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Samir's Critical Corner

I love good writing. Samir's Critical Corner will have reviews on World Literature but you will also find reviews on various subjects like Mathematics or Tai Chi, and on specific niches like Nigerian writers.

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Review: The Prostitution of Women and Girls by R. Barri Flowers

The Prostitution of Women and Girls - R. Barri Flowers

This book is a tedious read. I had to read it in chunks with large breaks between each. I am not all that impressed. In fact, I think the author was more impressed than I, the reader, as he tries time and time again to give a shock effect with the data. Mind you, the data is shocking, but the style of writing and the tone of Flowers is flat that I was just blasé sometimes. Or perhaps it is because of the far superior book I had read previous to this one: Sex for Sale (a collection of well researched academic essays), which is more comprehensive and up to date, although not as well focused on the prostitution of minors.


The book is divided into five main parts, each with it's own subsections.


Part 1: Female Prostitution - The section starts out by defining prostitution and prostitutes. It then goes on to show: the magnitude of prostitution through simple statistical analysis using national (US) arrest data; the different types of prostitution (e.g. streetwalkers, call girls, indentured sex slaves etc.); the link between AIDS and female prostitution (the book focuses heavily on HIV/AIDS data).


The most interesting subsection in this part is 'Theories and Motivations', where Flowers takes a break from data analysis to offer input on qualitative research by piecing together different researches into a coherent structure to argue for the eight different motivational categories of female prostitution: 1 biological, 2 psychological, 3 sociological, 4 economic, 5 drug-related, 6 physical and sexual abuse, 7 sexual adventure and 8 mental illness. Sadly, only 3 and 4 are given more attention than the rest, and even then, the information is too limited. Flowers is just connecting the dots of the different research papers he references to quickly offer an overview, and the conclusions drawn are not his own either, but cited from other researchers. All in all, this subsection is covered in only 6 pages.


There is also, early on on page 10, an interesting choice of word by Flowers that shone a spotlight on his bias as a researcher writing this book, consider the excerpt:


"It is estimated that there are well over one million teenagers active as prostitutes. Many have been abused and are runaways or throwaways. They often compete with each other and adult prostitutes in selling their bodies and souls"


Their 'souls', really Mr Flowers? Is this permissible social scientific lingo? This word jarred me to the point that I continued reading this book with detachment and skepticism. If this were not a slip and the book offered more of Flowers' personal views, then I would be fine with his personal input. But the consistently detached voice indicated otherwise, and so my response is: please keep your personal beliefs and feelings to yourself. 


Part 2: Women and Prostitution - This section begins the scope of women's prostitution, which basically regurgitates much of the data and conclusion from the first part, only under different headings and labels. Links are made between drugs, crime and HIV/AIDS to prostitution based on the findings of various researchers.


However, we now have an occasion where Mr Flowers draws some sweepingly dangerous conclusions (as there are no citations given, I can only assume these are his personal thoughts), consider:


"Some HIV-infected prostitutes have been known to have unprotected sex with male customers in the hope of passing on the disease and punishing both themselves and the johns for their illicit sex acts." - This is conjecture.


"Few women who sell sex are able to remain in the profession without committing other crimes as part of the world of prostitution and the sex trade." - This is based on one persons research, implying a limited data sample. The conclusion Mr Flowers draws is an all encompassing one. This is practically hearsay.


So it to becomes harder to know how much of the information deserves merit. General conclusions based on limited data sets, without direct access to the research or further information, and not comparing counter-arguments all prove, to me, a lack of transparency with a hidden agenda.   


Part 3: Girls and Prostitution - This covers much ground on teenage prostitution, particularly in the US where arrest data is again used. There is, here, harrowing data and disturbing information, but necessary for the reality it represents and, hopefully, for improving social policy and law for future generations.


Excerpt: "Over one million teenage girls are estimated to be turning tricks in the United states at any given time ... they cannot be singularly categorized ... They are inevitably united as one in their common selling, as minors, of sexual favors." 


There is much categorizing here again, labeling and defining via social class, sexual abuse, runaways, substance abuse, crimes, mental illness and so on. There is also a brief chapter on 'Pimps and Girl Prostitution', which reveal some ugly truths about physical abuse, coercion and HIV/AIDS risks through IV-drug use or unprotected sex.


Excerpt: "Relatively few pimps ever get arrested or incarcerated for assaulting prostitutes. The victims often refuse to press charges for fear, intimidation, love, or even self-blame for the beatings. Unfortunately, this ensures that the cycle of violence and teen prostitution will continue."


The last subsection: 'The Dangers of Sexual Abuse' is disquieting, to say the least. Child Abduction, Incest, Pedophilia, Exhibitionism, Bestiality, Coprolagnia, Urolagnia, Necrophilia are all part of the sickening acts that child molesters engage their 'child' victims with, depending on their perversion. But as always, everything is brief. 


This part of the book comes across as the most effective structurally and informatively, with the right balance between qualitative and quantitative data. There is much less 'judgement' by Fowler. The data and conclusions hit home and remind us that there is still much that needs to be done in societies to protect children.


Part 4: Other Dimensions of Prostitution and the Sex Trade Industry - This consists of 6 subsections. The first three are briefly discussed since the bulk of the data is presented in earlier sections and is repeated here, where relevant, for structural completeness. These section are Pornography, Child Prostitution/Pornography and Clients of Prostitutes. 


The remaining three subsections present new topics and data. 'Male Prostitution' considers simultaneously adult and child male prostitution. There is the usual arrest data used for analysis and the labeling and categorizing of the different types of male prostitutes, reasons for it and so on that has been established thoroughly throughout the book. 


The last two subsections are on 'Laws and Prostitution' and 'Decriminalization and Legalization of Prostitution' where current (i.e. up to 1998, when the book was published) debates for and against prostitution are examined. The subsections read like introductions to these topics with an oversimplified view, as can only be achieved under 20 pages. In my opinion, no single camp can ever be completely 'right', there are merits on both sides for and against prostitution. However, if people would remove their personal objections and spare the moral babel, the reality is that prostitution will always exist. It would be best to construct laws that take this into account and how best to prevent further criminal behavior, disease and drug abuse. And of course, how to best protect children from prostitution. Fascinatingly enough, Flowers offers little opinion here, but cites research from both the 'for' and 'against' camps. While this was refreshing, it did leave me wondering why he didn't implement this objective approach throughout the book.


Part 5: Female Prostitution in Other Countries comes across like a part added as an afterthought for the sake of completeness. It is short and very brief. In one subsection, different countries are highlighted with several paragraphs introducing government policy in that country (e.g. prostitution is legal in Germany, even state sponsored in Thailand, while illegal in Cuba), and elaborates on interesting features, for example, in Russia, many well-educated women (doctors, lawyers, teachers), sometimes even married with children, have turned to prostitution for survival due to the high percentage of unemployment.


In another subsection on HIV/AIDS, the highlights are even briefer, often representing a shocking statistic of that country: "With its estimated 10 million prostitutes ... an estimated 5 million people in India are HIV infected, with predictions that as many as 20 million Indians will be HIV -positive by the year 2000"(*).


Yet a quick google search reveals that he World Bank currently estimates that 2.4 million Indians are infected, which is no where near the cited figures. This is somewhat disconcerting and gives me the impression that Flowers is selective of his examples to justify his own views. This is, of course, not sufficient evidence from my part, and I am not out to prove his book wrong, only that due to my skepticism early on with this text, I find it useful to cross-check any information here if I were to make use of it, and I would certainly recommend this to anyone who ever uses this book for research.


There is also a brief subsection on child sexploitation focusing on HIV/AIDS.


The final subsection 'Responding to the Worldwide Tragedy of Female Prostitution' sparingly discusses (one or two paragraphs) institutions like 'End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism' or 'Project Child'. This is quite an unfocused section especially since all the institutions discussed are about child protection from the sex industry as opposed to the more general female prostitution, which is the heading.



The book seem to be organized based on structure more than anything else, with the theme of HIV/AIDS being the binding thread throughout the text. There is little else that connects these different Parts and subsections with some exceptions. Some parts are more elaborate and detailed, while others are all too brief, yet the lack of focus makes for a confusing and, ironically, unstructured reading experience.


The shifts between quantitative and qualitative subsections (in the earlier part) are awkward, and in the later parts, the two are merged in each subsection to make for a more sensible reading. However, regardless of the data's accuracy, it comes across more as a shock indoctrination text rather than a focused, argument-driven text with a clear objective. Most frustratingly, I leave this book and still feel that Flowers had his own personal agenda to promote, and for this, I feel the book 'unscientific'. I would recommend researchers approach this text judiciously, and I would recommend the general reader interested in the sex industry to read the more up to date and well-written essays in Sex for Sale, edited by Ronald Weitzer.



(*) Friedman, R. I. (cited in Flowers, R. B.) "India's Shame: Sexual Slavery and Political Corruption Are LEading to an AIDS Catastrophe," The Nation 262 (1996), p. 12