pimping.” Jimenez says decriminalization of prostitution can make victims more vulnerable to the exploitation and violence “inherent in the sex trade” — violence she witnesses every day in helping victims of sexual exploitation who come through her center.
Several studies have found a connection between sexual abuse during childhood and victims turning to prostitution. Most women in prostitution do not want to be in the industry, according to a 2003 study, which found that 89% of prostituted women want to escape. A 2012 study found that, in countries where prostitution is legalized, the market for sex is expanded, and that there is an even higher rate of human trafficking in the country. This effect is strongest in high-income countries.
Yet decriminalization advocates maintain that the “sex work” model protects women by decriminalizing persons in prostitution. I agree that decriminalizing persons who are prostituted is necessary because no one should be criminalized for her own exploitation.