Prostitution is defined as "the act or practice of engaging in sexual activity for money or its equivalent" (Garner 1999, p. 1238). Except for parts of Nevada, it is a criminal act in the United States. Prostitutes are also referred to as commercial or public sex workers. It is estimated that over 92,000 men, women, and juveniles are arrested yearly for prostitution (FBI, 2000). The number of juveniles engaging in prostitution is estimated at between 100,000 and 300,000 per year.
The greatest health consequences of prostitution are drug abuse, violence, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), gonorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease, and syphilis. The risk for HIV infection is increased because of multiple partners and limited safe sex practices—some customers are willing to pay more for a sexual encounter if they do not have to use a condom. Based on research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of HIV infection for prostitutes is three times higher if they smoke crack cocaine. Intravenous drug use also increases the risk of HIV infection for a prostitute.
Prostitutes are often victimized by the person for whom they work, and by their customers. Other health issues related to prostitution are early pregnancy for juveniles, rape, tuberculosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, assault, and other acts of violence—including murder. There are also negative consequences besides those related to health issues. In places where it is common, prostitution lowers the value of property. It also degrades the status of women. Published research studies concerning prostitution as a public health issue in urban communities have come primarily from developing countries. It is a topic in need of more research in the United States.
TAMMY A. KING
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