Melissa Farley

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Melissa Farley (born 1942) is a feminist research psychologist who studies the effects of prostitution, pornography, and trafficking on women, men, and children in prostitution. She is Director of Prostitution Research and Education, a San Francisco nonprofit organization.


  • Prostitution myths justify the existence of prostitution, promote misinformation about prostitution, and contribute to a social climate that exploits and harms not only prostituted women but all women.
    • "Attitudes toward Prostitution and Acceptance of Rape Myths" in Journal of Applied Social Psychology Vol. 32, issue 9 (2002), p. 1790 - 1796; co-written with A. Cotton, and R. Baron
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), commonly occurs among prostituted women, and is indicative of their extreme emotional distress. PTSD is characterized by anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, flashbacks, emotional numbing, and hyperalertness. In nine countries, we found that sixty-eight percent of those in prostitution met criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, a prevalence that was comparable to battered women seeking shelter, rape survivors seeking treatment, and survivors of state-sponsored torture. Across widely varying cultures on five continents, the traumatic consequences of prostitution were similar.
  • We feminists think that women deserve the right NOT to prostitute.
  • For many women, the experience of prostitution stems from the historical trauma of colonization.
    • "Prostitution in Vancouver: Violence and the Colonization of First Nations Women" in Transcultural Psychiatry 42 (2005), p. 242 - 271; co-written with J Lynne and A Cotton
  • Within the gendered institution of prostitution, race and class create a hierarchy with indigenous women at its lowest point.
    • "Prostitution in Vancouver: Violence and the Colonization of First Nations Women" in Transcultural Psychiatry 42 (2005), p. 242 - 271; co-written with J Lynne and A Cotton

Prostitution, Trafficking, and Cultural Amnesia (2006)[edit]

"Prostitution, Trafficking, and Cultural Amnesia: What We Must Not Know in Order To Keep the Business of Sexual Exploitation Running Smoothly" in Yale Journal of Law and Feminism Vo. 18 (2006), p. 109 - 144
  • U.S. prostitution can be understood in the context of the cultural normalization of prostitution as a glamorous and wealth-producing “job” for girls who lack emotional support, education, and employment opportunities. The sexual exploitation of children and women in prostitution is often indistinguishable from incest, intimate partner violence, and rape.
  • Sexist and racist economic policies in the United States such as a lack of educational opportunity for poor families and a lack of sustainable income from many jobs contribute to women’s and girls’ entry into prostitution. The economic and legal vulnerability of undocumented immigrant women in the United States is exploited in prostitution/pornography.
  • Prostitution/trafficking/pornography systematically discriminate against women, against the young, against the poor and against ethnically subordinated groups. Specific acts commonly perpetrated against women in prostitution and pornography are the same as the acts defining what torture is: verbal sexual harassment, forced nudity, rape, sexual mocking, physical sexual harassment such as groping, and not permitting basic hygiene. The psychological consequences of these acts are the same whether it is named state-sponsored torture or prostitution.
  • Some words hide the truth. Just as torture can be named enhanced interrogation, and logging of old-growth forests is named the Healthy Forest Initiative, words that lie about prostitution leave people confused about the nature of prostitution and trafficking. The words "sex work" make the harms of prostitution invisible.
  • Prostitution is sexual violence that results in massive economic profit for some of its perpetrators. The sex industry, like other global enterprises, has domestic and international sectors, marketing sectors, a range of physical locations out of which it operates in each community, is controlled by many different owners and managers, and is constantly expanding as technology, law, and public opinion permit.
  • Prostitution is advertised online, where it is indistinguishable from pornography. The Internet has expanded the reach of traffickers and it has intensified the humiliation and violence of prostitution. Pornography is one specific means of trafficking women for the purpose of selling women into prostitution.
  • While feminists have spoken about prostitution as the buying and selling of women’s bodies, one trick more specifically explained what he did in prostitution as "renting an organ for ten minutes." Another explained, "Guys get off on controlling women, they use physical power to control women, really. If you look at it, [prostitution is] paid rape. You’re making them subservient during that time, so you’re the dominant person. She has to do what you want."
  • Postmodern descriptions of prostituted women as sex workers promotes an acceptance of conditions that in any other employment context would be correctly described as sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, or rape. Women’s experiences of violence and their psychological response to it cannot be theorized away.

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