When it comes to communication and engagement, every issue has its own unique set of opportunities and obstacles.

Prostitution and the Public Conversation

The Problem

Embedded in the popular imagination as “the world’s oldest profession,” prostitution continues to be very visible in our society. Yet there is little research into how the public actually thinks about this issue and what, if anything, they think we can or should do about it. The study we report on here provides a deep view of how Americans understand – and don’t understand – the sex trade, and the ways our society might address the issue.

The Solution

Americans see “the woman” selling sex, not the systems or conditions that lead to prostitution. They see physical violence, but not the psychological and emotional trauma. Most see this life as a “choice” at some level – while the circumstances that complicate issues of choice and consent are unseen. These seen and unseen circumstances shape people’s understanding of the issue, their desire for collective action, and their support for specific solutions.

Despite best intentions to protect women from harm and find solutions to the sex trade, we found that the national dialogue places the onus on the individual to improve her life and lets the rest of society off the hook. However, when the unseen becomes seen, the American public is very supportive of numerous solutions to improve the lives of women, men, girls and boys across our society.

Report: Seen and Unseen – The Public Conversation on Prostitution