Here's an example: a woman in Rhode Island recently complained to the police that, while working as an escort, she was assaulted and robbed at knifepoint in a client's home. The story spread like wildfire in the local presses, the hook being that this woman was a graduate cum laude from law school and had just taken the Rhode Island bar exam. Her name has now been so thoroughly spread about in the press that if she ever wishes to leave prostitution, she will undoubtedly have great difficulty finding paid work as a lawyer. A link to the story can be found here. The message is this - if you are working as a prostitute in Rhode Island, even though that work is not currently illegal, you have no recourse if a crime is committed against you.
And, of course, there is the regionally (perhaps nationally?) infamous story of the "Craigslist Killer", the medical student who killed and robbed a woman in Boston whom he met through craigslist, and internet advertising forum. As I walk through the supermarket and glance at the tabloids, I can't help but notice that the defendant is pictured in suit and tie, a headline above his photo reading, "I never knew, says girlfriend", while in a smaller box the murder victim is pictured nearly nude, and called only "Escort" or "Hooker" - and in private, of course, whore.
Whore is a powerful word, used metaphorically (drama whore, etc) and as a slur against any woman perceived to be "loose". Its power when used against a woman who has actually worked as a prostitute or been prostituted is far, far stronger. One act of prostitution is enough to define a woman as "whore, and nothing more."
I know this because I prostituted myself for money in an attempt to escape an abusive home environment. I was caught, and sent to a mental hospital, and my money taken from me, and burned in front of me. I am now under virtual "house arrest" and am writing this very much in secret.
If prostitution still manages to sound glamorous to anyone, it isn't. The acts itself frankly aren't as bad as all that - but being forced onto the fringes of society by everyone, even those who love you, is a horror.
I suppose I am probably "typical" in some ways of what are called voluntary prostitutes - people who have not been trafficked. I was assaulted sexually as a teenager. I am mentally ill. I live in a house with alcoholic parents who are verbally and physically abusive. But I did choose to prostitute myself - no one forced me, and if I were free I would still take on all the risks involved in order to escape my home.
Of the two men whom I met before being found out (I was amateurish in my deceptions, being only eighteen, after all), both were far more frightened of me than I was of them, I found to my surprise. One was single, the other married. The only guilt I feel about the act itself was that I aided adultery.
Both were bad and nervous lovers. One, "Jake", was interested in the power involved pretty obviously - he wanted me to demean myself for him. The other, "Tom", simply described himself as sexually starved, a complaint used by men everywhere as an excuse to avoid talking to the women whom they have married, apparently.
I guess what I mean to say is, feminists are fools if they demonize clients of prostitutes. They're just people. Neither of the men I met were cruel, both seemed interested in my pleasure and comfort, and both struck me as men who simply could not imagine that a prostitute would be unwilling or unhappy to sell herself or her services, because society's image of the whore is one which labels her the responsible temptress, cold-hearted and greedy, infinitely alluring and infinitely amoral.
One final point: I had long held, before my brief adventure into prostitution, that prostitution would be "all right" if it were seen as sale of services, and not a temporary sale of a body. But that's not at all how prostitution is sold - "time" is sold, in fifteen, thirty minute, or sixty minute blocks, on craigslist with a top of about 300 dollars an hour, and an average of 200; what specifically a prostitute is willing to do is very rarely listed, because prostitutes are well aware that they must call themselves escorts and be vague about their business in order to maintain even the barest protection from the law and from society's hatred of "loose women in a lucrative business," as one commenter I saw on craigslist put it.
Unless prostitution were both legal and socially acceptable (or at least not stigmatized), prostitution CAN'T be a simple sale of services, because for prostitutes to advertise that way would endanger them.
At least, that's what I found and experienced. I was only the briefest of sex workers, but I hope that this has been at least a little helpful and interesting to others.
xcrossposted at feminist