Blanket statements that everyone entering into sex work has been coerced is not supported by statistics.
There are many women who choose sex work and their choices should be respected.
Additionally, many sex workers treat prostitution as a viable path out of poverty or towards economic independence.
A study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand, where prostitution is legal, found that the vast majority of sex workers did enter prostitution for financial reasons.
However, the study found that for the majority of sex workers this paid off. The majority of sex workers in the study reported having been able to save money, travel, and repay debts because of prostitution. For these people, sex work has been a successful opportunity to gain freedom and economic mobility.
The University of Otago study also found that many sex workers were mothers who needed a job that offered flexibility for childcare, and found that other work did not offer this.
Rather than criminalising prostitution, there needs to be more structural change in order to help women vulnerable to coercion and to support those who are economically vulnerable. For instance, the introduction and mandate of a living wage and childcare assistance for parents would put far fewer people in the position where prostitution is the best option.
As one sex worker in a study conducted by the University of Bristol states, "if government is very serious about limiting the number of people selling sex, then it needs to look at root causes of sex work which are poverty, lack of economic opportunities, high costs of housing and education etc… Prostitution is not driven by ‘demand’ but by the economic needs of people."
Women who want to leave prostitution would benefit from Government support, especially in terms of housing, benefits and employment, rather than being criminalised.
For some, prostitution is treated as a path out of poverty. For some, it is a lifeline. Having prostitution as an illegal act does not help the women involved or give them more economic freedom; it only serves to take options away.