The Editors | Essays

Marc Rabinowitz: Prostitution Facts

Marc Rabinowitz, Design to Touch Humanity, Prostitution Facts shown amidst Village Voice escort ads, 2007

In spite of the barrage of wisecracks this week involving the tawdry glamour of "high-priced call girls," it's important to remember that this supposedly victimless crime takes a vast human toll that goes far beyond the embarrassment of the occasional powerful man. Marc Rabinowitz's project at the School of Visual Arts Graduate Design Program invites us to imagine the stark statistics of prostitution in a familiar form and inserted amidst the escort service ads in any city tabloid.

Marc Rabinowitz, Design to Touch Humanity, Prostitution Facts, 2007

Marc Rabinowitz is a graphic designer living and working in New York City. Currently, he is a candidate for an MFA in Design at the School of Visual Arts. Marc's work can be seen on his website. (Thanks to Brian Collins for bringing this work to our attention.)

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Politics

Comments [61]

Related: Yesterday's New York Times ran an op-ed article, "The Myth of the Victimless Crime," by Melissa Farley and Victor Malarek:

Ricardo Cordoba

Thank you for this. I've noticed many male "liberal" bloggers seem to think prostitution is no big deal.

Straight up information told in a visually compelling way. Can't get much more straight forward than that. Also, this is a scary read. Good job, Marc.

Yes, but what are the stats on legalized prostitution?

Firstly: There is no problem with prostitution itself. The problem is that it is (in most countries) a crime, and that drives it underground. It's there that problems occur. If people are happy to offer sex for money that's their business and no one else's. But I think that should be done in a safe, legalized, and government regulated manner, in order to stop the associated problems that can surround prostitution (which boil down to cruelty in all manner of forms).

Secondly, those figures seem rather overcooked, I want to see the actual data that these figures are extracted from, and the methods used to get that data. Any source that starts off with a wild and inaccurate statement such as "prostitution is an act of violence" is hardly credible, and is clearly biased. No, prostitution is not a "violent act". By definition it is a consensual transaction. Do not confuse the problems surrounding prostitution with prostitution itself.

Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with two consenting adults reaching an agreement whereby sexual gratification is exchanged for money. That's prostitution. That's fine, and a private matter.

What is absolutely NOT fine is if the prostitute is being abused or forced into that situation. There's a very big difference here. It's the latter part that needs addressing, and it will not be addressed by criminalising prostitution because it is not prostitution that causes those problems. Those problems are in fact exacerbated by criminalising the act, because there always has been and always will be people offering sex for reasons other than love or lust.
Matt Wilcox

Considering the premise that prostitution is no good for anyone, it is witty that the ad duplicates the government-mandated food nutrition labels. Not exactly an original design concept, of course. I wonder how many instances of nutrition label duplication we can find out in the design world?

That aside, I've got to wonder: Would anyone even notice this information in the setting in which it has been placed, much less pay any attention to it? People who visit the back pages of papers like Village Voice looking for sexual services probably are not terribly concerned about the issues presented. It's certainly compelling data if you are already sensitive to these issues. But, if you are, say, a porn user, are you really going to care that prostitutes are exposed to porn?

I just think this data, and the way it is presented, is a textbook case of preaching to the choir. In this case, the choir is people already concerned about prostitution issues. If you're not in that choir, I believe this would pass you right by.
Rob Henning

Apparently hookers are not too good at completing suicide

joshua bistritz

Matt: While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I find it dangerous to simply boil down the act of selling one's body for money to that of a simple business transaction. By doing so you are completely ignoring the social, ethical, and emotional factors that permeate the act of prostitution--both for the prostituted and the "buyer" of such services. Matt, do you know any prostitutes? And if so, are they happy to report about their profession?

You are correct in asserting that the biological drive for sex has, for centuries, driven culture and is the very reason we are all here to read this blog. But to simply say "people want sex ergo prostitution should be allowed to happen" is flawed. The fact is that it is NOT ALWAYS two consenting adults. It is not a simple business transaction and that is the point: it is none of those things. You cannot extrapolate your ideas about prostitution by putting it in a void where none of these issues exist surrounding it and then say, coldly, that there is not a problem with the "idea" of prostitution.
Carissa Henriques

I think the juxtaposition of the label and the ad page was ingenious-woulf def. make you take notice

Matt Wilcox - Your argument abounds with the same rhetoric utilised by those that seek to legitimate forms of inequality and suffering.

Let us look at another vicious act so that we may reveal this aspect.
Child abusers attempt to utilise notions of consent when clearly there is an imbalance of positions. Their argument goes that that if the child agrees to the act then “that’s their business and no one else’s”. But quite simply, a child cannot give consent. When attempting to secure the safety of children we recognise the coercion, dishonesty, manipulation, and violence of such an act and consequently seek to abolish it. Indeed, our very notion of ‘childhood’ is relatively recent and is in part constructed by all manner of devices which attempt to protect them against such abuse (e.g. the ‘chimney sweeps’ of Dicken’s era have been outlawed (albeit not on a global scale)). Moreover, any argument for legalising paedophilia that suggested “there always has been and always will be people abusing children sexually” would reveal a deeply conservative position devoid of creative thought.

We can now take this argument and see how it relates to the struggles of other identities - suffragettes, the working class, the homeless, victims of domestic violence, slaves, and the Jews, ‘homosexuals’, ‘gypsies’, and ‘handicapped’ of the Nazi concentration camps, to name just a few. Each of these catch all terms designates a vast number of very real people who fought long and hard to have their voices heard in the dominant sphere. They are now partially protected by the outlawing of such practices - either globally or nationally. Now we have begun to outline these considerations, let us return to our subject at hand.

Like slavery, prostitution in itself is abuse. Whatever form it takes (e.g. in it's widest guise, the selling of a service) it bypasses the very consensual relations you suggest it upholds. Those in positions of control can pursue the belittlement and objectification of those who are not. That is what prostitution is - the negation of a persons subjectivity. A prostitute is reduced to nothing other than the service they sell. It is not some neutral bartering system of mutual equivalence, but a power game in which those who are made weak by a system are crushed further by those that control that system. Once objectified (made physically and emotionally worthless) any subsequent violence is already qualified (again the testaments of the Shoa survivors is revealing in the utter completeness of this objectifying act). Hence the statement “prostitution is an act of violence”. There is a clear bias and an agenda - but so is there with any statement - there is no neutrality. Those that appear benign only do so by recourse to dominant discourse - our present one being the notion of the liberal individual and ‘free choice’ (a position you take in your comment).

But the violence is much more insepid and is already enacted - it is in the attempts to isolate vicious acts of brutality through “legalisation” (as if the legal was a moral or ethical compass), such as a “safe, legalized, and government regulated manner” (serve some time in prison to see how caring the legal treatment of undesirables is).

If you are as genuinely concerned, as you appear to be, further reading on the history of the numerous and diverse oppressed identities, and conversations with those who live/d these lives, should be enough to reveal the basis on which you make your argument to be extremely unstable.

A complicated subject.
Here is a new magazine put out by sex workers, for sex workers.

Here is an radio interview, March 24, with three women responsible for publishing this magazine.

Worth listening to I think.

As I would be with any subject, I am wary of an ad that does not list sources. In scientific studies, it is not only common, but mandatory practice to support an argument with data. And there is no such data in this piece, however compelling its message.

And certainly there are other physical professions we accept and participate in every day which might be construed as damaging to the participants. For instance: nude art photographs (as well as nude non-art photographs), fashion modeling, football, boxing, etc.

I'm not saying any of these things are GOOD for society, necessarily. A boxer whose brain has been rattled out of place is not exactly a example of man's greatest acheivements. However, I think it's fair to say that nearly every profession in modern times has its victims. We might all ask ourselves which is worse - a prostitute or a fixed-rate mortgage lender?

I'm not sure there's an answer to this. Perhaps they are equally horrible. Or perhaps they are just two examples of basic human nature. And sometimes human nature is just plain ... harsh.

Jason said, As I would be with any subject, I am wary of an ad that does not list sources. In scientific studies, it is not only common, but mandatory practice to support an argument with data. And there is no such data in this piece, however compelling its message.

At the bottom of the "Prostitution Facts" box, under "Ingredients," Rabinowitz lists his source: "Excerpted from the Prostitution Fact Sheet, compiled by Melissa Farley, at the Prostitution Research & Education site, prostitutionresearch.com."

Ricardo Cordoba

"Firstly: There is no problem with prostitution itself."

This article would seem to suggest otherwise:


I don't know if you are reading this while at your respective offices, but anyway I would just like to ask this: Could we say that any -let's say, if you prefer, 'most'- job(s) developed under a capitalistic system is (are) a clear "act of violence"? What would be the qualifying aspect, so to say, when the labour exchange is based on sex? Where does the difference come from, if not from traditional assumptions related with (mainly Christian) religion?

Coming back to the initial artwork, I recently came accross another project that deals (maybe in a more poetical -and therefore controversial- way) with similar issues at:

Displaced, by Miguel Alvarez-Fernandez


@Carissa Henriques and @MLA

Just to be double clear: The problems that surround prostitution are genuinely bad, and they need to be removed. No person should be abused or forced into a situation they do not want to be in, be that prostitution or anything else. I am all about getting rid of _those_ issues.

But there is nothing wrong with 'prostitution' as a dictionary definition: two consenting adults having sex in exchange for money. As long as there's no abuse going on, that's fine. And to assume otherwise is to be projecting your own morals onto someone else. That's wrong too. Other people's choices and affairs should only ever become "our" concern if those choices are being made under duress or are not in fact choices at all. Painting all prostitutes as victims is not helpful, and is insulting to those that choose to do it freely (which I hope is a great many of them).

I'm all for address the problems surrounding prostitution. But prostitution itself should not be confused as being the problem. It isn't.
Matt Wilcox

@ Matt Wilcox

Quite simply you are wrong. Your analysis is riddled with “absurd assumptions” from a liberally aligned agenda that continually conflates symbolic, subjective, and systemic violence. Let us briefly proceed through these in order to problematise your argument.

One: Subjective violence - where an identifiable agent causes physical harm or death. This is the all too apparent violence where prostitutes are assaulted, people are stabbed, of gangland shootings etc. All of us are continually made aware of this through the variety of media outlets, networks, and bland graphic design that seeks to “solve” the problem of this arena (witness the work in question). But, if we fail to recognise other forms of violence we will remain blind to the manipulative processes and procedures that occur equally as common albeit at differing levels of perception.

Two: Symbolic violence - e.g. language limits as much as it enables. We need to recognise the dual nature as well as the struggle to determine meaning.
You have located this as a neutral aspect, whereby dictionaries provide grounds for truth rather than belie strategic positions.

Three: Systemic violence - the very abuse necessary to make a present system appear benign - the ‘hidden’ boot that perpetually stamps “on a human face - forever” that has to occur in order for the machine to function.
You suppose exchange to be mutually consensual on a idealised isolated subjective level, rather than being played out in the wider context of a real world ordered on the commodification of human relations.


Please allow me to clarify. These problems do not simply surround prostitution (as if they could suddenly go away and everything would then be as it should). They envelope, swallow, and are intertwined with the very idea of prostitution, because intrinsic to what you are calling a monetary business exchange is a power struggle, even if the one being overpowered does so by choice. I think we can both agree that in the case of prostitution there are those who would call themselves victims and those who would not. I am not taking a broad brush and trying to paint a picture of the former. However, if I may return to my previous point, it is illogical to dissect the problems of prostitution from the dictionary definition of prostitution, as if prostitution were a principle or theory that is just implemented poorly in our culture. As MLA stated, there are interconnected systems of violence at work.
Carissa Henriques

I see a pattern here. The comments opposing prostitution are written by people who feel an over abundance of vocabulary helps further their point.

If you can't get your point across in common terms you don't have a solid argument.

In many cases the girls selling their bodies are far more akin to anyone working in a job they don't enjoy. Look at fry cooks, stock boys, janitors, etc. Can you honestly say that they don't feel victimized, enslaved, or other similar feelings that you associate with prostitution?

What is the attempted suicide rate among any underpaid, over stressed occupation?

What percentage of teens would say that internet porn taught them what was expected of them? I bet it's high. What about how many learned about relationships from MTV or the plethora of reality shows they so voraciously consume? Higher.

All of you on your soapboxes preaching the perils of prostitution should look first at your peers. Elliot Spitzer, Ted Haggard, Senator Craig, and many more. Is it the impact of those scandals that fuels your argument that prostitution is fundamentally wrong? Is it your personal convictions?

People dislike Catholicism, Judaism, or Islam. I'll wager more pain, suffering, crime, and hatred have come from religion than anything else.

Just as with alcohol, tobacco, or firearms; proper governmental regulation would eliminate much of the crime associated with prostitution. Prohibition in the United States is an excellent example. When liquor was placed on the other side of the law, the criminals ran the show. With legalization, some oversight, and central regulation prostitution also would be far cleaner.

Look to the areas of the world where prostitution is run like any other business and I'll wager you see far different statistics than the ones so graphically displayed above.

I think we all agree that violence is wrong and abuse is wrong. That's a good, and maybe that's what's important.

The disagreement comes in here: whether or not prostitution necessarily involves violence and abuse. One side maintains that, if it is a consensual act between two adults who know what they are doing, then there's no violence and abuse, and it's okay. The other side maintains that, consent is immaterial, because sex should not be a commodity, and when it becomes a commodity then it violates human dignity and must therefore involve violence and abuse.

So I guess, it's a disagreement about whether not it's acceptable to use sex as a commodity. In my opinion, this is a moral issue. Legality and morality have a complicated relationship. Should we make it illegal for people to use sex as a commodity because we think it is unacceptable? By "illegal", we mean that we'd penalize or incarcerate people for participating in it. I see right away (and I'm sure you all do too) why a pimp who abuses prostitutes surely deserves to go to jail. But what about the prostitutes themselves? Do they deserve to go to jail? What about the prostitutes who actually enjoy their profession, and do it with full consent? Should they be penalized or incarcerated? Should they be forced to give up their profession?

These things just raise more questions about the connection between legality and morality, how we decide what to base our laws on.

Here's a good book, available in its full text online for free, that talks a lot about legality vs. morality:
Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do

Sorry if that seems like spam, it's just a really good book and it's pretty relevant to the topic. I think it will explain my opinion better than I ever could.

We all want any abuse or mistreatment surrounding prostitution to stop. It is simply my opinion that this can happen without removing the act of providing sex for money itself. It's also my opinion that the world never has been and never will be without prostitution, and to try and remove it from society will only drive it underground, where abuse can happen far more freely. If people are serious about helping to remove these injustices then they need to think about their perception of prostitutes more, and get the whole thing state regulated, where the prostitutes can be protected, offered choices, and looked after.

I shall not be making more comments on this, I've already been as clear as I can about my view on the matter.
Matt Wilcox

Just spotted @feanne's comment:

"The disagreement comes in here: whether or not prostitution necessarily involves violence and abuse. One side maintains that, if it is a consensual act between two adults who know what they are doing, then there's no violence and abuse, and it's okay. The other side maintains that, consent is immaterial, because sex should not be a commodity, and when it becomes a commodity then it violates human dignity and must therefore involve violence and abuse."

Absolutely spot on. Absolutely _spot on_.

Personally, I'm all about self-empowerment. As long as no-one is getting hurt or abused people should be able to do what they like, and the idea that prostitution _must have a victim_ or is _inherently degrading_ is one that I can not agree with on a fundamental level. It's up to people to make choices, and as long as those choices are freely made and no harm is done to involved parties, what place do any of us have to decide those choices are right or wrong for the people involved?

And that really is the last I'm saying.
Matt Wilcox

(@ Jack: You will see different statistics in areas of the world where prostitution is "run like any other business." Human trafficking and violence against women is much higher those countries. See this study.)

But back to the ad for a moment...the main argument against this ad seems to be "Hmm...those statistics sound inflated to me." This, of course, isn't an argument, but it serves the purpose of allowing dogmatic readers to ignore the realities of prostitution. So this raises a question: if statistics, even sourced, clear and honest statistics like these, are so easily ignored by people who don't want to believe them, are statistics the best way to present a point?

Look at Matt Wilcox, whose argument boils down to "those stats don't sound right because I have a theory about how prostitution really works." (I would go on to describe the rest of Matt's argument as "tautological" but Jack has accused opponents of prostitution of using big words, so I'll refrain.)

Look at Jason, who was so certain the stats were cooked that he simply could not find the source of the statistics (in Jason's defense, the source was a little hard to find. Was the ad too designerly?)

Look at Jack, who discredits the statistics to himself by saying "every job is depressing; let's see stats from working as a fry cook" (I'd be interested to know if the average fry cook is raped 16 times by his or her employer over the course of a year).

Obviously theirs are exceptionally weak arguments against the hard facts, but they allow their reasoners to insulate themselves from reality.

So what would convince Matt, Jason & Jack that prostitution is inherently poisonous? Matt, Jason & Jack: is there anything that would jar you from your positions? I'd be really interested to know.

In response to the previous comments. This is certainly an interesting discussion that I am sure can be seen covered in great depth in books, journals, news segments, and documentaries.

What I think is particularly interesting and relevant, considering its a DO post, is that the discussion of prostitution was prompted not by a reporter, but by a designer. I don't know how much Marc Rabinowitz ad did to raise the issue of prostitution in the public sphere. But he has shown there is potential in self-initiated design projects like this, working outside a client's brief, to not only impact society, but to expand the definition a designer. And for that he should be commended.

Not to mention this project seems a lot more interesting compared to the questionably esoteric and self-serving posters that seem to be only printed in design books.
Joseph Traylor

wow, some of these arguments are pretty ridiculous. to those two who seem to be vehemently opposed to prostitution... are you seriously trying to convince us that "the violence where prostitutes are assaulted, people are stabbed, of gangland shootings etc." is worng?


thats not the point here. we all know violence and rape and child molesters are bad, mmmkay?

the points that matt, feanne, jack and the like are making make much more sense and are obviously not fueled by their sense of moral superiority, entitlement and emotion, like the two main opposers.

i am not saying we should legalize prostitution, but maybe we should do the same research and surveys of prostitutes in a location like amsterdam, where prostitution is legal. see if all those women were abused as children, are currently being abused or (try to) commit suicide.

then we can re-evaluate what the real issue here is... whether it is the act of sex for money or if it is the governmental and social system that said act is taking place in that is so evil.


"Should we make it illegal for people to use sex as a commodity because we think it is unacceptable?"

But sex is already a commodity. What's the difference between a "sex entrepreneur" who sells herself as a call girl and the porn star that makes a living by having sex on camera? Or an advertiser that intentionally uses a model's sexuality to sell a product?

If anything, I feel like pornography and overtly sexual advertising are 'worse,' morally, than consensual adult prostitution... because the former is selling sex (and mostly incredibly unrealistic sex) for consumption by the masses. And then the morals of everyone involved can be called into question - creative director, model, consumer. Talk about whoring out, har har. (OK, that was terrible, sorry.)


Also, there seems to be a difference of understanding when it comes to "prostitution" in this thread. Most of the people arguing against prostitution are pointing out the exploitative side of it, with human trafficking, rape, and slavery. I think everyone here would agree that's horrific and deplorable.

But on the flip side, there's the consensual adult 'high-class' call-girl/guy aspect of prostitution, too, where the prostitutes are in business for themselves (no rapist pimps), are extremely selective about their clients and perfectly comfortable (maybe even happy?) with their job. How do you tell them that their job is immoral? You could argue that they may not care if their clients are married/have families/in a posititon where they really shouldn't be hiring a prostitute... but is that really the prostitute's problem?

I think that it is possible to "oppose" prostitution on grounds that are not purely moral and/or religious. The question is not whether sex should or should not be a commodity. We must ask ourselves if it is possible for prostitution to operate in a vacuum devoid of violence, abuse and subjugation. We must also examine our definition of consent. If an individual is subject to conditions of sexual and/or economic inequality, their ability or motivations for consenting to participating in such an exchange should be examined.

Damn, but I'm dragged back in. :)

@LN who asks: "Matt, Jason & Jack: is there anything that would jar you from your positions? I'd be really interested to know."

Firstly, you are perhaps right in a sense about the tautology idea. I am arguing not based on how prostitution works where you live, but on what prostitution IS. What is IS is not inherently wrong or abusive, but how it is RUN might well be in a lot of places. That is an important distinction. The act of paying for sex, providing it is from free will on both parties, is fine and not harmful to either party (because it's of free will). However, I completely understand that prostitution can also have a lot of other issues attached to it, which are terrible and need to be addressed. But those issues are not part of prostitution itself, they are part of the particular circumstances leading to the act of prostitution (by removing choice or free will), or to how prostitution 'as an industry' may be being run.

Backing up to another point that was mentioned:

"So this raises a question: if statistics, even sourced, clear and honest statistics like these, are so easily ignored by people who don't want to believe them, are statistics the best way to present a point?"

Numbers are meaningless on their own, so I took a look at the source for these statistics. Having looked at where these stats came from, their credibility dropped significantly. I don't believe they are a trustworthy reflection of reality. Let me explain why:

Any source that starts off with a wild and inaccurate statement such as "prostitution is an act of violence" immediately flags up a warning for me (which is why I looked for the source of the facts first time through, and investigated them). This assumption indicates a lack of objectivity - abuse is not an automatic factor of the act of having sex, purchasing something, nor by putting the two together and purchasing sex.

I took a look at their Mission Statement. That's all I needed to write them off as being unreliable. Statistics, to be meaningful, must come from un-biased research. The sources must be unbiased, the interpretation must be unbiased. It's easy to cherry pick data to suit an agenda or to re-interpret statements to suita wanted outcome - that's why you need to not have an agenda.

They have a clear agenda, and a brazenly biased and assumptory idea of what prostitution is. Statements like "The root of the problem of trafficking for prostitution is men's demand for prostitution" are laughable. Men do not demand prostitution. Men want sex. There is a very big difference. Their ignorance (or perhaps over-simplification) is quite insulting and shows a lack of clear thinking. And how come it's "men" that are the cause? Have they decided that all prostitutes are women and all users are men?

Then there's this: "PRE's goal is to abolish the institution of prostitution while at the same time advocating for alternatives to trafficking and prostitution - including emotional and physical healthcare for women in prostitution."

By reading this and various other bits of their statement it's clear that PRE's agenda is to look at the (always female) prostitute and stop them from being prostitutes. The assumption is that they wouldn't do it by choice. The assumption is that they are being abused. The assumption is that they want to get out. The assumption is that they are 'victims' when it is impossible to know any of these things for any individual prostitute without going and asking them. In addition to painting all prostitutes with the same brush they only look at half of the issue - they ignore the 'client' entirely, and you can't solve anything by looking only at half of the problem. By being so myopic they fail to see that 'abolishing prostitution' is an unachievable goal and that in attempting to do so the result would be to drive it further underground, less in the public eye, and thus more open to the very abuse they aim to stop.

What would jar me from my position? Firstly let me re-iterate my position for clarity: abuse anywhere for any reason is wrong, concensual sex for-money when both parties do so of their own free will is absolutely fine and does not constitute abuse. There is, to my mind, no harm in that.

Nothing is going to convince me that a couple (or a group), through their own free will, who arrange sex in exchange for money, is inherently wrong. It can only be wrong if it is not of their own free will, or if abuse takes place in addition to the prostitution itself. The idea that sex-for-money is inherently wrong is simply not a morality I subscribe to.

If PRE were to re-think their agenda (i.e., to help make sure women are able to make an educated and free choice, and to provide support whatever they choose; as opposed to the woefully misguided and over simplified 'abolish prostitution' mission) and re-thinking it's methods then their data and their agenda would be an awful lot more credible. They need to stop imagining they have 'the solution' to 'the problem'. All circumstances are individual, you must treat people as people, not as a group, and not with an assumption.

As a result of PRE's style, I can not trust those numbers.
Matt Wilcox

i think the issue of forced prostitution should be addressed first and foremost. when children and young women are abducted and sold into the sex trade, humanity drops a few notches. however, when one willingly sells their own body in a consenting manner, they know the risk they take which is basically an unknown factor with a potential sicko/wacko on the buying side.
the oldest profession is not the safest profession but it is sick and illegal to force someone into it.

"If anything, I feel like pornography and overtly sexual advertising are 'worse,' morally, than consensual adult prostitution... "

I think it's intellectually dangerous to condemn a phenominon--selling products with sex appeal, whether they're innately sexual or not--without also examining the society in which it takes place.

Modern, western society has a distorted view of sex and sexuality, such that its inhabitans have unrealistic expectations of sex based on ignorance, misinformation, and fear. Sex, and particularly the orgasm, is considered the apex of human intimacy. This is obviously dysfunctional, but as a result, sex is used as an effective marketing device.

Pornography is another form of marketing; it's attempting to sell an idealized simplistic sexual relationship which is presumed to be the typical masculine fantasy. The more idealized, the more likely someone will pay money for it. The widespread availability of pornography has a pernicious side effect, which is to implant unrealistic expectations on those who view it.
Nick Husher

Joseph Traylor said, I don't know how much Marc Rabinowitz ad did to raise the issue of prostitution in the public sphere. But he has shown there is potential in self-initiated design projects like this...

This is not a published ad. As stated at the beginning of the post, it is a "project at the School of Visual Arts Graduate Design Program."
Ricardo Cordoba

A Newfoundlander, was walking home late at night and sees a woman in the shadows. “Twenty dollars…” she whispers. He’d never been with a hooker before, but decides what the hell,it’s only twenty bucks. So they hide in the bushes.

They’re going “at it” for a minute when all of a sudden a light flashes on them . It’s a police officer.
“What’s going on here, people?” asks the officer.
“I’m making love to my wife,” the Newfoundlander answers indignantly.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” says the cop, “I didn’t know.
“Well, neidder did I, til ya shined that light in her face.” says the Newfie

As a graphic designer with typical "liberal" early twenty something ethical value, the first thing I care about is the design.

I too have begun to be increasingly disturbed by modern society tolerance for adultery and prostitution. But that doesn't help the fact that this design is very broken.

Is this really an effort to trying to end prostitution?

The subject matter is very tough. I can make the same facts about how Alcohol, Cigarettes, and Gun can lead to child abuse, incest, and violence against women. Different is, those things are LEGAL.

Prostitution is illegal... the approached should have been much different, because these people are desperate. They are willing to do an illegal act. They are willing to take BIG RISK of losing everything just to use the service.

The big question is: Do you think men who use the service of prostitution do not know that prostitutes are raped and molested by their pimps, exposed themselves to violence, be mistreated, and are suicidal?

Of course they do. That's all ready made the design pointless.

So what is the point? Going to a prostitute is a selfish act. These are VERY SELF CENTERED PEOPLE. If you want people to stop from using these illegal services, you should have focused on the PEOPLE WHO USED THE SERVICE.

Are men who use prostitutes ugly? No
Are these men unloved? May be, I don't know
Are thse men of no moral? No.
Are these men undatable... no, a lot are married.
Are their heroes in history or in the work place,
may be their fathers, use prostitution, so they
think it is okay?
If he is married, why did he cheat on his wife?
Why so many people do so?

On a flip side, you need to ask also,
why do women turn to prostitution?
Quick money?
No other alternatives?
Why no other alternatives?
Why risk suicide and being raped
and beaten up by pimps for money...
is money really that valued above
personal excellence,
and self respect in our modern society?
(of course it is).

I also have a big question:
Shouldn't prostitution facts list numbers that related to the Consequences of Prostitution?

Child abuse, incest... those words are on top of the list of prostitution facts, and yet... they are only the history of those people who may end up in a self destructive career.

Everyone knows stopping prostitution will not end child abuse. It will not end incest rape, it will not prevent those who would hit women to stop becoming violence towards them.

So why are those words there? To be scary?

How is this different, than when president Bush, in order to gain support for his policies, yells out Al Qaeda, Terrorism, 9/11, Threats Level, Outlawing Bible, and Danger to American family; How is that different than a design, screaming incest, and history of child abuse... linking it by simply saying

Oh yeah... prostitutes used to be abused.

It needs to be less misleading than it is now. It needs to be more focused on target audience and have a clear objective. Not just for the sake of "I posted anti-prostitution design on a sex classified page... I'm such a rebel"

If they wanted scary words, they should have used: STD, Ruined Lives, Disrespect to Oneself, or Tainted Souls. Scary words, but at least they are fully linked to the consequence and is more focused on the mentality of the target audience.

If the list say 95% (I'm making this up) of people who use service of prostitute gain STD... I think that'd be very effective.

Or, if you love the word "child abuse" so much, why not say, this many percent of prostitutes are actually mothers. Or that children of prostitutes are more than likely to lead the same lifestyle as their parents...etc. Those are about prevention. Those are about solutions. So they may be more effective.

If the truth is on your side, if your mission and idea is in the right place (which I think it is), why use scare tactics? Research more instead.
Panasit Ch

i can't help but think the people who need prostitution the most would be hurt the most by legalized prostitution.

a loyal john

"The big question is: Do you think men who use the service of prostitution do not know that prostitutes are raped and molested by their pimps, exposed themselves to violence, be mistreated, and are suicidal? [...] Of course they do."

I think you're underestimating the human power of self-denial. Many in the so-called green movement believe the faery tale that ethanol will save us from global warming and the coming oil crisis.

Another factor that plays into it is misogyny. I commented before that the sexual relationship is the perfect masculine fantasy, a value that has been manufactured, I'd argue, by our society's expectations on men. It can be inferred, therefore, that if sex is the 'goal' in interpersonal relationships, the woman's value diminishes to the point of being an object. At its most extreme, women (particularly women's self-agency) could be viwed as impediments to that goal of sex and orgasm. It probably won't matter to the misogynist whether or not a prostitute is abused.
Nick Husher

Another hot button Design Observer article where the lion's share of responses have more to do with content than form. Scratch that -- have more to do with ethics and personal values than either content or form.

This discussion could go back and forth forever, fueled with passionate personal opinions and assumptions about a profession few here have personal experience with (outside an academic setting, that is). While I respect design that encourages critical discourse, I don't believe this piece succeeds. Design Observer could have posted a pop-up ad for an excort service and this discussion would have still taken place.

Being a designer means, to a certain extent, being an agent of propaganda. When we are designing for ourselves instead of our clients, we must be mindful of what are trying to communicate: design, innovative communications imagery, a unique take on visual systems, or a certain political agenda.

Rabinowitz's project is interesting. I am particularly interested in how he has inserted unsettling information into the home of a completely different type of consumer, and I would enjoy exploring more of these "familiar forms" and their relationship to prostitution and commercialism / capitalism on a larger scale.

However, there is an issue of language, and I believe that's what most of these comments are taking to heart. A simple overview of the facts presented calls into question Rabinowitz's two initial claims: 1) "Prostitution Facts" and 2) "Prostitution is an act of violence which is intrinsically traumatizing."

I've visiting the sources, and the Fact Sheet presents little information other than opinions pulled from published works, as though giving these statements an author and a publication date grants them greater legitimacy than my own opinion regarding prostitution. Furthermore, reading the Fact Sheet would give any reader the clear impression that Rabinowitz's subtitle would have been more correct if presented as "Prostitution is a symptom of systemic violence against women, and is usually traumatizing."

"It probably won't matter to the misogynist whether or not a prostitute is abused."

That's pretty much the main idea of my post, even if I underestimate one's ability to be in denial. So that's why I suggested shift the focus from the plight of the prostitutes themselves, to the negative consequences that befall on the men who would use the service of the prostitutes.

STD, Ruined Future, you name it. Sure, when they were dialing the numbers they choose to put all of those things in the back of their head, BUT, at least it is the consequence that concerns THEM.

Plight of prostitutes, child abuse, neglect, rape, subject to violence... those are the kind of things that concern non-user of prostitution. So that's why I felt the message is misdirected.

As I say, going to prostitute is a selfish act that when committed, the perpetrator ignores law, their family, their future life goals, their values, anything just to get "it". To speak in their language is to communicate in a way that is about them.

Look, there are many reasons to not go to prostitutes, and almost no reason to use them... but people still do. I don't understand. But with that in mind, I have an addiction in my own life that other people may not understand. I don't expect anyone to come and tell me "hey, don't play so much video games..." when the person who said it doesn't play video games. Of course, I will listen. But then, I am not like most people.

John Walsh, the host of American Most Wanted, when he lost his child, he said in an interview with Larry King that his priest couldn't comfort him because his priest doesn't have a family of his own. I think it was... strange. The priest distance themselves from other people in order to upholds god's law, shouldn't you listen to them no matter what? (I'm trying to speak a language of a Catholic here) But apparently in American society, people are more willing to listen to people with same problems that they have.

I'm not saying prostitute service users should only be talked to by former prostitute clients, but... at least if a person want to be the agent that solve the problem, he or she should at least show that we understand, the reason why, not make them feels like you are in an office somewhere, looking at data and analysis, and masturbate to statistics that pass 50% mark.

Why would they listen to you? In the end, I don't think this project was made to help end prostitution. I think the target audience is us designer. I think it's more like "look, look, look what I say to the prostitute users on their own turf. Ha ha, I rocked."

Panasit Ch

is this a design blog or a prostitution discussion board? i'd like to see more comments on the design that has been presented in this post than pro/con prostitution itself.

Nicholas D. Kristof weighs in with an op-ed column: The Pimps' Slaves.
Ricardo Cordoba

You know how the old joke goes...

Statistics are like a bikini.

What they reveal is suggestive,
what they conceal is critical.

While the subject matter is interesting, the design itself is tired and predictable. I'd even go so far as to say it's a cliché since the use of the Nutrition Facts label has been in circulation now for at least a decade. It would have been far more interesting to have a design that is in context like what was done with some of the anti-smoking ads.

As for the facts presented, I also agree that citation of sources is imperative - it makes the bold claims presented resonate more deeply but the claims made here seem too perfect to be from an unbiased study. Maybe it's from the same group that uses a testimony from Ted Bundy to say that pornography caused him to commit serial murder.

i do not think you could separate the design discussion from the content discussion.

if you think this is possible, maybe you should be a decorator instead of a designer.

content is just important, if not more important, than the layout or typeface used.

and instead of saying "there should be more discusison of the design," maybe you should lead with your opinions on the design.

which would be quite inseperable from the content.

"so sorry for the multiple posts, it keeps telling me that the server is too busy and to post later when it actually posts!

im kinda dumb."

Its been doing that for ages, they need to get it fixed.
Bob Flemming

"instead of saying 'there should be more discusison of the design,' maybe you should lead with your opinions on the design. which would be quite inseperable from the content."

Surely people can comment on this piece without revealing, or at least reveling in, their personal opinions regarding the subject matter. The issue is not forcing the separation of form and content, but discussing the content and its relationship to form...

Nutrition Facts are a step towards transparency in the foods industry and help promote healthy dietary decisions. The designer's decision to employ this familiar form to reveal facts about prostitution invites the consumers of prostitutes to imagine this label on their desires and make a more informed choice regarding their involvement in violence and trauma. However, unlike the foods industry, a consumer/"John" who chooses to hire/not hire a prostitute does not influence future instances of childhood sexual abuse or incest. Consumers who read a nutrition label and choose to purchase Wheaties over Cheerios are directly funding the production of more Wheaties. It is therefore with great effort of extrapolation that I recognize a purpose in this piece: to humanize what is often viewed as a consensual exchange, to inform and discourage Johns, and to curtail the circle of abuse by allowing unemployed prostitutes to seek treatment and rehabilitation. Perhaps a more efficient form could have been used to arrive at this conclusion - perhaps something more humanizing than a government-issued label and statistics.

I took a class on Sexuality in the Western Culture and learned a great deal about the origins of the prostitution business. At one point it became a legitimate business so that they could be taxed and recieve benefits that businesses had but it was also at a time before feminism.

I, as a male, do not condone prostitution on any level and do understand how porn goes hand in hand with the business. I would do anything I could to help stop it but it seems that it has been with us for centuries.

Where are the logo studies? PR?

Wasn't a barefoot the traditional logo of a prostitute? Checking my holy cards. Sinners or saints? Confused.

Somewhere I read that they cut the feet with a marking back in the ussr which further provided a logo for the runaway fille. Can't find backing for that.

There is a book on amazon.com for sale under "1 new or used" for $150.00 (at that rate i could compare reading in bed)

Sonia's Daughters: Prostitutes and Their Regulation in Imperial Russia (Hardcover)
CInderella dressed in yellow

good job marcy marc. Hold it down up there.
josh b

Publishing Melissa Farley's so-called statistics in this way is really quite disgraceful. She has no credibility at all and a glance at your table would tell anyone with a basic understanding of social science that. She is a State Dept funded moral crusader masquerading as an academic. She has abused sex workers and conducted unethical 'research' in several countries. She and her ilk such as Donna Hughes spend her time hunting down sex worker rights activists to attack them and they provide the information that the Bush administration uses to justify their attacks on sex workers human rights and their phoney anti trafficking programmes. Check out the website of the International Justice Mission and see just who you are getting in bed with when become a mouthpiece for the Farley and her type. Then look at what sex workers have to say. Look at thousands of sex workers protesting in the streets in India against the human rights violations these people cause in their anti prostitution crusades.

Please - stick to what you know or do your homework.
Cheryl Overs

“thousands of sex workers protest in the streets in India against the human rights violations these people cause in their anti prostitution crusades” - please take your own criticisms into account and cite your source.
Moreover, even if this were the case, this does not justify your argument. A whole raft of other considerations would need to be taken into account - do the sex workers have a truly viable alternative to make a living (taking into consideration the social setting)? Are they not economically forced into protecting this situation rather than arguing from a liberal position?
Prachi Kamdar


"If people are happy to offer sex for money that's their business and no one else's."

"But I think that should be done in a safe, legalized, and government regulated manner,"

Privately, personal, discreet, their own business.

Government, legalized, laws, rules.

The two statements do not make sense together.

Marc's project certainly created a fervor here, in the Design-blog arena. I would be interested in knowing if it "touched the heart" (or deterred the libido) of anyone who saw the ads or was considering calling any one of the services. Perhaps there needs to be a way to measure the effectiveness of his ad—a feedback loop— to see if it did its job.

Our opinions are all fine and good, but if the occasional "John" simply dismissed Marc's ad (or overlooked it) then what does it say about his design? About prostitution?

Tim Belonax

There will always be prostitutes. It's not called the oldest profession for nothing and it's a very well paid profession for an unskilled trade.

I had a friend who was a receptionist at a brothel that paid the girls well. They had on-site security, outdoor surveillance cameras and people had to be buzzed in for entry. Even with all this girls still got raped by some clients (who were then caught and beaten) so it doesn't matter how wonderful the environment the girls work in is, they are still putting themselves in a compromising position on a daily basis.

The job in itself is not desirable but it sure does make a lot of money. A lot of the workers (who aren't drug addicts) are girls who are just trying to get by day to day, some are single mothers and others just lack the job skills to get a well paid job. Perhaps we as a society should offer support for sex workers rather than pretend they don't exist.

So I can tape a guy having sex with me and pay him for his acting skills while millions watch the video across the internet legally, but if I pay him for the sex and turn off the camera, sexual desire becomes prostitution and I should feel horrible because of what he may or may not have gone through.

Awesome. Logic is stupid.

I think this exchange is starting to become lost in semantics, but I just want to state my personal view after reading the many interesting (sometimes verbose) comments to this very interesting study.

I think fundamentally, Matt Wilcox is correct. However, I think the thing he lacks from his argument is taking cultural influence into account.

Culture has a way of deeply affecting and even changing the meanings of terms. For example, the term 'terrorist' literally means one who uses violence and threats to intimidate or coerce (esp. for political purposes). However, due to U.S. cultural influence upon this term, it now argueably means 'pensive-looking middle eastern' to many people.

I think prostitution is another one of these terms. Although it's raw definition seems pleasant, there are many terrible moral activities it is congruent with, due to cultural influence! Sure, I think that a man who is sexually depraved should be allowed to utilize the purchasing of sex in order to satisfy his physical needs. But it just plainly isn't that simple. And for every 'clean transaction', you have to know that there were hundreds of terrible transactions which probably involved rape or some other kind of physical or emotional atrocity.
Rowen Frazer

which probably involved rape or some other kind of physical or emotional atrocity.

I had a best friend who almost fell into the trap of becoming a prostitute. She was going through a very rough time in her life and some people befriended her. She was always a very open and honest person, trusting of the good in people. When she fell on hard times, these people moved in and convinced her to go the edge. Her immediate family was gone, she was still relatively young and fit, and her extended family lived quite far away and were too busy with their own lives. She hadn't really ever stayed in one place very long so long term friendships were not a part of her life. [Details omitted to protect what innocence is still a part of her] The people involved had an entirely different goals contrary to what she had enjoyed for most of her whole life. Due to circumstances beyond her control or choices which piled up in the wrong direction, depending on whichever psychological bent, the opportunity of “whoring herself” presented itself. That was much the same as any lab attendant will explain as an observation of a monkey in a cage.

Fortunately she saved herself despite the well meaning — for themselves — deeds of both extreme involved. Though she is a very beautiful woman, there is a part of her that is lost to these people who were of another persuasion. I guess it will give her more character that she fought and won over the opportunity/trap of being a sex toy, but sometimes when you look in her eyes you can feel a hurt so deep. At other times it provides her with a vision unparalleled to others.

In the age of zero sum political feats, that's a wash. In human behavior, many will close your eyes the next time they copulate.
response to the previous comment

If you actually check out the site these "facts" were pulled from,
90% of the research is self-referential, with very little in the way
of outside research and results being found or performed, and
even less empirical data.

This is not to denigrate the very real issues that exist surrounding
prostitution, but the reality remains that
ProstitutionResearch.com's "data" is highly suspect, and
should not be touted until more empirical corroboration
can be found, as doing so simply exacerbates faulty public

The entire subject of sex, in any form (consensual or not, violent
or not, however you want to spin it) is so volatile that if you
spend 10 minutes on Google, you will find a dozen "fact sheets"
supposedly pulling from the same studies, that cite rates that
fluctuate as much as 20 percent from fact sheet to fact sheet.
Just goes to show that Twain was right: "There's lies, damn lies,
and statistics."
Food for Thought

I think part of the reason few discuss the design (other than it being an emotionally charged topic) is that the design is quite boring even by the standards of the nutritional info box it is copying.

There are a hundred ways this could have been made much, much more visually interesting, arresting, or pushed the nutritional idea further and by doing so also exaggerate the contrast between health(=good) and prostitution(=bad). As an exercise in information design, this is horrible and too dense to be clear without serious effort on the part of the reader. As an exercise in political persuasion, it's even worse since the only ones willing to spend the mental energy required to make it all the way through will already agree with the thesis.

I would expect this work from a first-year student in a BFA program, not from an MFA candidate at SVA.

You should really be using a blogging engine that automatically closes user comment tags. Being able to turn an entire comments page italic by leaving an unclosed tag is something that was solved years ago.

I would expect this work from a first-year student in a BFA program, not from an MFA candidate at SVA.
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