Prostitution is inherently violent because, by definition, it involves unwanted sex.

When both parties actually want sex, no one needs paying, because sex in those circumstances is its own sweet reward.

So if one party is paid, it suggests she doesn’t really want it. And unwanted sex is a violation of the integrity and dignity of a human being. So right there, at its core, prostitution is violent.

But the violence doesn’t end there.

The punter doesn’t want her to simply tolerate his hands all over her body, his disgusting halitosis in her face, his rancid sweat against her skin, his dick ramming into her orifices.

No. He also wants her to show him that she is enjoying it. Because that’s part of the deal too. The pretence that she’s enjoying it. A pretence that must be so thorough, he can believe it’s real.

So she not only has to bear his invasion of her boundaries and her most intimate places, but she also has to act like she’s enjoying it. This is a form of psychological violence.

And if she can’t manage it, the pretence? What then?

Well that’s when he might become physically violent. Or he might become physically violent anyway, no matter how hard she pretends. Because he might just be a sadist. Or having a bad day.


Researchers conducting a nine-country peer-reviewed study interviewed 854 prostituted people, who reported experiencing a staggering amount of physical violence within prostitution. For example, 64% had been threatened with a weapon, 73% had been physically assaulted, and 57% had been raped (which, in this context, means unwanted sex for which they were not paid).

I’m a survivor. And I can say with authority that NO, sex is not worth buying. In the process of selling my body, I was shot five times, stabbed more than 13 times, beaten unconscious several times, had my arm and nose broken, had two teeth knocked out, lost a child that I will never see again, was verbally abused, and spent countless days in jail.” (Brenda Myers-Powell)


Of the 57% (483 people) who had been raped in prostitution, 59% (286 people) had been raped in prostitution 6 or more times. Other studies have found not dissimilar results and the testimony of survivors of prostitution tells the same story.

Some people argue that legalisation (or full decriminalisation of the sex trade) makes prostitution safer. But the truth is that nothing can make prostitution safe. Just as regulation doesn’t make the woman safe from STIs and unwanted pregnancy, legalisation doesn’t make the women safe from the punter’s violence. Because violence is inherent to prostitution. We can see this in the murder statistics. Prostituted women have an enormously high rate of being murdered. Mostly by punters and pimps.

The following figure shows the numbers of known murders of prostituted women in four European countries, three of which (Germany, Spain, The Netherlands) have some form of legalised prostitution and one, Sweden, has the Nordic Model.

While the Nordic Model does not make prostitution safe, it does reduce the amount of prostitution that takes place, and therefore the number of new women being drawn into it. The Nordic Model also provides routes out for those embedded in it. The Swedish murder statistics provide proof that this approach works. Dead bodies don’t lie.

[In the UK] we have had 153 murders of prostitutes since 1990, which is probably the highest group of murders in any one category, so that gives the police cause for concern.” (Nikki Holland, Assistant Chief Constable, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Prostitution and Sex Work giving oral evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Tuesday 1 March 2016 .)

Murder statistics with references

These figures are correct to the best of our knowledge as at 10 January 2019. They are mainly based on data collected by feminist activists from press reports and official statistics. The figures are therefore likely to be an underestimate because a murder victim’s involvement in prostitution may not be known or recorded. In addition many prostituted women are isolated and have no one to report them missing and so their deaths may never be recorded. Many survivors report having had friends in the sex trade who disappeared suddenly and without explanation.

Country Approach Statistics Reference
Sweden Nordic Model 1 murder in 19 years Remembering the murdered women erased by the pro-sex work agenda
The Netherlands Legalisation 127 murders over 30 years Cold case team identifies possible prostitutes serial killer
Spain Legalisation 48 murders 2010-2018 Sex Industry Kills
Germany Legalisation 91 murders, 48 attempted murders 2002-2018 Sex Industry Kills

Further reading

Page published: 15 April 2016