Do U.S. anti-prostitution laws encourage exploitation and
violence against women?
Author Alison Bass

Author Alison Bass

Would it surprise you to know that laws criminalizing prostitution are not only largely ineffective in curbing the sex trade, but are creating an atmosphere that encourages the exploitation of sex workers and violence against all women?

In her new book (Oct. 2015), Getting Screwed, Sex Workers and the Law, Professor and Journalist Alison Bass provides a riveting assessment of how U.S. anti-prostitution laws harm the public health and safety of sex workers and other citizens—and affect larger societal attitudes toward women. The book weaves the true stories of sex workers from all walks of life together with extensive research to make a compelling argument for decriminalizing adult prostitution. Bass’ book will interest feminists, sociologists, lawyers, health-care professionals, and policy makers, as well as those with an interest in American history and our society’s evolving attitudes toward sexuality and marriage.

Alison Bass is an award-winning journalist and an Assistant Professor of Journalism at West Virginia University. She is also the author of Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and A Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial, the true story of two women who exposed the deception behind the making of a blockbuster drug.  Bass was a long-time medical writer for The Boston Globe, and her articles and essays have also appeared in The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, The Village Voice, Psychology Today and other newspapers and magazines around the country. Learn more about…

Getting Screwed

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Chicago Sun-Times columnist’s blame the victim mentality encourages violence against women

I read Mary Mitchell’s column in the Chicago Sun Times this weekend with mounting disbelief and disgust. It’s hard to believe that in 2015 a news columnist, an African-American woman no less, was arguing that a sex worker raped at gunpoint by a client was somehow less deserving of protection than any other individual. By arguing that what happened to this sex worker minimized the act of rape (her words not mine), Mitchell perpetuated the worst stereotypes about sex workers and who is deserving of being considered a legitimate rape victim. In her column, Mitchell not only implied that the sex worker deserved what she got — a terribly harmful stereotype that perpetuates violence against all women — but she basically threw all women who have been sexually assaulted but not grievously injured under the bus.  As she implies, if you have been raped but not stabbed multiple times like the “innocent” rape victim she lauds in her column, then you don’t deserve to call yourself a victim. Excuse me, Ms. Mitchell, but do you live in the 21st century where sexual assaults are finally beginning to be treated with the seriousness they deserve? Mary Mitchell obviously is not aware of the long history of law enforcement indifference to rape victims who happened to be sex workers and how such indifference has led to serial killings and other abhorrent acts of violence against not only sex workers but other women as well. She obviously doesn’t understand that such indifference is part and parcel of a culture that blames women for dressing provocatively or being in the wrong place at... read more

Rentboy Raid Latest Salvo in Government’s Counterproductive War on Sex

This week, federal and state law enforcement officials shut down the well-known website,, which provided a venue for thousands of gay escorts to post ads and screen potential clients. In a raid on the site’s headquarters in New York City, the officers arrested seven of the site’s employees, including its CEO, and charged them with selling sex and laundering money. The Rentboy raid is just the latest salvo in what civil rights attorneys and sex worker rights advocates say is an “ongoing war against sex” by the government. Earlier this year, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, pressured Mastercard and Visa into refusing to process transactions for Backpage, an online website that posts ads for sex workers. And last year, federal authorities shut down, an online site that allowed sex workers in California and other states to post ads and share tips about doing sex work safely. The operator of myredbook recently plead guilty to facilitating interstate prostitution and was sentenced to 19 months in prison. Civil rights attorneys say this is all part of a broader effort by state and federal government to crack down on companies that provide financial and advertising services for sex workers and others in the adult industry. At a time when much of the developed world has decriminalized sex work – with Amnesty International recently calling for decriminalization as the answer to much of the violence and abuse that surrounds commercial sex – the United States appears to be lurching in the opposite direction toward harsher criminal and civil penalties for sex workers and those who make their lives easier. The... read more