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About Abuse

Forced Prostitution

Updated: 
September 1, 2016

What is prostitution?

Prostitution is the exchange of sexual acts for money, food, rent, drugs, or something else of value. Prostitution can be a form of sexual exploitation and forcing a person into prostitution can be one way that an abuser commits domestic violence against his/her intimate partner. Sexual exploitation can include forcing someone to participate in any of the following:

  • street prostitution;
  • massage parlors or brothels;
  • escort services;
  • strip clubs;
  • phone sex;
  • pornography; and
  • domestic and international trafficking.

Prostitution is illegal everywhere in the United States except parts of Nevada. However, in more recent years through statutes and case decisions, many states have moved away from putting the focus of punishment on the prostitute and instead focused on the person who makes prostitution an ongoing business.1

In Colorado, for instance, someone who is a prostitute can at most can face up to 6 months of prison time and/or a $50 - $750 fine, depending on the individual case.2 But in the same state, a pimp (the person who arranges for clients for a prostituted woman) or a “john” (the person who hires the prostitute) can face up to 12 years of prison time and a fine of $750,000.3

1 Wharton’s Criminal Law § 266
2 C.R.S. § § 18-7-201; 18-1.3-501
3 C.R.S. § § 18-7-206; 18-1.3-401

What is a pimp?

A pimp is a person, usually male, who has control over one or more prostituted people and the money that they earn.1  Pimps often exert control much in the same way that an abuser may exert control over an intimate partner - through intimidation, fear, physical and sexual abuse, rape, torture, and other abusive methods.   Although some pimps might “protect” the prostitutes who work for them by making sure that the customers pay or don’t abuse them, pimps are often more violent to the prostitutes than the customers are.  In addition, any protection offered by a pimp is generally motivated by the pimp’s own desire for money, not concern for the prostituted person’s safety.  In fact, an early study (from 1994) found that 85% of prostitutes are raped by their pimps2 – although the numbers may be different if this study were done today.  Pimps also often threaten the lives of the prostitutes who work for them or threaten other harm to them or their families, which may prevent a person from leaving prostitution.

1Merriam Webster Dictonary
2 Council on Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, 1994

How is prostitution harmful to women?

Prostitution can be harmful on many levels, posing a threat to a woman’s mental and physical health among many other consequences. One small study of 130 prostitutes found that 68% of the prostituted women interviewed met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was in the same range as combat veterans and victims of torture.1

Even though prostitution itself is illegal, women who are prostituting can still be the victim of a crime; crimes such as rape and physical and sexual abuse are often committed against women in prostitution.  Women in prostitution have the right to report crimes committed against them, though many are afraid to come forward for a variety of reasons: they fear no one will believe them, they fear being arrested, they may feel ashamed, they don’t want anyone to know that they are working as a prostitute, etc.

Prostituted women are often victims of violence characterized by power and control (much like domestic violence) by pimps and customers, often called “johns.”  The methods of control that pimps and johns use are similar to the methods used by abusers.  Some examples include:

  • physical violence;
  • sexual assault;
  • economic abuse or manipulation;
  • isolation;
  • verbal abuse;
  • threats and intimidation; and
  • minimization and denial of physical violence.

Women in prostitution have a death rate that is significantly higher than women who are not involved in prostitution.2

1 Melissa Farley, et al. 2003. “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74 (see page 56).
2Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women, Potterat, Brewer, et. al. Am. J. Epidemiol. (2004) 159 (8): 778-785 (2004)