The essay requires me to describe and critique a contemporary Social Issue. The essay will examine the different influential perspectives on street prostitution undertaken by women and discuss claims that this constitutes as a ‘social problem’, and for whom. Subsequently I shall examine differences in the understanding of prostitution and any resources or services that may be available to support and assist those involved.

The term ‘prostitute’ refers to women over the age of consent who will willingly exchange in sexual services for money. However, research (Hocking, 2006:30) shows that ‘women still form the majority of prostitutes, but increasing extends to children, boys as well as girls’, which is abuse and has its own complications. Male prostitutes are not immune from exploration and ill treatment. As noted by Cornell (2006:196) one prostitute claims ‘that his work helped him to recover from childhood sexual abuse’.

However, as we are aware this can include ‘lap dancers’, ‘pole dancers’, and ‘pornographic actors / actresses’. However, Delacoste and Alexander, (1987) states that the term ‘sex industry’ was aimed at the inclusion of ‘exotic dancers’, ‘masseurs’, ‘sex telephone operators’, and a whole host of people including men who sell sex’. After living in an area where prostitution has taken place, it was my view that prostitution is a crime against morality. It is the woman involved who are ‘bad girls’, yet prostitution is a service for men that has been going on since the Roman times. However, in Britain it was only in the 19th century that the state became involved in organising public expressions of sexuality particularly prostitution.

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There are two particular problems as to why prostitution has developed into being problematic for the whole community. There is the ‘problem of public nuisance and public sexual health’ (Phoenix, 1999:34). As prostitution is performed in a variety of locations and settings including the streets and public conveniences, it has become a public nuisance. Phoenix (1999:21) describes it as ‘the visibility of prostitutes insult public decency’. The Wolfenden committee (1957:51) supports the view of Phoenix by stating ‘ordinary citizens who live in the area… cannot go about their daily business or avoid the state of affairs which seem to them to be an affront to public order and decency’. However, Sion (1977:15) asserts the problem of prostitution as ‘creating an environment where property values and businesses in these areas decline through the bad reputation of that area.

‘ I lived in a red light area; there was a fear of molestation and the local young girls dreaded going out at night for the fear of being sexually harassed and ‘kerb crawled’ by ‘punters’. This was not only unpleasant, but made the area feel unsafe and tense. There was a fear that crime would go up, therefore people with young families began to move away, and the local pub closed down. The traffic was bad, as there was lots of noise late at night such as shouting and slamming of car doors and unsavoury litter in the gardens. This caused great distress. No one wants their children to find used condoms or syringes at the bottom of the garden, as it is both unhygienic and dangerous. This then brings in another issue of the introduction of drug misuse and if they prostitute to get money for their next fix.

In 1980 ‘prostitute carding’ began to appear in phone boxes. This causes a problem for the community’s safety issues it exposes young children to inappropriate images and language. However, in 2001 this became an offence under the Sex Offenders Act 1985 with a �5,000 fine or six months in prison.

Prostitution has become a problem of public sexual health. This is not unique as in the nineteenth century the Contagious Disease Acts 1884, 1866 and 1869 legally formalised prostitution as a sexual health problem. Therefore, the community see prostitutes as sexually unclean and diseased. ‘Venereal disease was feminised and syphilis and gonorrhoea influenced the construction of prostitutes as they were contaminated individuals’ (Spongberg, 1997:54). However if they were certified to be free of disease they may be infected by the next ‘punter’ and so infect others before being examined again. As for HIV, months may have passed before the infection was confirmed.

Bradford (1988:30) however saw that prostitution had become its own full-fledged social problem, and Need, (1988:94) stated ‘it could erode and destroy the nation’. The general society sees it today as destroying the family, the home and the empire. It is only when the neighbourhoods complain that the police become involved.

There is wide spread ignorance of the cruel realities of prostitution, however it is ‘revealed whenever some aspect of it is considered news worthy by the media and so attract public attention’ as noted by Hocking (2006:29).

In the UK, prostitution itself is not against the law but there are a number of offences linked to it. For example, the politics website (undated) states ‘it is an offence to ‘procure’ a prostitute or to use premises as a brothel and thereby live off ‘immoral earnings’. The current legal system in use in England does not criminalise prostitutes themselves. However, our Victorian laws did view

Prostitution as an unacceptable way of life. However, ‘in Nordic States the age for legal prostitution is twenty and in Greece this is fourteen years old’

(, undated ).

In Switzerland and Australia, prostitution is legal but heavily regulated by the licensing of brothels by the state; goals to regulations include controlling sexually transmitted disease, reducing sexual slavery and controlling where brothels may operate. However, prostitutes themselves miss the ability to choose their punters, control the number of hours they work and services offered. However, they still get the streetwalkers who do not want the health services that are offered to them.

In the United States of America, their laws criminalise both men and women. Research, from the Home office Police Research series (134:8), shows that the murder rate of prostitutes in the USA is 16% higher then the UK.

New Zealand recently eradicated all the laws relating to prostitution and so decrimalises it. The issue of decrimalisation was linked to Human Rights and gender issues. Therefore, it is a crime, but exploitative laws to target violent pimps not the prostitutes.

Michael (2006) stated that the Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart is in favour of ‘allowing vice girls to make mini brothels of their homes’. She goes on to say ‘it could be a nuisance for neighbours, but instead safety of hookers was more important’. However, there is concern that to legalise brothels it would not clear the streets, as it would prove a legal market for prostitution and stimulate traffic in persons for the purposes of prostitution. However, some argue that licensed brothels would help to ensure worker safety, keep prostitution off the streets, and help prevent health problems, bring revenue to the Treasury, but it would be interesting to find out what they spend the money on, and remove the need for exploitative and abusive pimps.

Desmond (2006) noted in a further change to the laws’ Streetwalkers, will no longer face fines but will get help with drink or drug problems’, if England was to regulate prostitution.

The practical implications of prostitution being legal would bring nothing but benefits for sex workers and society as a whole. They are then not forced to work in ‘hidden’ locations. However, others may argue that it should not be legalised as it implies that the state imposes regulations under which women can be prostituted and that it is permissible to exploit and abuse women. After all, it is a women’s right to choose this form of employment and not be dependent on other sources. However, prostitution will still be around for years to come.

The impact on prostitution can affect everyone in the community. As well as the negative impact on the prostitutes and their families, prostitution can contributes to the neighbourhood’s social and environmental decline. It can have an impact on quality of life through the advertising of prostitute cards, the proposition of local residents, the use and selling of drugs (of which 95% are on class type ‘A’.) according to the Home Office paper on prostitution (2004:47) ,other criminal activity and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Prostitutes are continuously arrested for soliciting and suffer the extra burden of fines for their offence, poverty, murder, rape, torture, violence, pornography, blackmail, STD’s, drug addiction, ‘alcoholism’, debt, violence, stigmatisation, reduced civil liberties and the rights of human dignity and housing problems and many have low self esteem and few qualifications and skills. Prostitution is also a high-risk occupation and therefore has health and safety risks. According to Barnardos (1998:38), ‘young people have a difficulty in getting out of the situation they have been caught in a spiral of exploration, and homelessness and therefore have become trapped’. They also stated ‘prostitutes have a lack of support’. One girl from Barnardos (1998:38) noted that ‘the girls on the streets are not a very supportive group, as they are in competition for limited resources’.

In contempory society, prostitution for some women offers a good enough standard of income for shorter working hours and some degree of independence, but can also offer a better quality of life for their children due to regular incomes.

The 1959 Sex Offenders Act states that ‘sale of sex is not an offence, however many of the activities connected with it are’. Prostitutes have good cause to complain of this act and the way it works. However, the organisations that claim to represent them call for the abolition of all laws on prostution. As Bresler (1958:23) notes, ‘prostitutes are only criminalised when they attempt to work’. Their punters are at risk of being criminalised as in 1959′ kerb crawling’ was made an offence (Sexual Offences Act 1985). The Sun newspaper (June 2006) goes on to say that ‘kerb crawlers will be prosecuted rigorously, shamed in newspapers, lose driving licences and be made to pay �200 for re- education.

Prostitution also poses a threat to the hetro sexual society, symbolised in the ‘innocent victims’ the ‘clients’, ‘wives’, ‘girlfriends’, and the children according to McKeganey and Bernard (1996:58). Metropolitan police figures reported (2005) that in ‘nine London Boroughs there were eight hundred saunas, massage parlours and escorts, there were five thousand women that worked to provide sex, and many were Eastern European or from the Baltic States’. Prostitution in the UK is worth more than ‘three quarters of a billion pounds a year’ (Royal Ecomic Society, 2001). ‘In 1998 there were seven cases uncovered of women being trafficked into prostitution’ (Home Office, 1998), and ‘one hundred and eighty-eight people were prosecuted for pimping in 1997’ (Home Office Police Research series 134). Taken from the politics website.

There are four possible political approaches to prostitution: ‘Abolition where the prostitute and the client are both prosecuted, Regulation where prostitution is regarded as legitimate, Legalisation where prostitution is a crime and decrimalisation where prostitution is inevitable, but exploitative laws to target violent pimps not the prostitutes’ (taken from lecture notes SOW12 October 2006).

Along with the public, social workers need to be aware of diverse sexualities and peoples life style choices. Therefore, there needs to be more training on intellectual exploration of social issues surrounding diverse sexuality, so it may help us to understand why they do this and help us to help them overcome any problems they may have. There are many drop in centres such as Barnardo’s street and Lane project, The Magdalene group, Poppy and the Prostitute Outreach workers (POW).

POW ‘was launched in 1990 when local women from the prostitute community volunteered to train as researchers to assess health and intervention needs of prostitute women in a disadvantaged area of the city of Nottingham. POW’s aim is to ensure appropriate services are accessible to the prostitute community. They offer a free, confidential drop in and out reach service to those people that are involved, wishing to exit or at risk of becoming involved’. Taken from POW Annual report (2004). Their aim is to ensure that there are appropriate services available to the prostitute community. POW also offers services and information to professionals who work with prostitutes and drug users. They also offer practical support with homelessness, health appointments, court appearances, welfare rights and avenues into education and training.

Apart from the prostitute, they also ensure appropriate services are available and accessible to family and friends to those involved.

According to their 2004 annual report they make ‘2850 client contacts a year’, of which they say are results from the continuity of outreach work, networks and links within the community and with other agencies and in institutions.

Engagement in prostitution makes sense by the government of a specific prostitute identity which as Phoenix (1994:4) describes as ‘prostitutes as workers and as commodified bodies; ‘prostitutes as victims and as survivors; and prostitutes as business women and loving partners. So we have seen definitions of the term ‘prostitute’ as multiple, fragmented and contradictory definitions. So even if having the option of legalized prostitution enhances the freedom of some women, we need to ask ourselves whether it diminishes the freedom of other woman. Therefore, we cannot assume that all prostitutes freely choose to participate, even in the case of adult women as they may have been led down that route, since childhood. As we have seen the majority of prostitutes are not free agents, but work under some degree of duress.


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Cornell, D. (1998) at the heart of freedom: Feminism, sex and equality’. Princeton University press.

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