PROSTITUTION AND SOCIETY
An analysis of prostitution in this society must consider three basic issues related to the high incidence of female prostitution: (1) definitions of crime and criminal; (2) the gender-related distribution of power; and (3) sex roles and gender conditioning in this society.
The purpose of this analysis is to present arguments that are related to the issues presented above. First, prostitution is generally defined as a criminal offense for females based on the political power wielded by males, who enact and enforce laws.
Second, the analysis will focus on the distribution of power in this society. This argument will build on the New York Penal Law on Prostitution from a historical reference and will point out that the gender distribution of power is not equitably distributed in this society.
Third, a brief description of societal sex roles and conditioning in sexual behavior will be given. Conditioning produces situations in which females are more likely to be prostitutes than males, and males are less likely to be prosecuted for their participation in this behavior (Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985).
Three major questions will be answered during this report. These are: (1) Why are there more female prostitutes than male prostitutes? (2) What is it about sex roles in this society that makes females become prostitutes? and (3) If this were an androgynous society, would there be any prostitutes?
It is important to point out that the argument will take the perspective that females are powerless in the society. This is not to imply that all females are powerless or that females have not gained significantly in, or had a profound impact on, the status of laws governing prostitution in this society. The argument is that, historically, females have had less input into definitions of crime and criminal behavior; therefore, they are often victims of violations of the rules, regulations, and principles of the normative structure of the society.
It is important to note that prostitution will not be considered a profession, in a meaningful sense. It is rather, a low-level, semiskilled occupation.
Definitions of Crime and Criminal
Definitions of crime and criminal derive from a historical foundation based on morality, or the normative expectations of members of a society. Morality concerns the conscience, character, conduct, intentions, social relations, or general principles of right conduct.
Morality is group-supported and there are acceptable behaviors in situations that govern the actions of members of the society.
The society has established a system of rules and regulations and principles by which to govern behavior; however, these rules, regulations and principles may apply differently to persons in the society and/or govern specific situations. There are minimum and maximum expectations, so that nonconformity to and/or deviation or violation of these expectations, becomes a serious problem.
Nonconformist actions usually produce a reaction from other groups, individuals and/or control agencies. Consequently, morality is integral to definitions of prostitution as a crime. And, prostitution violates the normative rules and regulations that govern this society.
Gender-Related Power Distribution
Generally, females are powerless in the enactment of prostitution laws due to many factors. The factors that assist the enactment of laws include, but are not limited to: (1) an awareness of the actions that must be taken in the enactment of laws; (2) professional (legal) knowledge or expertise; (3) public support through conscious appeals to the community; (4) political and financial support by organized groups; and (5) the means to informally withhold needed support (Akers & Hawkins, 1975).
Prostitution is defined as “the granting of nonmarital sexual access, established by mutual agreement of the woman, her client, and/or employer, for remuneration which provides part or all of her livelihood” (Akers, n.d.).
Prostitution is considered a criminal offense because the law defines the action as a crime. The political process by which prostitution is a crime will be described as a political process by which males influence the definitions of prostitution as a crime through the penal laws that are created.
Perhaps the most descriptive account of the methods of lawmaking as related to prostitution was the enactment of the New York State Penal Law, 1030 (1965). The law radically changed the legal status of prostitutes’ patrons. The law prevented police from using customers as witnesses in prosecutions, and prohibited plainclothesmen from obtaining solicitations from and subsequently testifying against prostitutes.
A major issue in the development of this law was that “patronizing a prostitute” was not considered a criminal offense. A revision that included patronizing as a criminal offense was added, after protests by females and other supporters at public hearings. A major reason for the protest was that to penalize the prostitute and exempt the equally culpable patron is inherently unjust (Akers & Hawkins, 1975, p. 99).
The Commission chairman concluded that he was “persuaded that there is no moral or ethical reason to exclude the customer from criminal liability in a sex-for-hire situation” (Akers & Hawkins, 1975, p. 99).
Societal Gender roles & Sexual Conditioning Behavior
Appropriate gender behavior is learned in infancy in this society. Females are socialized to be submissive, whereas males are socialized to be dominant. This sex-typed behavior is learned through observation and imitation. Females and males learn the standards that are applicable to his or her sex, the opposite sex, and the interactions of the sexes.
Analysis of The Questions
The above analysis sections have provided a theoretical and historical foundation for answering the aforementioned questions related to prostitution in this society.
Arrests for and criminal definitions of prostitution occur more often among females than among males. Although there are male prostitutes, their numbers are comparatively small. In a study of arrest statistics, Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) found that females predominate and that the adult arrest rates for females are 70 percent of the total arrests.
The reasons for female prostitution are many. Characteristics such as frigidity, maternal rejection, latent homosexuality, dependent personality, and various other psychiatric explanations have been given.
Cohen (1981) points out that prostitutes are recruited disproportionately from poorly educated, lower classes, and minority groups. For these females, prostitution offers relative social and economic rewards such as an income or an escape from poverty. It may also be the case that, over time, the economic rewards, the lessened alternatives, fear of a pimp, and the network of relationships with other prostitutes, pimps, and clients serve to maintain a prostitute’s attachment to this occupation.
The predominance of female prostitutes is reinforced by the sex role stereotyping in this society through early conditioning that serves to channel females into occupations, as well as attitudes of powerlessness.
For example, aside from parental conditioning, sex-role conditioning occurs in school settings. School settings are the arenas where children spend a large portion of time. Therefore, the messages they receive from counselors, teachers, administrators, textbooks, and other curricular materials have a significant impact on the position of women as powerless in this society. The majority of school principals are males; therefore, sex-role conditioning is formally and informally conveyed to students because females occupy the less prestigious classroom positions. Moreover, the policy and administrative functions are performed by males.
Perhaps if we were in an androgynous society, prostitution would not be an occupation. The underlying assumption for this position is that the mechanisms for power and decision-making would be distributed equally among females and males. In this case, it is argued that sex-role conditioning would not occur, that females would have the same economic and employment opportunities as males, and that laws would be enacted that would address the crime, not the gender of the societally-defined “criminal.”
Prostitution in our society is a female-dominated occupation in which a female regularly sells and/or is hired to provide a sexual service for monetary return. Females predominate in this occupation because of their lower economic status and prostitution does offer the economic means for escape from poverty, among other factors. Although economic means are integral to the entry into prostitution, social conditioning factors reinforce and maintain females in this occupation. An androgynous society would perhaps eliminate prostitution as an occupation, through an equitable distribution of economic means, employment, and power among females and males.