The Community Impact and the Self Esteem Difference of Street vs. Private Prostitution

By Ronald Weitzer, George Washington University published in Crime, Law & Social Change (2005) 43: 211–235

Community Impact

Street and off-street prostitution have very different effects on the surrounding community. Indoor prostitution has little, if any, negative impact on the environment and, if discreet, there is normally little public awareness of it (Reynolds, 1986). Arecent examination of legal brothels in Queensland, Australia, found that they had no negative impact on the local community (Crime and Misconduct Commission, 2004).

Street prostitution, by contrast, is associated with a host of problems, including disorderly conduct, sex in public places, discarding of condoms and syringes in public areas (public health hazards), customer harassment of women on the streets, increased noise and traffic, and loss of business to merchants (Scott, 2001; Weitzer, 1999, 2000). Such adverse impact on communities explains why contemporary antiprostitution campaigns are largely directed at street prostitution rather than the indoor trade. In countless cities in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere, residents living near prostitution strolls have mobilized to drive prostitution off their streets. While local community groups have been known to exaggerate the problems associated with street prostitution in order to attract attention from the authorities (Hubbard, 1998), the problems they describe are largely confirmed by independent observers (Cohen, 1980; Scott, 2001; Weitzer, 2000).

Although we need more research on indoor sex workers, the studies reviewed here provide strong evidence contradicting radical feminism’s assertions about the universality of various harms in prostitution. The type of prostitution matters greatly ... the evidence shows that, in general, the type of prostitution is the best predictor of worker experiences. Victimization and exploitation are highest among street prostitutes and among those who have been trafficked into prostitution, but other workers are much less vulnerable to violence, exercise more control over their work, and derive at least some psychological or physical rewards from what they do.


Self Esteem of Private vs. Street Prostitution
From same report in Crime, Law & Social Change (2005) 43: 211–235

Research on streetwalkers and call girls in California and legal brothel workers in Nevada found that 97% of the call girls reported an increase in self-esteem after they began working in prostitution, compared with 50% of the brothel workers but only 8% of the streetwalkers (Prince, 1986: 454).

Call girls expressed positive views of their work; brothel workers were generally satisfied with their work; but street prostitutes evaluated their work more negatively (Prince, 1986: 497).

Similarly, a study of indoor prostitutes (most of whom worked in bars) in a Midwestern city in the United States found that three-quarters of them felt that their life had improved after entering prostitution (the remainder reported no change; none said it was worse than before); more than half said that they generally enjoy their work (Decker, 1979: 166, 174).

In The Netherlands, three-quarters of indoor workers report that they enjoy their work (Dalder, 2004: 34). Research on 95 call girls in Sydney, Australia found that they were generally emotionally healthy (Perkins and Lovejoy, 1996). All of the escorts studied by Foltz (1979: 128) took “pride in their profession” and viewed themselves as “morally superior” to others: “they consider women who are not ‘in the life’ to be throwing away woman’s major source of power and control [sexual capital], while they as prostitutes are using it to their own advantage as well as for the benefit of society.”

And an Australian study found that half of call girls and brothel workers felt that their work was a “major source of satisfaction” in their lives, while 7 out of 10 said they would “definitely choose” this work if they had it to do over again (Woodward et al., 2004: 39).

Other studies of indoor work report that the workers felt the job had at least some positive effect on their lives or believed that they were providing a valuable service (Brents and Hausbeck, 2005; Bryant and Palmer, 1975; Chapkis, 1997; Farley and Davis, 1978; Lever and Dolnick, 2000; Lucas, 1998; Verlarde and Warlick, 1973; West, 1993).