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VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN / October 2004

Some studies have found differences in the level of violence in street as opposed to brothel prostitution, with more incidents of violence in street than in brothel prostitution. These findings are relative, however. Most of us would not consider any predictable and systematic violence acceptable in our jobs. While 83% of 303 NZ respondents interviewed by Plumridge and Abel (2001) expe- rienced some type of violence in prostitution, 27% of those in street prostitution and 8% of those in brothel prostitution reported rape. Forty-one percent in street prostitution and 21% in brothel prostitution had been physically assaulted.

It is likely that the low rape incidence reported in some studies is a result of unclear definitions of rape. We found in our research that even women in prostitution themselves assume that rape cannot occur in prostitution when, in fact, it occurs constantly. Future research on prostitution should behaviorally define rape. For example, if rape is defined as any unwanted sex act, then pros- titution has an extremely high rate of rape because many survi- vors view prostitution as almost entirely consisting of unwanted sex acts or even, in one person’s words, paid rape.

Like Plumridge and Abel in NZ, we (Farley, Baral, et al., 1998) found more physical violence in street prostitution compared to brothel prostitution in South Africa. However, we found no dif- ference in the incidence of PTSD in these two types of prostitu- tion, suggesting that the emotional experience of prostitution is intrinsically traumatizing regardless of its indoor or outdoor loca- tion. Documenting the profound emotional distress experienced by women in two kinds of prostitution, a Canadian study com- pared strip club prostitution and street prostitution. The authors found that women prostituted in strip clubs had higher rates of dissociative and other psychiatric symptoms than those in street prostitution (Ross, Anderson, Heber, & Norton, 1990). In a sepa- rate study, we compared strip club/massage, brothel, and street prostitution in Mexico and found no differences in the prevalence of physical assault and rape in prostitution, of childhood sexual abuse, or symptoms of PTSD (Farley, et al., 2003). We also found no differences in the percentages of Mexican women in brothel, street, or strip club/massage prostitution who wanted to escape prostitution.

Vanwesenbeeck (1994) also observed great emotional distress among women in legal indoor prostitution in the Netherlands.

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