More Than The Sum Of Her Odds

Here are some disturbing facts about prostitution from nobullying.com:

According to Prostitution Research:

70-95 percent of prostitutes experience physical assault during work.

60-75 percent of prostitutes are raped while working as a prostitute.

95 percent of prostitutes experience sexual harassment that in other industries would result in legal action.

Women who are prostitutes are raped 8-10 each year on average. (Womenslaws.org)

These statistics show just some of the violence that prostitutes face. A common response to these numbers is why don’t women just leave or stop being prostitutes. What readers have to understand is that many prostitutes do not become prostitutes because of their own choice. Many are forced into the sex-for-sale industry. This is a broad industry too. It is not just about women on the street. It is about comprehensive systems that trap women through circumstances that they cannot escape. Some prostitutes sell their body to feed their children. They have no skills; they have little education. They have no resources. Even with public assistance, many prostitutes find no hope in leaving prostitution, especially in underdeveloped nations.

In 2004, a long-term mortality study published by Potterat, et al. showed the following trends out of 1,969 prostitutes from the years 1967-1999:

Prostitutes and those who had managed to leave the industry faced an increased rate of death that was 200 times the rate of death for women of the same race and age range.

During the study, 100 prostitutes died. Their cause of death equated to the following: 19 homicides, 18, drug induced or overdose, 12 died from accidents, 9 deaths were alcohol related, and 8 died of AIDS.

Mortality among prostitutes is substantially higher than mortality rate of the society in which the prostitutes worked or lived. The study showed that the general population had a mortality rate of 1.9 per every 100,000 people, but the mortality for prostitutes was 391 per 100,000 people and active prostitutes have a mortality rate of 459 per 100,000 people.

To put into perspective, the story that these statistics tell is important. Not only is prostitution a deadly profession, it is a trap. Its very beginnings are woven by society, and not just one society, but by the global society. It begins with people who make laws. It is contributed to by people who abuse their children. It continues because of lack of mental health treatment. It has a basis in the culture and the value that a society places on people. It is spurred on by issues of racism, poverty, economics, religion and many other social problems such as social stigmatism.

The thing that stands out to me most is that the leading cause of death in this study was homicide.  The next thing that leaps out at me is the section that explores more than just the numbers and asks why women don’t leave prostitution.  I’m pretty certain that these generalizations fit Patty’s situation all too closely.

She probably was trapped for all the reasons listed.  She did need to feed her kid.  She had little schooling and few resources I’m guessing.

So many of the victims of homicides that are presented in the true crime television series are described by loved ones as the last person anyone would want to harm.  They are typically angelic, widely-liked young women.  Innocents.

That may not be the way friends of Patty Vance might describe her had they known her at the time that she appeared to become troubled.  Still, I remember her before those years.  When she was an innocent.  When we both were.

When I think of her, I try to picture us before we were estranged, before we’d betrayed one another so many times that the friendship could no longer endure.  Still, I want to front load the good things in my memory, her generous streak, for example.  She was a shirt-off-her-back kind of girl once.

I’ll be forever conjuring up images of her tussling her younger brother’s hair, knocking hips with me trying out the newest dance move — the bump — singing Michael Jackson songs into a hairbrush, tossing back cheese burgers at Jack-in-the-Box, stuffing her bra with wads of Kleenex, locking arms with me as we walked around our junior high campus, sprinting to class at the sound of the late bell, piling up outfit after outfit in order to find the perfect party ensemble, flipping off her older brother, sneaking cigarettes from her mother’s purse, staring out at the yellowing lawn in her backyard.  I’ll always remember that there was a longing in her eyes.  That look felt as integral to her as any feature of hers like her red hair or freckles.  It was a look that said “I want more out of this life.”  She deserved more.  In so many ways, my friend was a statistic.  (Can’t we all say that though!)  But in so many other ways, she was more than the sum of her odds.  Forever, Patty.

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