Caught in the life: The business of prostitution

Prostitution, out of the shadows
Prostitution, out of the shadows 08:49

We're beginning this particular morning with a candid look at what is euphemistically known as THE OLDEST PROFESSION.
Although prostitution is condemned and outlawed almost everywhere in our country, some say the effectiveness of those laws may call for a second look. Lee Cowan reports our Cover Story: 

It was like any Monday evening in Seattle. The Emerald city sparkled, Mt. Rainier hovered in the distance, and along Aurora Avenue, business was booming.

Every city has its underbelly, where sex is bought and sold.

Advocates for women engaged in sex work are promoting new approaches to the age-old profession, from targeting customers rather than prostitutes for arrest, to decriminalization. CBS News

Arrests are being made, but what might surprise you it's just who's being arrested.  It's not those selling sex -- women and young girls, although to be clear, men are prostitutes, too.

Instead, Seattle has shifted its focus to arresting their customers -- those buying the sex.

"We're not trying to harass women who are caught up in the trade," said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. "We're not trying to add to their burdens. We're actually trying to help."

Six years ago Holmes adopted what's called the Nordic Model (a strategy pioneered in Sweden) that aims to reduce sex trafficking by cutting off demand.

"What we have been doing historically, and what most of the country still continues to do, is to further victimize women that are caught up in the life," said Holmes.

According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking is a $32 billion a year industry, and many who are trafficked for sex are under the age of 18.

That's how old Marin Stewart was when she entered the trade.

"There was always something that kept me in the life," she told Cowan. "There were always reasons that I needed to stay longer. I should have been murdered many times. I should have died of an overdose many, many, many, many times."

"How did you survive it?"

"I don't know, I don't know," she replied.

Stewart considers herself an abolitionist, calling prostitution nothing short of modern-day slavery. And Seattle's focus on the buyers and not the sellers, she says, is an enlightened, modern approach. "The women are not being treated like they're bad, and that they're dirty, and that this is just who they are," she said.

She now works for a Seattle non-profit called the Organization for Prostitution Survivors, a group that not only provides services for women, but also helps counsel the men who buy sex, too.

"The men who are buying the sex are buying it from a very broken place in their heart, where they're trying to fill a void -- they're trying to numb whatever pain they have," she said. "They're trying to feel powerful. They're trying to feel in control and desirable."

"Prostitution, it's called a trick for a reason," said Peter Qualliotine, who also works at the Organization for Prostitution Survivors. "It's called a trick because he's paying for the illusion of consent. He's paying for the illusion of mutuality, when in fact what we know is that it's not a mutual sexual experience."

Qualliotine leads a 10-week class on the consequences of prostitution. Anyone caught buying sex in Seattle is now required, to attend that class by law.

"Until we take on the issue of demand, and the issue of why men feel entitled to pay for sex in the first place, we're really not going to be able to move the needle in any significant way," he said.

Seattle is unique in employing its buyer beware model. Most major cities practice a zero-tolerance approach to prostitution.

And you might be surprised to learn that includes the city of Las Vegas.

That's right: prostitution is not legal in Sin City. But Lt. Patricia Spencer, of the Vice and Sex Trafficking section of the Las Vegas Police Department, says most people seem to think otherwise. "It's everywhere," Spencer said. "It's not just on the street, it's not just in a casino, it's everywhere."