Les Miserables on prostitution

After watching a musical in December, my daughter and I were compelled to read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The size of the book is a bit daunting, but I immediately became lost in the story and felt I knew the characters intimately. Many words have jumped off the page and grabbed my heart, and I’m sure just as many went over my head due to language and cultural barriers.

I’ll be sharing some quotes with you over the days. Each deserves its own commentary. The quote today is from Fantine, Book Fifth, XI:

The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilisation, but it does not yet permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilisation. This is a mistake. It still exists: but it weighs now only upon woman, and it is called prostitution.

Knowing personally many women who have experienced the slavery of prostitution, this quote had me nodding. I was thrilled to see that even in 19th century literature prostitution was viewed as slavery by some. Today I feel our society in general has a compassionless attitude towards women enslaved in prostitution. This attitude conveys to these women, “You choose to live this life. You are worthless. Get out of my sight.”

The reality for most of these women has been their lack of choices since childhood. Many have been sexually abused by family members, some offered to others outside of the family. They may have grown up with drugs surrounding them, or ran to the streets to escape the horrors of their homes. On the streets, pimps are quick to pick up these little girls and offer them safety. The pimp becomes the controlling father, forcing the girls to use drugs so that they will be compliant. If they are not compliant, they are beaten. If the girls turn to the law, they will be returned home, or sent to another place of the unknown. These are girls, preteen, early teen. These are not yet women. These girls never get an education. They live a life surrounded by violence and drugs. They do not know love, except by the feelings they have when they have children. But the children get taken away.

As these girls grow up, some become streetwise enough to escape. They run to another city and try to make it on their own. Without an education and skills to become self sufficient, these young women end up doing what they know best for money to eat, to live. They are surviving; and fall back into the life, just another city and a new pimp.

These young women grow up. Their value as a commodity reduces as they age. They are no longer hidden from view by their pimps, but are put to the street to hock their wares. These women that society views as “prostitutes” have already lived a life of horror. They did not one day decide to sell their body on the street for some extra cash. They have been discarded there without seeing other alternatives. They truly are enslaved.

This story is not true of all women enslaved in prostitution. For some it is much more horrific, children being groomed to enter life as a commodity. For some it is purely desperation, survival. But in all cases, it is slavery.

There is much media attention on international prostitution rings, children being bought and sold. These stories, these children do affect our lives. My heart breaks for them, but let us not overlook what is happening in our own cities to our local girls. They no more chose prostitution than did these international children.

I think it is easier for us to help the international problem because we can send money and pray and feel like we have helped. Helping locally can be a bit more sticky. These are people that live all around us. If you live in a city and think there is not prostitution happening near your neighborhood, statistics show that largest volume of prostitution occurs in the wealthiest parts of the city. The largest volume of prostitution is invisible to the untrained eye.

Statistics

  • There are approximately 1 million prostituted women in North America, or 1% of women in North America are involved in prostitution.1
  • An estimated 600,000 children under 18 are involved in prostitution or pornography.2
  • 12 is the average age of entry into pornography and prostitution.3
  • As many as 2.8 million children live on the streets. 1 out of every three will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.4
  • A national study shows that 75% of all women used in prostitution were victims of incest and/or physical abuse as children.5
  • Most of those involved in prostitution ran away from home at an early age to escape their abuse…then turn to prostitution as a way of survival.6
  • Most prostitutes became drug or alcohol addicted on the streets and became more trapped in prostitution to earn money to support their habits.7
  • Up to 90% of prostitutes are under the control of a pimp.8
  • Average arrest, court, and incarceration costs amounted to nearly $2,000 per arrest in 1987. Cities spend an average of $7.5 million on prostitution control each year, ranging from $1 million (Memphis) to $23 million (New York).9
  • A high percentage of prostituted women have considered suicide.10
  • Every year a prostituted woman is raped 19 times, kidnapped 10 times, and beaten repeatedly. 11
  • Prostituted women getting out of jail have no resources, they feel their only choice is to return to a life they know or where they are accepted.12
  • In 1998, the United States was the world’s largest consumer of child pornography.13
  • Trafficking in women plagues the United States as much as it does underdeveloped nations. Organized prostitution networks have migrated from metropolitan areas to small cities and suburbs.14
  • Girls involved in prostitution are increasingly getting younger, dropping from 14, to 13 and 12 years of age. Child prostitution in the United States began to escalate in the late 1980’s after new laws made it more difficult for officials to detain runaway children.15
  • Females in prostitution have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the national average.16
  • The demand for prostituted children is increasing, as men feel safer from AIDS with younger girls. 75 to 95% of all prostitutes were sexually abused as children. Many prostitutes are high school dropouts, come from poor and abusive homes, move from place to place and are alcoholics or drug addicts.17
  • 14 years is the average age of entry into prostitution for boys, 25 years of age is the average age that men leave prostitution. Male prostitutes usually do not have pimps.18
  • Over the last decade the street price for oral sex has dropped from $20-$30 to $2-$3. There are an estimated 500 male prostitutes in Philadelphia. (Police and anonymous prostitutes, Alfred Lubrano, “Eleven o’clock is feeding time in Center City,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 May 1998)19
  • Pimps have strong ownership rights over the women and girls they control. Girls who belong to one pimp are not permitted to even look at another.20
  • Women who become street prostitutes do so because of a drug problem, or because the streets are a less violent home than where they come from. “They turn to drugs to make life tolerable.”21
  • The process of recovery for a woman leaving prostitution takes two years of very supportive intervention. Women who are trying to leave the sex industry have the same needs that traditionally battered women have. Many are fleeing with the clothes on their backs with no money and no place to go. This is compounded by the isolation known to all battered women and the stigma that is unique to prostitutes.22
  • Pimps have a strong emotional hold over young women they sexually exploit, which makes it difficult to build a legal case against them. A 17-year-old who was sold by a pimp on the street, refused to testify against him and visits him in prison. Even teenagers covered with bruises and cigarette burns remain loyal to pimps. A typical pimp has six girls and refers to them as “family.” The girls are instructed to call the pimp “Daddy.” Each girl earns approximately $500 per night for the pimp. Although selling a child for sex is a felony that carries a maximum jail term of 15 years, that sentence is never imposed.23
  • Women in prostitution in Arizona are routinely subjected to repeated beatings from their pimp, and have likely been coerced into pornography, topless dancing and/or prostitution in order to support him or his drug habit.24
  • Every woman who has been in the Dignity House jail program stated she has been raped, robbed, kicked and beaten with fists, knives, guns, coat hangers, baseball bats, and boards – either by a trick or her pimp. Each girl knew someone who had been murdered while working in prostitution.25
  • Almost all of 30 prostitutes (interviewed for a story) said that she has been physically and verbally abused by her pimp. More than half the women said that their pimps got them hooked on drugs. And all of them said that their pimps order them to commit other crimes.26
  • The police in Phoenix, Arizona are not trained to work with women used in prostitution. Just as with abused women, police assume women “must like it” to stay. Some police officers are abusers themselves, or at least side with the abusers. When a prostituted woman is treated like a criminal, she become further isolated.27

These statistics were taken from VERONICA’s Voice website. For the statistics sources, go here.

How can you help locally?

  • Seek out your local organization. My local organization is VERONICA’s Voice. If you cannot find an organization in your area, contact VERONICA’s Voice. They may be able to connect you.
  • Once you have found that local organization, find out how you can help. Often times they need volunteers, or donated items, or money.
  • Pray fervently.
  • Stop supporting pornography in any way. (I’m hoping this does not apply to most readers.) The sex industry is all related, and it is all based on money and greed and people as a commodity.

amanda ∞

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5 Responses

  1. I saw the Broadway version of Les Miserables in Seattle. I immediately got the book too. The book is better, much better.

    Bless you for your passion towards women who work in the sex industry. As I read through the statistics, I wondered how many of these women are birth-mothers to children in foster and adoptive homes throughout America? And, I suspect that many adoptive parents think that they shouldn’t have any contact with their children. How very sad ~

  2. Amanda,
    Your passion is inspiring. Bless you for loving these women so much. Love, Tami

  3. hey amanda i’m glad you brought this topic up.. i didn’t even know half of these statistics…
    sheri

  4. Bravo, Bravo for this blog! The sex industry is alive and well even in the smallest of communities. You need look no further than the nearest “gentlemen’s club”~ the young women working in them need to know there are others in the community who care about them as people for them to even realize that there is a way out of this industry~

    You are so right, Deb.
    amanda

  5. Thank you so very much! your website helped me very very greatly… I am very surprised that this article on Prostitution was very profound

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