Glamorized images of the sex trade abound in today’s media. As a result, many in the public, including far too many health care providers, have no conception of how inherently damaging it is to be bought, sold or exploited. The ugly truth about the sex trade is that the physical, mental and emotional harm done to prostituted persons can be long-lasting and severe. These are harms that cannot be regulated away: peer-reviewed research shows that a legal or decriminalized sex trade is still deeply damaging to those who are in it.
When health care and other service providers are not issue- or trauma informed, their lack of understanding has consequences for those who have been exploited and turn to these systems for help. Far too often survivors of the sex trade are misdiagnosed, mistreated, or provided with inadequate care for emotional or physical health issues that are a direct result of exploitation, including tuberculosis, HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.
It’s time to recognize and treat prostitution as the serious and pervasive health issue in America that it is, challenge the idea that legalization is the way to address this issue, and propose public health policies that truly meet the health care needs of prostituted persons.