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Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution

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An astonishingly brave memoir of life in prostitution and its lingering influence on a woman’s psyche and life.

“The best work by anyone on prostitution ever, Rachel Moran’s Paid For fuses the memoirist’s lived poignancy with the philosopher’s conceptual sophistication. The result is riveting, compelling, incontestable. Impossible to put down. This book provides all anyone needs to know about the reality of prostitution in moving, insightful prose that engages and disposes of every argument ever raised in its favor.” —Catharine A. MacKinnon, law professor, University of Michigan and Harvard University

Born to mentally unstable parents, Rachel Moran left home at the age of fourteen. Being homeless, she became prostituted to survive. With intelligence and empathy, she describes the fears she and others had working on the streets and in the brothels. Moran also speaks to the psychological damage that accompanies prostitution and the estrangement from one’s body. At the age of twenty-two, Moran escaped prostitution. She has since become a writer and an abolitionist activist.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 13, 2013

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About the author

Rachel Moran

7 books35 followers
Rachel Moran is the founder of the organization SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment). She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in creative writing and speaks globally on prostitution and sex-trafficking. She lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 198 reviews
Profile Image for Leila Danielsen.
67 reviews2 followers
January 4, 2014
This book has affected me and my outlook more than anything else I have ever read. Brilliantly written. Heart-wrenching in its honesty. I would recommend this as a "must read" for anyone and everyone. If you are a woman or if you care about a woman, prostitution DOES affect you. Read the book, learn about the reality from the inside. I doubt you'll finish this book unchanged.
Profile Image for hanna.
159 reviews181 followers
July 11, 2016
I'm not surprised this took me so long to finish, this isn't the type of novel one devours in a day. It's deeply heartwrenching, poignant and emotional.

The author states that her book doesn't read in the typical format memoirs usually do. I realized that off the bat which made me question whether it should even be considered a memoir. Rather it's a retelling of the author's experience; a critical re-examination in the lifestyle she led for 7 years. While this is an ugly topic, the author does a beautiful job in writing it. I'm ashamed that I too fed into some of the myths of prostitution. But if there's one thing you will leave this book with, it's the understanding that prostitution affects ALL women.

When women tolerate prostitution they are actually tolerating the dehumanisation of their own gender in a broader and more encompassing sense.

I must warn though that this is a book that will make you squeamish and uncomfortable. But it also will make you rethink preconcieved notions and even prejudices. So for that, I recommend it to everyone, especially those interested in psychology, sociology or feminism.

The attempts to frame prostitution as 'sexual self-determination' simply doesn't hold up, because our decisions were not sexual, they were economical.

Non-prostituted women, many of them, have been schooled to accept prostitution along with pornography as something they dare not oppose as offensive for fear of being labeled frigid-minded prudes.

Profile Image for Anna.
12 reviews
February 22, 2014
The blurb makes this sound as though it might be a local misery memoir; it's very far removed from that genre. In truth, this is a treatise to which Rachel Moran's own experiences provide context and credentials.
Though it's framed by accounts of her family circumstances leading up to her entry into prostitution in Dublin at 15 and her integration (not re-integration, as she's at pains to emphasise) into society seven hard years later, the middle and largest part of the book is a highly articulate and potent examination of the politics and impact of prostitution. She examines prevailing attitudes and the effect of various legislative moves across Europe, discusses the issues of choice, consent and the dynamics of power and payment. Her account of the alienation, shame and violation - both physical and psychological - inherent in the trade is devastating. She writes with poise and a ferocious intelligence, and spares readers' tender sensibilities not one bit.
Her courage in overcoming addiction and emancipating herself, alone and as a single parent - to then write this unflinching content under her own name and appear publicly as an activist, though still in the process of reclaiming a sense of self - well, it's beyond humbling.
Her arguments have caused me to reevaluate much of my former thinking on the topic. You don't forget these, the books that prise your eyes open.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
83 reviews5 followers
September 19, 2015
So far: Very intensely sex-negative. The author has had a legitimately traumatic and horrific experience as a youth but is applying her experiences to abolishing sex work claiming no women are happy or choose the profession. Having heard sex workers first hand on podcasts contradict her I have to roll my eyes. The author began underage and was not consenting. However she is not acknowledging the agency of women at all.

Most of what she says is true for most sex work. But these a real piece she's missing and it grinds my gears.

Her abolitionist stance does not acknowledge issues in our culture that are contributing to these realities either. She talks about "depravity" and puts down kinky johns. Well if they could tell their wives about their harmless quirks maybe they wouldn't need to see a prostitute?
Profile Image for Jane.
566 reviews4 followers
March 24, 2017
Another one bites the dust. Another book abandoned halfway in. This is a really good example of how you can take a really interesting story and ruin it with really bad storytelling. Also I don't want to pretend prostitution is a bed of roses or anything but she really generalizes her (obviously terrible) dysfunctional childhood leading to childhood prostitution and the experience of people she met from similar backgrounds and situations as a monolith of prostitution and pornography, making the case that it's terrible and wrong for everyone every time and as someone who has met many a happy sex worker in my life, I think she overstepped.
Profile Image for David.
15 reviews1 follower
September 15, 2013
I was expecting more of a memoir though her journey. This book is more of a factual statement about what defines the mind of not just her, but those around her. There is a strong feminist under-tone that spends a great deal of the book speaking of the demoralization of women and the despicable nature of men. The majority of the book is so technical that you can not relate to her emotion (lack there of emotion) which makes it hard to develop a connection to her. It is almost as if she is teaching a class rather than telling a story.

If you want to understand the working mind of the prostituted women I would say take a chance on this one, however, this is not truly a personal journey and I think that the title of the book is quite misleading.
Profile Image for Paul.
815 reviews44 followers
June 13, 2016
This book is incredibly painful to read, but it is important for society to become familiar with what it describes and act on preventing it.

I had previously read Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law, by Alison Bass, which was harrowing enough, but now I see that even that book, as frightening as it was, hardly began to tell the story of prostituted women. Bass writes as a journalist, telling the stories of prostituted women and offering the decriminalization of prostitution as the solution.

Paid For blows that all up. The book is a memoir of a prostituted Irish woman named Rachel Moran, who writes from the daily practice of prostitution she endured from the age of 15, when she felt forced to run away from her dysfunctional family and paranoid schizophrenic mother, to the age of 22, when she was finally able to get out of it.

Her father was bipolar, frequently in a mental hospital out of Dickens, or else kicked out of the house by the schizophrenic wife. Finally, he committed suicide, and when his wife heard about it, she danced a jig. It was an intolerable living situation for the author and her younger siblings. They were constantly afraid of the sudden volatility of her mother. The author would have to sneak down from their bedroom in the morning to tell the siblings whether she felt it was safe for them to come down.

The family lived in a slummy area of Dublin. Moran had one dress to wear to school every day, with no underpants, and the other children ridiculed her and called her family the Knackers, sometimes to their faces.

When her life became unbearable, Ms. Moran fled to a social worker and asked for deliverance. She was placed in a group home for a while, which proved to be no more manageable than her original household. Finally, she became homeless.

Moran says that the biggest problem of homelessness, besides having no food, was the exhaustion of having to continue walking, because nobody wants the homeless around them. She would sleep in bushes or in the rest room of McDonald’s just after it opened in the morning until employees kicked her out. Finally, the only way left to make enough money to eat and live, she decided, was to sell her body.

This book tells horrible stories of the abuse Moran suffered, which I won’t go into (they’re probably worse than you could ever imagine; they certainly were for me). She concludes that no one EVER becomes prostituted of her own free will. It is rather like being raped for money many times a day. She compares it to days of slavery, when white men would pick young black girls to service them, and the girls had no recourse but to submit.

The most important lesson of the book to me was that, unlike Bass, Moran is repulsed by the possible decriminalization of prostitution and says, also unlike Bass, that streetwalking is the only avenue that prostituted women have to be able to check out their “punters” (customers) to gauge the probability of being beaten or humiliated. Once you’re in a brothel, she writes, you have no choice. The women are lined up like pieces of meat, and the punter chooses whichever one he wants. She can’t refuse. Even worse is being an escort, when you can’t even see the customer before you walk into a room with him.

To endure giving your body up, she writes, you either have to disassociate from the situation, which leads to psychological and spiritual damage, or to take drugs to deaden yourself. Thus many prostituted women become addicts because they can’t admit to themselves what they’re doing for a living and can’t endure the doing of it.

The author quotes many famous works on the subject, excerpting passages from some of them. Often they are chilling. No one is EVER sorry she left being prostituted, she says.

The book has more brilliant and horror-filled anecdotes, some atrocious in their specificity and perversity. Ultimately, the point Moran makes is that it is the DEMAND for prostitution that must be criminalized, as it is in Sweden and Norway and—since the publication of this book—in Ireland.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with a conscience. Those interested in abnormal psychology and feminism will find it particularly important.
Profile Image for Varina.
108 reviews7 followers
January 30, 2014
This intensely personal and unflinching look at prostitution is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the institution, however I do not think it is well described as a memoir (the title, or sub-title rather, is a bit misleading). It's really a through examination of prostitution from the perspective of one who lived it, and is more peppered with personal experiences than it is a narrative of an experience. That feels a bit like quibbling though, because it is a great book, insightful, affecting, and written with truly fluid and potent prose.
Profile Image for Katherine.
360 reviews144 followers
May 25, 2016
A raw account with research and evidence to support the damage prostitution has on women and communities. Rachel Moran has written an important memoir covering the psychological damage that is intrinsic to what she considers a lifestyle rather than a job, as well as the "aftershocks" that persist long after leaving.

I'm happy to have a better understanding of points I already agreed with, due to Moran's personal evidence and research. I believe this is an important book to read, though the rawness of the account may be off-putting for some readers. Moran tends to restate her points a few times in order to get it all across, and I found the repetition to seem almost unedited. In that sense the writing isn't always intriguing, but in the brighter moments this book is very powerful and worth sharing.

Profile Image for Helen Quinn.
Author 1 book3 followers
April 29, 2013
This is a powerful book whereby the author combines the personal with the political. Rachel Moran details her experience as a former prostitute to demonstrate that prostitution is the commercialisation of sexual abuse.

It is not the run of the mill memoir; Rachel uses her own experience to interrogate how prostitution affects the women involved and the wider community. It is a brave book written with integrity and courage plus the style of writing is incredible.

It is structured wonderfully, each of the quotes link well with the theme of each chapter and the arguments are compelling and laced with down to earth common logic. The most powerful chapters for me were the normalisation of prostitution and the interplay of depravity. Both chapters show how prostitution affects us all and it is wrong to accept the dehumanising nature of prostitution and I concur that governments should be lobbied to criminalise the purchasers of sex.

Finally there were times when the enormity of what Rachel experienced took my breath away and I cried many times. Other times I had to pause reading to reflect on the points she was making. I would highly recommend this book and I hope many will read it.
Profile Image for Ruth.
118 reviews13 followers
November 25, 2015
I need to say in the beginning that if you got this book from the library, you could plainly see that it's DDS number is 306, putting it in the sociology category. So for those who complained that this did not have the memoir characteristics you were looking for, that could be why.
On page 3, I was ready to cheer! At last, a counter to Pretty Woman and that kind of nonsense. The writer says a little of her home life and a fair amount of what day to day was like in the various categories--street, brothel, escort, pimp, non-pimp. She makes some good points, and then she makes them again and again. She covers the material that a sociologist should cover. But her writing is trite and hackneyed. Way too much imagery, and that trite and hackneyed as well. Honestly, I did not finish the book. I felt like I had gotten the gist of what she had to say long before I closed the book for the last time.
Profile Image for Luna.
678 reviews43 followers
June 24, 2015
On the one hand, I really enjoyed this book. Well, enjoyed as much as one can enjoy a raw, in-depth look at the life of a child sex worker. This book is really raw, and emotionally a struggle to get through. Moran is upfront in her views on prostitution and the abuse that many women go through when working as prostitutes.

It's important to keep in mind when reading this that this is one women's view on prostitution (and sex work as a whole). I really did struggle to remind myself that every time I read something that many of my friends and colleagues have said or done. I know quite a few people who have worked in the sex industry- actually, I'd dare say the majority of my friends have worked, or are currently working, in the sex industry. From simply working in adult stores, to strippers, skimpies, prostitutes, to professional dominatrixes and submissives. Their opinions vary, from person to person and shift to shift. And while I personally respect Moran's opinion (and I truly believe my friends would, too), I do think we would butt heads on several issues. I know a number of friends would, as well.

I think the core reason for this is that Moran entered prostitution at a very young age. Nobody should allow a fourteen-year-old to even decide what they want to do with the rest of their life, let alone enter sex work. And while I won't linger on this, I do believe it has coloured her perception quite differently to those who have entered sex work at, say, twenty-four, thirty-four or forty-four.

But many key issues are raised here, such as the public idea of sex work and the legality behind it. I don't agree with her opinion (and I think again that part of that is that she speaks for everyone in prostitution and puts her own views on others), but she is certainly allowed to hold onto it.
Profile Image for Amanda Emilie.
20 reviews4 followers
June 21, 2022
Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution took me almost 6 months to get through. It’s been an emotionally draining experience, but I’m glad I never put it away. I’ve learned a ton about the experiences of the author, Rachel Moran - a prostituted woman - but the greatest lesson I took away was that I have a ton of unexplored implicit biases about women, prostituted women in particular. For example, I find it concerning that throughout this entire reading, I kept questioning the qualifications of the author to write a book. I am embarrassed to say that I could not believe that the writing could be this good when she had the educational background that she described. (More than once I questioned whether she was the true author.) It wasn’t until the last section of the book when she explained how she was eventually able to obtain her degree in journalism that I finally gave in and took what she said much more seriously. This is a huge problem, and one that has pushed me to reflect. It told me that for me to listen to and hear someone’s story, they need to have a certain educational background. It told me that if a woman has been prostituted, I require more than just her words to acknowledge her experience. Did part of this have to do with the fact that she was prostituted? I have no doubt. Which is another problem: I can see now that I gave less value not just to her words, but to her as a person because of her profession. While I’ve been conditioned by society (and my religious upbringing) to hold these horrifying, hateful views, it is now on me to change my mindset, and reading this has been my push for change in myself.
This is an incredibly important read. It will create fury about the systems that are in place in our world (this author’s story took place in Ireland), and the ignorance that keeps the systems in place. It is a reminder that although society as a whole looks down on women who are prostituted, society also often fails to acknowledge the clients that inflict the abuse, and without whom, the profession would not exist.
9 reviews
May 10, 2017
It started well enough, like it was going to be an honest memoir. I've been researching sex workers for awhile as I'm writing a book with a protagonist who falls into this work. I want it to be genuine. Thus I've interviewed dozens in the adult industry - adult actresses, escorts, dancers, dominatrix's, et.

As I got into this book something immediately began to strike me. Rachel Moran was different from every other former sex worker I've listened to or read about. The book starts well enough but by the fourth or fifth chapter something went awry and what I got was an Evangelical Christian style sermon filtered through the lens of radical feminism. I'm like, hold on here! This is nothing like I've heard before. My bullshit meter immediately started beeping.

The first common attribute among sex workers is NOT the cliche troubled childhood. It is, in fact, a distinctive lack of the aura of self-righteousness, of innate perspective and general acceptance of people and their flaws. Humility and empathy are unexpectedly commonplace among sex workers and former sex workers - that was the biggest paradigm shift for me upon hearing their stories. But reading this book I was back to the same old "norm" EVIL EVIL EVIL ranting that I used to hear in church, and I began to wonder: why does Rachel Moran put off such a pulsing wave of self-righteous anger? I've never seen this before from anyone in this industry.

A little research is a potent tool. That's all I will say. This writer is a representative of an organization that is a front for a group of Catholic Nuns that up until 1996 was infamous for putting former sex workers into a semi-slave trade, providing laundry washing services in often horrible conditions. The veracity of Moran's account is in question, and instead of answering it by showing evidence or arrest records - she referenced a generic newspaper article and met with a police officer who was clearly troubled during the interview, almost as if he was being blackmailed into saying "yes she was once a prostitute, I remember arresting her 20 years ago." Really? You remember this specific arrest 20 years ago in the light off thousands of arrests and yet there is no official paperwork?

There is an old saying, something is rotten in Denmark, and this book is one of them.

In the beginning it starts as an emotional memoir, a strong read but then... it becomes a collection of sermons and scraps of memories that become ever more inauthentic as the book goes along. Her childhood she speaks of in very emphatic and emotional terms, but when it comes to the prostitution there is a lack of connection to those stories. They feel like someone else's stories served up as warnings or parables from a church pulpit. REPENT!

"If you are a john/punter you are evil." is the message of this book, yet why would any punter actually read this book? I would think they would be the last to read these memoirs as they probably feel guilty about what they do, they wouldn't be reading something so likely to make them feel guilty.

If you are Evangelical or Conservative Christian or radfem with a strong streak of misandry, then this book will absolutely hit all the right buttons to provoke your sense of indignation and mobilize your army to "cut out the cancer" of pornography, sex workers, and strippers from society. After all, we can tell after thousands of years of human history, all during that time that we have been bombarded with sermons like Rachel's, that the task is easily accomplished, right?

Outlaw it! Beat it down! Stamp it out! And it always worked right? Well, this book is saying that it didn't work only because they went after the sex workers, not the punters. Now, instead of kill the whores, it's kill the punters. Except how easily we forget that the Christians did that in the past as well. There were several periods in history where those who approached prostitutes were thrown in jail or even tortured, in some cases killed. And what happened? Well, here we are again...

In the search for the truth, the first thing a reader or human being must do, is reject the indoctrination, reject the sermon, reject the widely and commonly held belief that has fed human misery for thousands of years, and that belief is NOT nor has it ever been that "prostitution is normal" -- the belief in the vast majority of human society is that it has always been wrong and always will be wrong.

Repackaging puritanism as a new branch of feminism is not going to change the truth, and it's not going to eliminate poverty, or punters, or sex workers, because the #1 problem with the human condition is not "the inherent evil of the human male" it is otherness, loneliness, and insecurity, those are the root of all evil in the world. On that basis alone I reject this book and the sermon it is preaching. Furthermore, I'm struggling to believe that Rachel Moran is who she says she is.
Profile Image for Kirsten (lush.lit.life).
258 reviews22 followers
August 26, 2016
Finally, a resource that articulately debunks the myth that working in the fields of prostitution, stripping, and/or pornography can ever be considered harmless, mutually beneficial, or - even more laughably - empowering pursuits.

Also provides insight as to why legalizing and regulating these industries could NEVER make them "safe" enough. Certainly not pleasant to read and certainly one persons viewpoint, but her view from inside all of the above worlds renders her perspective essential. I'm sure the most common challenge she receives is that her book can only reflect her own experience. I confess I lean towards accepting her view as authoritative. There might indeed be some confirmation bias present on my part, but whether she speaks for all in the industry or simply herself, her views from inside the industry make this an important addition to any conversation or debate about these subjects.

I cannot imagine what internal sources of strength and will she had to draw on to relive this nightmare to write her story. Primarily I wish she (and no one else) had ever suffered through these experiences, but having done so and survived - I am grateful she added her voice to this conversation. This is one I'll be reflecting on for a very long time.

As one might suspect, given the subject matter, there are some fairly graphic and disturbing instances related, but my over all feeling is that the author never devolves into sensationalism or gratuitous "shock" value. On the contrary I sense a great deal of restraint - the author telling just enough for the reader to get a real and true sense of the scope of her experiences, which were well and truly awful and, in all likelihood, fairly universal within those industries.

This isn't strictly a memoir and many of her resources merit further study.

A painful yet essential read for anyone who wants to come to a better understanding of the harm these industries effect upon 1) those involved - whether one is the product (who rates our greatest sympathies) or the consumer (certainly never becoming a better person for their participation) and 2) the culture at large.
Profile Image for Vishal Misra.
115 reviews6 followers
August 13, 2015
This is one of the bravest and most touching memoirs I've ever read on this subject. As someone who researched the sex industry in all its (in)glory, I found this book to be brilliant. This draws heavily on the theoretical frameworks of brilliant thinkers like Sheila Jeffreys of "The Industrial Vagina" fame. Built on the foundations of radical feminism, Moran is influenced by McKinnon, Dworkin et al. However, what sets Moran's work apart is that she also analyses the intersection of race and gender with equal clarity. This is something frequently missing from the Western narrative of the prostituted woman.

Ultimately, this is a great insight in to the life of prostituted women in the Global North. Though I've researched the sex industry in the UK, it was depressing to find all my results neatly replicated in chapter after chapter. In that sense, the book taught me nothing new. However, I think this is mandatory reading, especially for young men. The more the harsher realities of industrial sex are held up in the cold light of day, the more we can do to combat prostitution.
Profile Image for Hannah.
243 reviews13 followers
May 27, 2021
“I think it does a disservice to society and to humanity actually, to pretend that the act of prostitution is anything other than what it truly is: a degrading and exploitative exchange”

This subject has always profoundly moved me to compassion and a desire to understand what would lead a person to give up bodily autonomy in the name of making a free choice.

This book makes one thing clear... prostitution is not fun. It is not good. It is not safe. It is not freedom.

Rather, it is dangerous. It is violent. It is abuse. It is harmful. It preys on the weak, vulnerable, young, and poor. It leaves severe mental scars, and it can never be something a person just moves away from. It penetrates ones life, oozing into every corner, and destroys a person.

Need a book to convince you that prostitution should remain illegal because by its very nature it’s exploitation? Read this. Highly recommend.

This book is also really strong in that the woman conveys education, vast knowledge in her experience, and is a strong writer. On all counts this book is superb.
Profile Image for Erin Cataldi.
2,203 reviews79 followers
October 19, 2018
A hard read about a hard, unimaginable lifestyle of prostitution. Rachel Moran holds nothing back when she delves into her past as a prostituted woman in Dublin. Paid For is far more than a memoir though, it's an in depth, scholarly look at the history of prostitution, implications of working the sex trade and so much more. It's narrative non-fiction at its best and Rachel Moran has the authority and no-nonsense attitude to tackle it head on. She easily breaks down myths and rumors that surround the sex industry and pulls from research to help back up her personal experiences. I've read other prostitution memoirs and books written by sex works, but this one really got to me. It may not be an easy read, but I'd very much recommend it!
12 reviews2 followers
September 30, 2013
I have mixed feelings on this book as it was an incredible memoir and insight into the world of prostitution from a firsthand look. On the other hand the book seemed to drag and the author seemed to belabor points at times where I was really ready to move on. The book was VERY heavy and raw which I really liked, there were no punches pulled. Prostitution is ugly and mean and horrible and I greatly admire the personal courage of Ms. Moran in speaking up.
Profile Image for Sara Silvestri.
18 reviews7 followers
August 3, 2022
Non si può valutare questo libro con le stelle su Goodreads. L’unico modo in cui questo libro può essere valutato è in base al malessere e, allo stesso tempo, alla consapevolezza che suscita in chi lo legge. E ne suscita molta, spero abbastanza per far sì che chiunque lo legga contribuisca a difendere i diritti delle donne e a far capire che non può esserci libertà femminile senza abbattere il sistema della pr0stituzione.
Profile Image for Debbie haltom.
12 reviews
April 20, 2019
this is the most brilliant book on prostitution ever written - it is not just her story, though her story is contained within it, but it is an exposé of what prostitution really is - it will make you understand, if you want to...
1 review1 follower
January 19, 2019

Decreasing Human Trafficking through Sex Work Decriminalization
Erin Albright, JD and Kate D'Adamo, MA

In order to decrease human trafficking, health care workers should support the full decriminalization of prostitution. Similar to trafficking in other forms of labor, preventing trafficking in the sex trade requires addressing the different forms of marginalization that create vulnerable communities. By removing punitive laws that prevent reporting of exploitation and abuse, decriminalization allows sex workers to work more safely, thereby reducing marginalization and vulnerability. Decriminalization can also help destigmatize sex work and help resist political, social, and cultural marginalization of sex workers.

In August 2016, Amnesty International, while maintaining and reaffirming its strong condemnation of human trafficking, released a model policy that calls upon countries to decriminalize the sex trade in order to better protect the health and human rights of sex workers [1]. As Amnesty explains in the policy, decriminalization is the shift from “catch-all offences that criminalize most or all aspects of sex work,” including laws that target noncoercive third parties who purchase or facilitate sex work, to “laws and policies that provide protection for sex workers from acts of exploitation and abuse” [2]. The policy has been supported by the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), Human Rights Watch, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom Network USA, and numerous other organizations that focus on vulnerable populations, including victims of human trafficking [3, 4]. Most importantly, it is a policy overwhelmingly supported by those trading sex—the community impacted by these laws and policies [5].

In contrast, organizations that view decriminalization as granting permission and impunity to would-be exploiters have criticized the policy, despite its insistence that anti-trafficking and physical and sexual assault laws be maintained or established [1]. These criticisms, however, fail to engage in a nuanced conversation of sex work as it relates to exploitation, poverty, discrimination, worker rights, and human trafficking [6]. More importantly, research shows the opposite to be true—that it is criminalization that creates conditions of impunity and enhances sex workers’ vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation, including trafficking.
Reasons to Oppose Criminalization of Sex Work

Sex work and sex trafficking are not synonymous. Involvement in the sex trade occurs across a constantly shifting spectrum of choice, circumstance, and coercion. Victims of trafficking are at the far end of this spectrum, involved through force or coercion. While quantifying the number of persons trafficked into the sex trade is difficult, as we discuss below, we do know that criminalization of sex work increases sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, exploitation, and trafficking [7]. So, here, we discuss four reasons why health care professionals should oppose the criminalization of sex work.

Increased violence. First, criminalization including the so-called Nordic model increases opportunities for violence that’s de facto unreportable [7]; that is, because the work they do is regarded as criminal activity, sex workers are easy targets for abuse and exploitation, including trafficking. Fear of arrest and other consequences means that those engaged in sex work are less likely to report instances of violence or exploitation, resulting in a “climate of impunity [that] emboldens police, health sector, and non-state groups to abuse sex workers’ rights” [8]. This is true even for so-called “partial criminalization” frameworks, such as those that penalize only the buyers of sex. Although such a strategy appears at first glance to be grounded in the well-being of sex workers, implementation often means policing of the areas where sex workers conduct business. This forces those working into more isolated conditions and locations, increasing their physical vulnerability. It disrupts critical safety strategies and negotiations including harm-reduction techniques—such as the use of condoms—and peer networks [7]. According to a study published in the Lancet, partial criminalization “creates harms similar to those of full criminalization by impeding sex workers’ ability to protect their health and safety, and creating an antagonistic relationship with law enforcement resulting in a climate of impunity” [8].

Erosion of trust. Second, criminalization undermines trust in support systems, including health care. Fear of judgment, discrimination, lower quality of service, and legal consequences inhibit many from disclosing that they are involved in sex work, regardless of whether they are so engaged through choice, circumstance, or coercion [9]. One study of 783 sex workers reported that 70 percent had never disclosed the nature of their work to a health care professional [10]. In a needs assessment of sex workers who seek clients in public spaces, often referred to as street-based sex work, one woman explained, “I was raped and was afraid to be judged by the hospital and that they’d call the police” [9]. Disrupting the relationship between a health care professional and a sex worker can mean important red flags for exploitation, violence, and trafficking go unreported.

Increased vulnerability. Third, involvement in the criminal justice system creates long-lasting consequences, in terms of a person’s health outcomes and vulnerability to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. The inability to hide an arrest and conviction for prostitution makes obtaining formal employment, housing, benefits, and community support significantly more difficult. Fines, fees, and costs associated with an arrest exacerbate poverty, which significantly increases a person’s vulnerability to trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

Stigma. Finally, criminalization reinforces stigma, which perpetuates sex workers’ marginalization. Research supports the fact that sex workers are some of the most marginalized people in the world, subject to widespread human rights violations including homicide, physical and sexual violence, incarceration, harassment from law enforcement, and discrimination in accessing health care and other sources of support [1]. Socially, culturally, politically, and economically, sex workers are stigmatized, ignored, and actively silenced even in advocacy spaces debating the very policies that influence their lives [11]. Too often, sex workers are spoken for instead of given a platform for speaking themselves, and a result is a lack of recognition and enforcement of their basic human rights.

Decriminalization can motivate more prominent recognition of sex workers’ human rights and is thus a critical mechanism for decreasing trafficking. When we improve the health and human rights of sex workers, we do so for those who are trafficked into sex work as well. Indeed, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Trafficking” notes that “violations of human rights are both a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons,” and therefore it is “essential to place the protection of all human rights at the centre of any measures taken to prevent and end trafficking” [12]. By decriminalizing sex work, sex workers who experience violence can seek help from law enforcement, health care workers, or even friends with less fear of consequences to themselves or others. They can engage peer networks and employ harm-reduction techniques that help keep them safer, such that they no longer have to face the consequences of a criminal record for simply trying to survive.
Profile Image for Paul.
58 reviews2 followers
December 13, 2021
Moran shows an incredible grasp of the emotional and psychological damage that prostituted women experience. She uses her personal experience and those of hundreds of others to help illuminate the importance of this statement from Swedish lawmakers: "Equality for women and girls cannot exist when a separate class of racially and economically marginalized females (mostly girls) are bought, sold, and sexually exploited by men." The financial transaction acts like a metaphorical gag that keeps prostitutes from calling or even recognizing that they are being abused, which only makes it worse.
Profile Image for Karen Moe.
Author 2 books2 followers
October 14, 2022
A crucial and brave testimony about the reality of prostitution in a male supremacist culture that is built with exploitation. Not only has Moran lived the fact that prostitution is, in prostitution survivor Trisha Bapti's words, "paid rape," she supports her lived experiences—her primary research so to speak—with the plethora of international statistics that prove how it is logical that such transactions are toxic at the core. Even though there are an extreme minority of people in the sex industry (Moran's 'tiny sampling') who say they have freely chosen to work in the sex industry and have not been circumstantially coerced (and Moran testifies as to how when she was in the sex industry she, too, claimed to have freely chosen in order to keep herself emotionally safe), for the vast majority of people in the sex trade circumstances provide no other viable choice. As Moran says, "if a woman has no viable choice, she may as well have no choice at all." (161). Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution demonstrates this truth through lived experience, statistics and logic.

With an depth analysis of all sociological effects of the buying and selling of predominantly women's and girl's bodies, Moran shows how, in the end, prostitution is "a deep and irreversible fracturing of interpersonal human connections" (187). She writes how all women are negatively affected, even the non-prostituted and such damage does not exclude men, the buyers. Robert Jensen testifies in his book The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men: “I was socialized in patriarchy into a toxic masculinity that not only subordinates women but also crippled my own capacity to be fully human”; Moran states how, when inflicting their toxic masculinity onto and into women's bodies, "[m]en also suffer loss to their own humanity …; huge, undocumented, unexamined loss."(184). This is not a book that misses anything when exposing the critical need for an ideological and emotional revolution that goes beyond personal experiences in order to extend into the global exploitation of bodies of which we are all a part. I have read a lot of hostility to this book, which is too bad. But I must say that if Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution doesn't at least make all readers seriously consider the fact that the sex industry needs to be re-thought as opposed to the current trend of necessary and empowering, think of this: if there were no toxic masculinity, there would be no work for the sex workers. Thank you, Rachel Moran, for your rigor and candor. Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution is an invaluable tool in the fight for a society without sexual violence.
Profile Image for Trevor Maloney.
64 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2016
This book is billed as a "memoir," & it does have elements of a memoir. Moran describes how she grew up & got into prostitution at the age of fifteen, & how she got out of prostitution seven years later. The narrative of the memoir, however, is secondary to her explication of the inter- & intra-personal dynamics of prostitution, the sociology and economy of prostitution, & the physical, emotional, psychological, & spiritual harm prostitution wreaked on her & the other prostituted women she met. The book is full of dense, complex, sophisticated explorations of these dynamics. For instance, page 172:

"The belief that prostitutes are in control has no basis in reality, but has two practicable functions, related but distinct; to sanitise and excuse the economic and sexual abuse of women by men, and to obscure the core of prostitution's true nature: the commercialisation of sexual abuse. Sometimes prostitutes themselves collude in the myth of prostitutes' control. I have already described how and why I have done this myself and how other women engage in it. So yes, we sometimes claimed that we were in control, and we said so to ourselves and to non-prostituted others; but I have noticed that we never said so to each other. Some lies are embarrassingly obvious; but we did not make that claim elsewhere and we said so not because it was true, but because we had to. We said so because we needed to. We said so because the pretence on control was less painful and less shameful than the acceptance of sexual powerlessness. This doesn't prove that we weren't victimised: it proves that we didn't like being reminded of it."

This is just one example; practically the whole book is like this. It's not a light read. I found it very engaging. Moran does tell stories from her time in prostitution, but these are really used as fodder for the kind of explorations above. In the end, this makes a compelling case for the abolition of prostitution, and for full women's equality. To be clear, Moran's opposition to prostitution is not based on any kind of patriarchal impulses (such as the desire to control women, to make sure that women's and men's sexuality is only expressed within the limits of a patriarchal marriage, or any other such garbage). Rather, her opposition to prostitution is rooted in her experience of the violence of prostitution - which she argues (convincingly, I think) is inherent - and radical feminist analysis of gender oppression. I hope you will read it.
Profile Image for Lyn.
674 reviews3 followers
June 30, 2022
Everyone should read this book which, in great detail, dispels the myth of the "happy hooker" and many other ignorant assumptions we make about prostituted women. It is a hard read, graphic and disturbing in many chapters, but is a thorough exploration of the lives and experiences of prostituted women. As a (formerly) prostituted woman herself, she speaks with insider knowledge and authority. Her call is for the rejection of the commodification and commercialisation of women's bodies, and she campaigns for the criminalisation of the "customers" (such as has happened in Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Ireland with positive results). She does not agree with the legalisation of prostitution which, she argues, normalises the commercialisation of women by re-branding it as "sex work" and as a "profession". Read her book to understand her reasoning. It's an important book for women and men. Nor is she "sex negative" as some reviewers have claimed.
My only gripe was the somewhat laboured quality of some of the writing; tighter editing would have been a good thing! But this book is a heartfelt and moving plea on behalf of prostituted women.
Profile Image for Max Healy.
64 reviews1 follower
February 16, 2019
This book was so incredibly powerful. Moran uses her years of experience in prostitution to analyze it from every direction imaginable, from psychological to sociological, internal and external, going into agonizing detail regarding the manner in which prostitution affects the psychology of prostituted women. I was most stricken by the social alienation which pushed her into prostitution and was then reinforced by social attitudes towards prostitutes as well as the brutal nature of prostitution.

It was inspiring and heartbreaking to hear how assured the voice of a woman who had experienced such consistent dehumanization could be, how intelligently articulating these experiences, which I've really only ever heard from any perspective other than prostituted women themselves, can shed light into a realm of life that is completely foreign to me. Big ups for passing the Nordic model in Ireland, by the way -- Rachel Moran is brilliant.
Profile Image for Bethany.
458 reviews4 followers
March 27, 2016
I stopped around page 80. I just wasn't a fan of the tone of the book. I was expecting a memoir, and while the author tells you right off the bat "this book will not read in the style of a traditional memoir; it is not intended to," I guess I couldn't let go of my expectations of what the book would be. I expected to have to give it up because it would make me uncomfortable; instead, I gave it up because I grew frustrated with the author who, while claiming to be simply recounting her own experience, projects that experience on to the lifestyle (she's big on using that word) of every woman in sex-related work - and of course, she includes those in the porn industry and strippers. Maybe I'm not allowed a comment because their reality is so far removed from my own, but no matter what I'm reading, it always rubs me the wrong way when the author presumes to speak for everyone.
Profile Image for Cat.
685 reviews79 followers
November 21, 2016
honestly, rating and even talking about this book is really hard.

I could not finish this and feel like I am still the same person. the details and analysis in this book are so heart-wrenching and disgusting. I was definitely living and looking in the glamorised perspective of prostitution. but never more.

you can talk about the lack of emotion, feelings or insights from the author but, truth is, she gives zero fucks about sugarcoating or sentimentalisms because this topic doesn't should have that applied to it. this isn't a memoir: it's a raw portrait from someone who lived a brutal and terrible reality.

full review here: https://catshelf.wordpress.com/2016/1...
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