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1 Mich. J. Gender & L. 13 (1993)
Prostitution and Civil Rights

handle is hein.journals/mjgl1 and id is 19 raw text is: PROSTITUTION AND CIVIL RIGHTStt
Catharine A. (MracKinnon *
The gap between the promise of civil rights and the real lives of prosti-
tutes is an abyss which swallows up prostituted women.' To speak of
prostitution and civil rights in one breath moves the two into one
world, at once exposing and narrowing the distance between them.
Women in prostitution are denied every imaginable civil right in
every imaginable and unimaginable way,2 such that it makes sense to
understand prostitution as consisting in the denial of women's
humanity, no matter how humanity is defined. It is denied both
through the social definition and condition of prostitutes and through
the meaning of some civil rights.
The legal right to be free from torture and cruel and inhuman or
degrading treatment is recognized by most nations and is internationally
guaranteed. In prostitution, women are tortured through repeated rape
and in all the more conventionally recognized ways. Women are
prostituted precisely in order to be degraded and subjected to cruel and
brutal treatment without human limits; it is the opportunity to do this
that is exchanged when women are bought and sold for sex. The fact
that most legal prohibitions on torture apply only to official torture,
t   © Catharine A. MacKinnon 1993.
1   This speech was given at the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law Symposium
entitled Prostitution: From Academia to Activism, held on October 31, 1992, at the
University of Michigan Law School. Comments by Dorchen Leidholdt and
Margaret Baldwin were especially helpful in its revision. The assistance of the ever-
resourceful University of Michigan Law Library and Rita Rendell are gratefully
*   Catharine A. MacKinnon is Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law
School. She pioneered the legal claim for sexual'harassment as sex discrimination
and, with Andrea Dworkin, conceived and fielded ordinances recognizing pornogra-
phy as a violation of women's civil rights. She is currently representing women and
children survivors of genocidal rape and prostitution in Croatia and Bosnia-
I. This discussion focuses on prostituted women and girls as the paradigm case,
remembering that boys and sometimes men are also prostituted.
2. This discussion builds upon prior presentations at the conference in which the
conditions of women in prostitution were documented. See generally Evelina
Giobbe, Juvenile Prostitution: Profile of Recruitment, in CHILD TRAuMA I: ISSUES AND
RESEARCH 117 (Ann W. Burgess ed., 1992); Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Buying
(Ann W. Burgess ed., 1991); and citations throughout this article.

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