VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN / October 2004
normalized and invisible. Yet it is pervasive: 88% of 315 prostitut- ing women and adolescents in Canada, Colombia, and Mexico described verbal abuse as intrinsic to prostitution (Farley et al., 2003). Verbal assaults in all types of prostitution are likely to cause acute and long-term psychological symptoms. Explaining this process, one woman said that over time “it is internally damag- ing. You become in your own mind what these people do and say with you. You wonder how could you let yourself do this and why do these people want to do this to you?” (Farley, 2003b, p. 267).
PTSD IS A CONSEQUENCE OF PROSTITUTION
Laws that justify legalization or decriminalization of prostitu- tion to safeguard women’s health fail to address the psychologi- cal harm of prostitution. Although the traumatic effects of rape and other violence to women who are not in prostitution are well established, the same trauma is not well understood among women in prostitution. Research on the traumatic effects of rape applies to women in prostitution. Aosved and Long (2003), for example, found that women who experience rape resulting from coercive tactics such as abuse of authority, arguments, or social pressure experience the same high levels of depression and PTSD as women who have been raped as a result of force and threat of force.
The diagnosis of PTSD encompasses symptoms resulting from traumatic events, including the trauma of prostitution. PTSD can result when people have experienced
extreme traumatic stressors involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury; or other threat to one’s personal integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integ- rity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate. (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 424)
PTSD is characterized by anxiety, depression, insomnia, irrita- bility, flashbacks, emotional numbing, and hyperalertness. Symptoms are more severe and long lasting when the stressor is