A Path to Liberation
“There will never be enough willing participants to meet the demand of buyers.”
—Sex-trafficking survivor on why we should not legalize prostitution.
In 2002, the National Security Presidential Directive said, “Prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing,” and at The Jensen Project, we agree. Prostitution is not, by its nature, a consensual act. The body cannot tell the difference between the trauma of legal and illegal prostitution.
Many prostituted people are forced, deceived, or coerced into “the Life” or “the Game.” Those who allegedly choose this income path have little to no options for working at a true living wage. Those who would call themselves “escorts” are oftentimes using the skills they learned during childhood sexual abuse and other types of sexual exploitation to provide for themselves. We are not judging prostituted people; we are advocating for a more humane path to their independence.
There is inherent harm in prostitution and the sex trade for women and other marginalized people. Studies show:
- The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12.
- 42% of prostituted people have attempted suicide at least once.
- 55% of sex trafficking victims report suffering from PTSD.
- 80–90% of prostituted people are controlled by pimps.
- 89% of prostituted people wanted to escape prostitution.
- 92% of women in the sex trade report being physically assaulted.
The Jensen Project aims to join other voices in presenting the Equality Model as a robust framework for addressing these systemic problems. By examining the key principles and components of the Equality Model, we seek to emphasize the importance of prioritizing the rights, safety, and well-being of survivors of prostitution and the sex trade while countering arguments for full decriminalization of prostitution. We believe this model can lead America to a place where compassion meets justice, where social norms are reshaped, and where the promise of a better future for all becomes a tangible reality.
The Equality Model
The Equality Model provides a framework that recognizes the inherent violence, inequality, and exploitation present in the sex trade while offering a comprehensive, evidence-based approach that seeks to disrupt the sex trade market. The core principles of the Equality Model are rooted in the belief that prostitution is a form of violence against marginalized and vulnerable people, and is a manifestation of gender inequality. By criminalizing the purchase of sex, decriminalizing individuals in prostitution, and providing trauma-informed, inclusive support services, the Equality Model stands as a visionary path to liberation that not only dismantles the structures that perpetuate exploitation but also champions the rights and dignity of survivors.
Key Components of the Equality Model
The Equality Model criminalizes the purchase of sex.
By shifting the focus from criminalizing individuals in prostitution to those who purchase sex and who traffick people for commercial sexual exploitation, the Equality Model aims to reduce demand and disrupt the market for sexual exploitation.
The Equality Model decriminalizes individuals in prostitution.
Recognizing the vulnerability and coercion experienced by individuals in the sex trade, the Equality Model decriminalizes those engaged in prostitution. This ensures that they are not further victimized by the legal system and can access opportunities for exit including reducing vulnerabilities and barriers to gaining employment and housing after exit.
The Equality Model includes comprehensive support services.
The Equality Model places significant emphasis on providing survivors with comprehensive support services, including safe housing, healthcare, education, job training, and counseling.
Strengths of the Equality Model
Addressing violence against women
The Equality Model recognizes that prostitution is inherently rooted in gender inequality and violence against women. By criminalizing the purchase of sex, it directly addresses the demand that perpetuates exploitation and trafficking.
Empowering survivors and providing support
The Equality Model prioritizes the rights, safety, and well-being of survivors by decriminalizing individuals engaged in prostitution and providing support services. This empowers survivors to access the assistance they need and fosters their ability to choose a new path.
Disrupting the cycle of exploitation
By targeting the demand side of the sex trade, the Equality Model aims to disrupt the cycle of exploitation. Criminalizing the purchase of sex sends a strong message that the commodification of human bodies for sexual purposes is unacceptable and helps reduce the market for sexual exploitation.
Fostering gender equality
The Equality Model acknowledges that the sex trade perpetuates gender inequality by treating people, particularly women and girls who comprise the vast majority of people in prostitution, as commodities. By challenging the social acceptance of the sex trade and promoting gender equality, the model seeks to change societal attitudes and norms that contribute to the exploitation of women. It aims to create a society where women are not reduced to objects for sale and where their rights and dignity are respected.
The Equality Model has shown promising results in countries such as Sweden, Norway, and France, where it has been implemented. Studies indicate that criminalizing the purchase of sex has reduced demand, discouraged sex trafficking, and led to a decline in street-based prostitution. Meanwhile, comprehensive support services have helped survivors rebuild their lives and exit the sex trade.
The Dangers of Full Decriminalization
An active sex trade lobby has emerged, arguing that commercial sex should be fully decriminalized in order to make it safe. Supporters of both full and partial decriminalization agree on decriminalizing prostitution for those selling sex to protect prostituted people and victims of sex trafficking, but research shows that full decriminalization will unintended, harmful side effects to prostituted people.
Increased demand and exploitation
Full decriminalization of prostitution would invariably lead to an increase in demand, which, in turn, would fuel sex trafficking. Studies on the full decriminalization of prostitution in Germany found over 1,000,000 men are buying sex in Germany from 400,000 prostituted people, an unattainable demand. This surge in demand creates a profitable market for the exploitation of vulnerable individuals, particularly women and girls. It is well-documented that the majority of individuals in the sex trade have experienced various forms of violence and trauma, including physical and sexual abuse, coercion, and exploitation. By removing legal barriers and normalizing the sex trade, full decriminalization would inadvertently perpetuate the cycle of violence against women and other historically marginalized individuals.
Normalization and societal harm
Full decriminalization sends a message that the sex trade is a legitimate industry and a healthy option for women. In Nevada where, in many counties, prostitution is legal, 81% of voters opted to keep prostitution legal, yet Nevada still has the highest rates of sex trafficking—63% higher than New York’s numbers and twice that of California’s—because the supply of prostituted people cannot meet the demands of buyers who now feel entitled to sexual services. This normalization may in turn have profound social consequences, reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes and perpetuating the objectification and commodification of bodies. It undermines efforts to achieve gender equality by entrenching gendered power imbalances and promoting the notion that certain people’s bodies can be bought and sold. Such normalization would have a detrimental impact on society, contributing to the persistence of harmful perspectives, including gender-based violence.
Lack of regulation and accountability
Full decriminalization of prostitution eliminates the regulatory framework that aims to protect the rights and well-being of individuals in the sex trade. In the absence of legal safeguards, exploitative practices such as trafficking, coercion, and violence against victims would go unchecked. The lack of accountability for buyers, pimps, and traffickers allows them to operate with impunity, further marginalizing and endangering individuals in the sex trade. This lack of regulation and oversight undermines efforts to combat sex trafficking and protect the most vulnerable members of society.
Intersectionality and marginalized communities
It is essential to recognize the intersectional dimensions of sex trafficking and the impact of full decriminalization on marginalized communities. Individuals from racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous backgrounds, and those experiencing economic disparities are disproportionately represented in the sex trade. Full decriminalization would exacerbate the vulnerabilities faced by these communities, leading to increased exploitation and perpetuating systemic inequalities.
In considering the arguments against full decriminalization of prostitution, it is crucial to acknowledge the underlying violence against vulnerable and marginalized populations that persists within the sex trade. The normalization, increased demand, and lack of regulation associated with full decriminalization can perpetuate exploitation and harm to vulnerable individuals. By embracing the principles of the Equality Model, society can work towards dismantling systems of oppression, protecting survivors, and fostering a more equitable and just future.
Addressing Concerns about the Equality Model
Concern: The Equality Model will push prostitution further underground.
Critics argue that by criminalizing the purchase of sex, the Equality Model would drive prostitution further underground, making it more difficult for individuals to access support services and increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.
Response: The Equality Model recognizes that prostitution perpetuates gender inequality and violence against women. By criminalizing the purchase of sex, the model seeks to disrupt the demand for commercial sex, which is a key driver of sex trafficking. While the push for full decriminalization may seem appealing in theory, evidence suggests that regulated and unregulated systems fail to protect individuals from exploitation and violence. The Equality Model’s focus on support services ensures that individuals have access to assistance without further criminalizing their actions.
Concern: The Equality Model disregards the agency and choices of individuals.
Opponents of the Equality Model argue that it fails to acknowledge the agency and choices of individuals in the sex trade. They claim that criminalizing the purchase of sex infringes upon their autonomy.
Response: While respecting individual autonomy is crucial, it is essential to recognize the power dynamics, exploitation, and coercion inherent within the sex trade. The Equality Model acknowledges the complex realities faced by individuals in prostitution and seeks to address the systemic factors that perpetuate their vulnerability.
Concern: The Equality Model has an inadequate focus on harm reduction and worker safety.
Critics argue that the Equality Model neglects the need for harm reduction strategies and fails to prioritize the safety and well-being of individuals in the sex trade. They claim that a harm reduction approach, combined with regulation and labor rights, would provide better protection for those engaged in sex work.
Response: The Equality Model places a significant emphasis on support services and care for individuals in the sex trade. Rather than solely focusing on harm reduction within the context of ongoing exploitation, the model strives to address the structural inequalities and violence that perpetuate the sex trade. By criminalizing the purchase of sex, the model aims to decrease demand and ultimately reduce the number of people harmed by the sex trade.
The Equality Model provides a comprehensive and victim-centered approach to combat sex trafficking and exploitation in America. By criminalizing the purchase of sex, decriminalizing individuals in prostitution, and providing support services, the model prioritizes the rights, safety, and well-being of survivors. This approach not only addresses the immediate issues related to sex trafficking and exploitation but also aims to disrupt the underlying systems that perpetuate these crimes.
Implementing the Equality Model requires a multi-faceted approach involving legislation, law enforcement cooperation, and the provision of support services. By targeting the demand side of the sex trade, the model aims to reduce the profitability of exploitation and create a society that does not tolerate the commodification of human beings.
The Equality Model stands as a comprehensive and victim-centered solution to combat sex trafficking and exploitation in America. The Jensen Project proudly supports NCOSE, Rights 4 Girls, and World Without Exploitation in their efforts to make the Equality Model a reality in the United States.
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