Why can’t women in prostitution just leave when they want to?
There are many reasons that women (and men) do not or cannot leave prostitution. In a 1998 survey of 475 women who were involved in prostitution, ninety-two percent of them said they wanted to leave prostitution but couldn't because they lack basic human services such as a home, job training, health care, counseling and treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.1 Another reason a prostituted woman might not leave prostitution is that she may be afraid of what her pimp will do to her and afraid for her life if she tries to leave.
In addition, leaving prostitution may be scary for other reasons. For many women, prostitution sexual exploitation and sexual abuse might be the only life they know. Many girls enter prostitution while they are minors2 and various studies reveal that from 60% to 90% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted in childhood. 3 The thought of leaving prostitution and having to find a new way to support themselves and their family might be overwhelming or scary for some people. However, there are organizations that can help a person go through the process of leaving prostitution. Go to our National Organizations - Trafficking/Prostitution/Sexual Exploitation page for resources.
1Prostitution: a critical review of the medical and social sciences literature Melissa Farley and Vanessa Kelly Women & Criminal Justice 2000, Vol 11 (4): 29-64, on page 23, citing Farley, et al. 1998
2 Polaris Project, Average Age of Entry Myth, January 5, 2016
3 Prostitution: a critical review of the medical and social sciences literature Melissa Farley and Vanessa Kelly Women & Criminal Justice 2000, Vol 11 (4): 29-64 , on page 14, citing Harlan, Rodgers & Slattery, 1981, Murphy, 1993; Silbert & Pines, 1983
Where can I find resources and help?
Because of myths and stereotypes about prostitution, and the fact that prostitution is illegal, prostituted women face many barriers to getting the help they need. Often times, a prostituted woman will not seek help out of fear of:
- having her children taken away from her;
- shame, ridicule and judgment;
- not being able to get a job once people know she has been in prostitution; and
- being arrested and other legal consequences.
However, you should know that there are resources out there for women in prostitution. WomensLaw.org has a list of resources that help adults and children who want to leave prostitution or who are being sexually exploited.