“I honestly believe it stops rape,” Benjamin told me. “It allows men to let off steam and have our natural urges met.” Benjamin was talking about the benefits of prostitution. It is good for women, he argued, because rather than rape, men can have sex how and when they want by paying for it with a prostituted woman. For men, it ensures their needs are met. In Benjamin’s view, everyone is happy.
But his assertions are as far from the reality of the sex trade as possible. Men are not programmed to rape if they cannot get immediate access to sex, and there is no such thing as a “right” to sex. “When men claim that prostitution reduces rape,” sex trade survivor Fiona Broadfoot says, “What they really mean is that it is OK to rape prostituted women, which is how we experience sex with johns. Prostitution is rape.”
Over the past two decades, I have interviewed scores of men who pay for sex—in legal brothels and illegal massage parlors, and on the street. I have heard every justification from these men, including one about helping women feed their kids with the money exchanged for sex. Although prostitution—both buying and selling sex—is illegal across most of the U.S., very few sex buyers are ever arrested. Prostituted women, however, are heavily and unjustly criminalized, despite evidence that the vast majority are coerced and exploited into the sex trade.
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