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Why are prisons filling with prostitutes?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Police arrest a young woman for prostitution as part of an intervention program in Dallas (Credit: AP/ LM Otero)

Beatryce Hall was arrested for prostitution 32 times in 17 years.  She has been in and out of prison 11 times since 2001.  That’s the year a Texas law went into effect that allows prosecutors to charge prostitutes with a felony and send them to prison after three misdemeanor prostitution convictions.  But now, with more than 350 prostitutes in the state prison system, lawmakers are reconsidering their options.

Today we’re hearing that some Texas state officials want community-based programs to receive more support.  It costs $18,538 to house a convict in state prison for a year, but $4,300 a year for community strategies that provide substance abuse treatment, group therapy, life skills coaching, and help with job searches and places to live.

I checked some statistics this morning, discovering that the problem is far larger than I knew.  There are more than 40 million prostitutes worldwide; that’s because more than one in 10 men in the world have purchased a prostitute.  In our country, 80,000 citizens are arrested each year for soliciting sex.  Prostitutes are part of the $58 billion global business of sex trafficking, the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.

Here’s my question: what does it say about our culture that so many prostitutes are in our prisons and on our streets, and that sex trafficking is growing so quickly in our nation?

There are several dimensions to this tragedy: an economy that makes it hard for many women to support themselves and their children; cycles of abuse that enslave young girls; and the proliferation of organized crime and others who profit from the sex trade.  But my focus today is on the moral and spiritual implications of this issue.  In a culture that believes truth is personal and ethics are subjective, what’s wrong with allowing people to trade in consensual sex?

God clearly warns us against prostitution: “A prostitute is a deep pit” (Proverbs 23:27).  Our Father knows that this trade victimizes those who practice it: prostitution is the most dangerous job in America, with twice the murder rate as the next-most deadly work.  And he knows that sex trafficking victimizes those who pay for sex.  He designed sex for marriage (cf. Matthew 19:4-6); it damages us in any other context.  That’s why his word says bluntly, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin” (Romans 6:13).

Here’s the good news: our Lord can forgive any sin we confess to him, even the sin of prostitution.  He forgave Rahab (Joshua 2:1), including her in the family of our Savior (Matthew 1:5).  Jesus forgave a “sinful woman” (Luke 7:36-50) and welcomed prostitutes into the family of faith (Matthew 21:31-32).

Will you pray this morning for a spiritual awakening that would end prostitution and all other sexual immorality?  And will you glorify God with your body in all you do today?