Factors affecting prostitution – Money International research cites money as the principal reason for becoming involved in prostitution. According to Høigård and Finstad (1992), no woman prostitutes herself for any other reason other than money. Prostitution is a question of money. It is the reason for needing and wanting the money that varies (Larsson, 1983)1.
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The Women’s Health Project (WHP) studies (1994-1999) describe how financial reasons are cited by all of the women as a reason for entry to, and for remaining in, prostitution. The women in both the 1994 and 1996 studies described that prostitution was a means, in the main, of improving their material lives2. By 1999 the financial motivation for involvement was to support a drug habit (O’Neill and O’Connor, 1999). There is increasing evidence that children and young women are involved in swapping sex for drugs and accommodation (Pearse, 2002), or even sweets and cigarettes (Lalor and McElwee, 1997; MWHB, 1998). Wanting money for “nice things” is often given as the reason by teenagers who become involved in prostitution (Melrose, et al, 1999)3.
Prostitution money: the myths and reality International studies show that women tend to overestimate their earnings, with the media adding to the myths of the amount of money to be made in prostitution. Being seen to do well out of prostitution can be part of the survival mechanisms that women in prostitution employ. As well as more obvious factors such as earnings being taken directly by pimps, brothel owners and partners (Egar, 1999), women can have financial problems for reasons of a partner’s alcohol, drug and/or gambling habits (O’Connor, 1994). Providing for their children is also a key motivation for women involved in prostitution (Brock, 1998; O’Neill, 2001). In each of the Women’s Health Project studies (1994-1999), there was clear evidence that the women were supporting not only themselves and their children, but also a boyfriend or husband. In most cases, irrespective of whether they knew about the prostitution or not, the partners were not contributing to the family budget, leaving the woman as the sole provider.
Relativity of the money Women in prostitution often describe how they became involved in prostitution as a reaction to their experiences of low paid menial work (Jaget, 1980; Høigård and Finstad, 1992; O’Neill, 2001), Brock (1998) explains that in relation to other working class women’s incomes in Canada, women in prostitution appear to be earning huge amounts. Thorbek and Pattanaik (2002:110) cite the “relatively high earnings” of women in prostitution in Denmark. The relativity of the money to be made in prostitution is a key element of its power.
However, there is some evidence of women who do well financially from prostitution, and who support their children through university, own their own homes and have regular foreign holidays. Two of the women in the NSI research described prostitution as bringing them a good standard of living. 1
Prostitution and the emotional relationship with money Høigård and Finstad (1992:50) describe how the spending of prostitution money takes on an “intense, feverish character”. It becomes addictive itself. In the absence of other supports and sources of comfort, spending money takes on a new significance. Many women think of how they will spend the money as a means of blocking out the reality of the prostitution act (Mayer, 1994). This association of money and prostitution impedes the women in their daily lives as they attempt to budget or save, and the money is seen as ‘hot’ or ‘dirty money’. By association the goods bought with prostitution money are tainted, and therefore lose their value. In addition, international research has shown that while women may earn large amounts of money through prostitution, it may lead to a continuation, if not a deepening, of their financial problems. A significant percentage of women enter prostitution with no previous drug or alcohol abuse, and subsequently initiate or increase drug or alcohol use to anaesthetize the pain of their experiences (Farley and Kelly, 2000). Even where alcohol or drugs is not a factor, the money itself can become the addiction.
Money and the prostitution lifestyle Internationally, women in prostitution describe how money becomes part of an unreal lifestyle where it is earned and spent in quick succession without leaving the world of prostitution4. As the women’s world narrows they spend more time with other “working girls” and their outgoings grow to match and overtake any money that they make (Raphael and Shapiro, 2004).
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Høigård and Finstad (1992) describe how women in prostitution say they can’t manage to hold down a regular job - however bad prostitution is, it gives them an autonomy that is not found in the mainstream labour market. The women describe the strain of keeping regular hours, of sticking with menial jobs day in, day out, with very little hope of progression. The rejection of “normal” work and entrapment in the prostitution lifestyle is the norm. Prostitution becomes a revolving door. Women can get out of prostitution only to return time and time again.
What the Next Step Initiative told us Money: the myths and reality The women explained that, in reality, while it was possible to make good money it could not be relied upon: Not as much as you would expect. Some girls do better than others. You spend it as quick as you get it. I try to save. It’s hard. [Describing working indoors] Very much depends on the parlour and how much you have to give back. Might make €150 a night. Some parlours you have to give €20 back. Some €40. I try to make a certain amount of money every night. There are costs involved that you need to cover. Your taxi home for example. [Referring to street prostitution] Need to make the money before the Guards caution you and you have to go home. It was never stable. Always on or off. Some weeks you’d be busy but then there’d be a problem, a raid. Summertime was usually booming. Up to Christmas was a bad time. It was never steady so that’s how you couldn’t get on your feet and save up the money you needed. Also I was limited the times I could work because of my child.
Supporting others The women describe how the money they earned was used to support themselves and their children: Everything. Clothes. Whatever [her little girl] wants that gets bought. A few drinks in now and again. Not drugs. Going way for a weekend. Sun beds. Hairs. Nails. Normal things. Food for home, always made sure there was plenty of food for the kids. Always got them something, special treats and clothes that they needed. And extra stuff in case another day came and you didn’t have money. It was nice to be able to buy them the fashion. 2
Prostitution money as an addiction The women in the NSI research describe prostitution money being squandered in a range of different ways, for example, going out, drugs, alcohol, gambling, clothes and taking friends places. It becomes a way of making them feel better and a way of blocking out the reality of prostitution. At the beginning cos I only worked weekends I might stock up on groceries every week. Bills always got paid. I’m a bill payer, me. And the rest on treats. I’d buy £100 of shopping and pay bills so I could turn the heating up high. After a while I’d spend more on clothes, shoes. You have more money and so you live better. You get accustomed to a certain lifestyle. That’s when I lost the plot. Before that I wouldn’t need so much. But now I had designer clothes in the wardrobe and nothing for the dinner ‘cause the work was irregular. When you look more glamorous you get picked more and make more. You have to treat yourself to make yourself feel better. It’s like therapy- blockage.
Relativity of the money Many of the women described short stints at alternative employment: they spoke of holding down low wage, service industry jobs, getting into conflicts with employers or co-workers, and finding the work degrading. Most of these jobs would not last long and the women would find themselves back in prostitution. Yes [I have left before]. But the money brings you back. I did stop for a while but the money pulled me back. Then after I left my husband I was staying with my sister. [she hadn’t been working for a number of years at this time]. I knew I could get money. She [her sister] was having a nice life. Why shouldn’t I?
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What I’m hoping for now is a regular job with sick pay, holiday pay, where you know from week to week what you’re earning. For others, once they are free of prostitution, there is no going back, not even for the lure of “easy money”: Couple of times I thought I’d go back out, just for the money, Christmas time, that type of thing. One night I got all dressed up, but I just couldn’t do it. Need to be out of it to do it. Money is a big addiction. Knowing you get a flat and have it furnished in two weeks. Some times you’d think you want to do it, but you couldn’t. I’d need a hit to go out and a hit to forget and I’d be back on the cycle again.
Working through the emotional relationship with money For those who do exit prostitution, learning to value money and managing in the “normal” world are key challenges: Hardest thing you ever have to do. Because you’re going into a completely different world, the normal world and leaving an addiction to money That money [from prostitution] felt like nothing. It wouldn’t last. I would spend it because I can go out tomorrow and make more. With my job now I work hard for the money and so I’m inclined to make it stretch as its all you have. For some women it is easier to walk away from the money: Not a good thing about it. I know the money is easy but its no good. The young ones these days they don’t see the risks, the final cost.
Conclusion Myths about prostitution and money abound. The chance to make “good money” remains a huge draw, pulling women into prostitution. Instead, an emotional relationship with the money develops that acts to entangle her further in prostitution. In the women’s words, the money becomes an addiction itself. It is clear that women may enter prostitution for money but they often do not find it. Most do not succeed and the context of women’s involvement in prostitution is one of being marginalized, criminalized and stigmatised (O’Neill, 2001). The women themselves require tailored, structured support in dealing with their relationship to money. Learning to budget, manage in the “real world”, and to work through the relationship with money, while struggling to live in a marginal situation is extremely difficult for women in prostitution. Achieving true independence by taking control of personal finances and recognising the relationship between emotions and money is key to taking the next step, what ever that step may be. Public awareness is required to combat the myths of prostitution and money that serve to draw women into prostitution. Education and training is required for service providers to enable them to fully understand the complex relationship women have with prostitution money.
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Larsson (1983) Kønshandeln. Om prostituerades vilkor. Stockholm:Skeab. As cited in Høigård and Finstad, 1986:40
O’Connor, 1995 and 1996
As cited in Home Office (2004a) Paying the Price: A consultation paper on prostitution
See Mayer, 1994 and Stark and Whisnant, 2004 for examples from America and Australia