Studies of men who buy sex (punters) show that they are significantly more likely than other men to rape and engage in all forms of violence against women. A US study found that punters were nearly eight times more likely to rape than other men.

A UN study of violent men in six countries found that buying sex was the second most significant factor in the backgrounds and lifestyles of men found guilty of rape, as shown in the following chart (the size of the bubble represents the significance of the factor).

Top three factors in men who rape (UN study in 6 SE Asian countries)

Research has long found that violence against women is associated with men believing they are superior and entitled to sexual access to women. So it’s not hard to see why buying sex makes men more prone to violence when we think about the reality of prostitution.

This is how one London punter described it when he was being interviewed for a 2012 study:

“Look, men pay for women because he can have whatever and whoever he wants. Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them that real women would not put up with.”

In the same study, nearly half of the men interviewed believed that once they had paid, they were entitled to do pretty much whatever they wanted to her – regardless what she wants. They held this belief, even while acknowledging that the encounter was damaging to her and that she was probably pimped and coerced. This shows they have little or no empathy for the women involved.

Instead of being an encounter based on mutuality, prostitution is one-sided. He pays precisely because she doesn’t want to have sex with him. She’s doing it because she needs the money.

But it’s a real life encounter. He acts it out in the most intimate way possible on her body. This lays down neurological pathways in his brain. The more he does it, the stronger those pathways get – until the point comes where one-sided sex seems completely normal. And because she appears to consent even while everything in her might be screaming she doesn’t want it, he learns to ignore the signals when someone doesn’t reciprocate his desire, and he comes to think it’s unreasonable if a woman doesn’t let him have his own way.

The implications of this for all women and girls are chilling.

It follows that anything that increases the amount of prostitution that takes place – both in terms of the numbers of punters and the frequency with which they turn to prostitution – will lead to an increase in the amount of male violence in the wider community.

In the UK study mentioned above, a number of men said they first bought sex abroad in countries where prostitution is legal or decriminalised and they continued the practice when they returned to the UK. This illustrates how legal / decriminalised prostitution makes men more likely to buy sex.

We should not be surprised therefore that there was a marked increase in male violence against women and children after they introduced the full decriminalisation of the sex trade in New Zealand – even though it coincided with a general decrease in crime overall.

For a discussion of the data this assertion is based on, see Meme about rape in New Zealand since the full decriminalisation of the sex trade.

There was a similar impact in the area around Holbeck in Leeds, which, at the end of 2014, was designated a “managed area” or zone in which prostitution was effectively decriminalised during certain hours. The number of rapes reported to the police in the area increased almost three fold in the first year and remain much higher than before the zone’s introduction.

These are rapes in the entire community, so the explanation that women involved in prostitution are now more likely to report incidents, does not fully explain the rise. Especially when we consider that charging remains at the pre-zone levels, and local men are being found not guilty of rape after claiming they thought the victim was a prostitute.

Prostitution does not just affect those who are directly involved. It impacts everyone. That is why it cannot be justified simply on the basis of the choices of those directly involved. We think women and girls deserve better choices than the sex trade. That is why we campaign for the Nordic Model and an end to poverty and inequality.

Finally, here is a quote from a study of punters in Lebanon:

 “A society that allows women to be prostituted by men, and to be sold and bought as commodities, cannot achieve gender equality. Such a society not only discriminates against but also among women themselves as normalizing prostitution reflects on the overall status of women and creates two groups of women: one that can be bought and another that cannot.”

Further reading