Melissa Farley

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Melissa Farley
Born 1942 (age 72–73)
Residence San Francisco, California, United States
Nationality American
Fields Psychology
Institutions Prostitution Research and Education 1996–present
Kaiser Foundation Research Institute (Oakland, CA), 1993–2000
Alma mater University of Iowa (Ph.D., Counseling Psychology, 1973)
San Francisco State University (MS, Clinical Psychology, 1966)
Mills College (BA, Psychology, 1964)
Known for Research on the effects of prostitution, sexual abuse, and violence against women

Melissa Farley Ph.D. (born 1942) is an American clinical psychologist and researcher[1][2][3] and feminist anti-pornography and anti-prostitution activist.[4][5] Farley is best known for her studies of the effects of prostitution, trafficking, and sexual violence. She is the founder and director of the San Francisco-based organization, Prostitution Research and Education.


Farley has been a clinical psychologist for over 45 years and has consulted with agencies, governments, and advocates for prostituted and trafficked women. Some of these groups include the Medical Examining Board of the State of California (2002), US State Department regarding outreach and prevention of trafficking in women and children from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Farley has also been a faculty member of the Center for World Indigenous Studies and has taught seminars on research for social activism at CWIS in Yelapa, Mexico.[1]


Studies of sex workers

Since 1993, Farley has researched prostitution and trafficking in several countries. She is the author of several controversial studies of sex workers, which claim high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among the women studied.[3]

In a 2003 paper summarizing prostitution research carried out in locales in nine countries (Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United States, and Zambia), Farley and others interviewed 854 people (782 women and girls, 44 transgendered individuals, and 28 men) currently active in prostitution or having recently exited.[6] The sex workers interviewed came from a variety of subsets of prostitution and other sex work – street prostitutes, legal and illegal brothel workers, workers working in strip clubs were interviewed, though the prostitute populations interviewed varied between each country. Based on interviews with and questionnaires filled out by the subjects, the authors reported high rates of violence and post-traumatic stress: 71% of respondents had been physically assaulted while in prostitution, 63% had been raped, and 68% were said to meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. They also report that 89% of the respondents wished to leave prostitution, but lacked the means to do so.[6]

Farley and the co-authors of this paper state that their findings contradict what they refer to as "myths" about prostitution: that street prostitution is worse for prostitutes than other forms of prostitution, that male prostitution is different from female prostitution, that individuals who are in prostitution have freely consented to it, that most prostitutes are in prostitution as a result of drug addiction, that there is a qualitative difference between prostitution and human trafficking, and that legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution would reduce its harm.[6]

In a 1998 paper on San Francisco street sex workers (one of the populations also included in the above-mentioned "Prostitution in Nine Countries" study), Farley and co-author Howard Barkan report notable lifetime histories of violence in the lives of those surveyed. In childhood, 57% of the respondents report sexual abuse and 49% report other physical abuse. Later in life, while in prostitution, 68% reported being raped, 82% reported being physically assaulted, and 83% reported being threatened with a weapon. Incidence and severity of post-traumatic stress disorder were reported to positively correlate with the amount of violence the individual had been subjected to. Also, 84% of the respondents reported a history of homelessness.[7]

In September 2007, Farley published a book on prostitution and sex trafficking in the state of Nevada. In the book, Farley claims that, though Nevada has legal brothels, 90% of prostitution taking place in the state is conducted in Las Vegas and Reno, both in counties where prostitution is illegal, or otherwise outside legally designated brothels. She also found that Las Vegas in particular is a major destination for sex traffickers. 81% of the 45 legal brothel workers she interviewed would like to leave prostitution, but in many cases are physically prevented from doing so. Farley also states that she had been threatened at gunpoint by one of the brothel owners during the course of the interviews.[8][9]

Her prostitution studies have been criticized by sociologist Ronald Weitzer, for alleged problems with their methodology. In particular, Weitzer was critical of what he viewed as the lack of transparency in how the interviews were conducted and how the responses were translated into statistical data, as well as the sampling bias toward highly marginalized groups of sex workers (such as street workers) and for the way the findings of Farley's studies have been more generally applied to demonstrate the harm of sex work of all kinds.[10] A 2002 study by Chudakov, et al.[11] used Farley's PTSD instrument to measure the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among sex workers in Israel. Of the fifty five consenting women interviewed, 17% met the criteria for PTSD, compared to Farley's 68% figure. Farley's critics also claim that her findings are heavily influenced by her radical feminist ideology.[12][13][14]

Farley has also been criticized for accepting significant funding from anti-prostitution organizations. She has acknowledged that 30% of funding for a prominent research project into prostitution was provided by the United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. However, Farley has stated that such funding has not in any way swayed her research, in particular its methods or conclusions.[15]

Studies of men who buy sex

Farley is also co-author of a series of studies of men who buy sex. The first of these studies were released in April and May 2008, based on interviews with johns in Edinburgh and Chicago, respectively. Each of these reports were taken from structured interviews with over 100 self-selecting men in each city, who responded to newspaper ads placed by the researchers. The study claims high rates of abusive, predatory, and dehumanizing attitudes towards prostitutes and women in general on the part of johns. The studies state that many of the men described their behavior as an addiction. The studies also stated that a large percentage of the men said that the possibility of public exposure or being placed on a sex offender registry would be effective in stopping them from buying sex from prostitutes. Similar surveys of johns in India and Cambodia are said to be forthcoming.[16][17][18]

In response to the Scottish study, a paper authored by some 15 academics and sexual health experts was submitted to the Scottish Parliament, strongly rebuking the methods and conclusions of the study. Amongst other things, the report states - "This research violates fundamental principles of human research ethics in that there is no evidence of any benefit to the population studied. Rather the purpose of the research appears to have been to vilify the population of men who were chosen to be interviewed. " In addition they criticize the work as biased, ill informed and unhelpful.[14]

Other research

Farley has also been author or co-author of several studies sponsored by Kaiser Foundation Research Institute on the long-term health effects of sexual abuse and trauma. Several of these papers report higher rates of dissociation and somatization in patients with a history of childhood sexual abuse than those without such history.[19][20][21] The frequency of such symptoms was reported to be higher in those with greater numbers of perpetrators in an individuals sexual abuse history.[20] One study reported higher rates of PTSD, emergency room and medical visits, and prescriptions in patients with a history of sexual abuse than those without. The study also reported relatively high rates of such outcomes in those with unclear memories of abuse.[21]


Farley is the founder and director of Prostitution Research and Education, a San Francisco-based 501c3 nonprofit organization.[22][23] The organization is sponsored by the San Francisco Women's Centers, Inc.[1] The purpose of the organization is to conduct research on prostitution, pornography, and trafficking as well as offer education and consultation to other researchers, survivors, the public, and policymakers. The group has the stated goal "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."[24]

Activism and views[edit]

Farley favours the abolition of prostitution[25] holding that prostitutes are the weaker partner in the transaction thus prostitution is inherently exploitative and traumatizing.[26] She advocates the "Swedish model" of prostitution laws, in which paying for sex, pimping and human trafficking are illegal, while the selling of sex is decriminalized, along with the funding of social services to "motivate prostitutes to seek help to leave their way of life." She is an opponent of across-the-board decriminalization of prostitution. She is largely opposed to sex workers' rights activists and groups, such as COYOTE, which advocate legalizing or decriminalizing both prostitution and the purchase of sexual services.[27][28] Many of these activists hold that Farley's research discredits and misrepresents women working in the sex industry and lacks accountability toward them.[28][29]

Farley is also an anti-pornography activist.[4] In 1985, she led a National Rampage Against Penthouse alongside Nikki Craft. The "Rampage" was a campaign of public destruction of bookstore-owned copies of Penthouse and Hustler (which they denounced as violent pornography). Farley was arrested 13 different times in 9 different states for these actions.[30][31][32] In March 2007, she testified in hearings about's purchase of the San Francisco Armory, comparing the images produced by to images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.[33][34] Farley is opposed to sadomasochism more generally, and in her essay "Ten Lies about Sadomasochism", outlines her opposition to BDSM practices, arguing that such practices are abusive, harmful, and anti-feminist.[35]

On April 29, 2009, Farley argued on the radio show Intelligence Squared U.S. for the proposition "It Is Wrong To Pay For Sex".[36]


New Zealand Parliament claims of impropriety[edit]

On 11th of June, 2003, Farley's research assistant, Colleen Winn, had a letter read out in New Zealand's House of Representatives by Georgina Beyer, NZ Labour MP for Wairarapa. In the letter, Winn informs the House that Farley has fabricated and misrepresented data in elements of reports Farley has prepared regarding prostitution in New Zealand. Among the claims made by Winn was that Farley's public statement that she had evidence that women were entering prostitution at the age of 9 was untrue as the studies she performed did not collect any data showing this. Additionally, Winn claims Farley was operating her research projects without any oversight from an ethics committee in New Zealand, stating: "I have read and am aware of the ethics of psychologists working in New Zealand. I know these were not adhered to." Winn went on to explain that some of the sex workers who responded to Farley's questionnaires had been paid by Farley. Winn also made further statements that Farley had made false claims on New Zealand TV regarding the findings of her research. Winn finished by stating that Farley's study “...was not ethical, and the impact has done harm to those women and men who took part in it. It is for that reason that I am writing to the psychologists board of registration in California to lay a formal complaint regarding Melissa. I also believe that Melissa has committed an act of intentional misrepresentation of fact.”[37]

Bedford et al. v. Attorney General of Canada[edit]

In the case of Bedford et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, Farley was call as an expert witness by the Attorney General of Canada. The case was brought by current and former sex workers who claimed Canadian laws that restricted prostitution were unconstitutional. Farley's evidence was criticized by the presiding judge, Justice Susan Himel, in her conclusion. In reviewing Farley's evidence Himel stated:

[352] I find that some of the evidence tendered on this application did not meet the standards set by Canadian courts for the admission of expert evidence. The parties did not challenge the admissibility of evidence tendered but asked the court to afford little weight to the evidence of the other party.
[353] I found the evidence of Dr. Melissa Farley to be problematic. Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley's unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.
[354] Dr. Farley's choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as "prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family" and "just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children . . . . men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women" make her opinions less persuasive.
[355] Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including "that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her".
[356] Accordingly, for these reasons, I assign less weight to Dr. Farley's evidence.[38]

Selected bibliography[edit]

Chapters in books
  • Farley, Melissa (1992), "Nikki Craft: Inspiring protest: The rampage against Penthouse", in Russell, Diana E.H.; Radford, Jill, Femicide: the politics of woman killing, New York Toronto: Twayne Publishers, pp. 339–345, ISBN 978-0-8057-9028-3.  Pdf.
See also:
"Introduction" to chapter by Diana E. H. Russell pp. 325-327.
"The incredible case of the Stack o' Wheat prints" by Nikki Craft pp. 327-331.
"The evidence of pain" by D. A. Clarke pp. 331-336.
  • Farley, Melissa; Lynne, Jacqueline (2004), "Prostitution in Vancouver: pimping women and the colonization of first nations", in Whisnant, Rebecca; Stark, Christine, Not for sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography, North Melbourne, Victoria: Spinifex Press, pp. 106–130, ISBN 978-1-876756-49-9. 
Journal articles
A response to: Weitzer, Ronald (July 2005). "Flawed theory and method in studies of prostitution". Violence Against Women (Sage) 11 (7): 934–949. doi:10.1177/1077801205276986. PMID 16043578. 
Also see: Raphael, Jody; Shapiro, Deborah L. (July 2005). "Reply to Weitzer". Violence Against Women (Sage) 11 (7): 965–970. doi:10.1177/1077801205277041. PMID 16043580. 
Also see: Weitzer, Ronald (July 2005). "Rehashing tired claims about prostitution: a response to Farley and Raphael and Shapiro". Violence Against Women (Sage) 11 (7): 971–977. doi:10.1177/1077801205277090. 


  1. ^ a b c "Melissa Farley: Curriculum Vitae", 2004.
  2. ^ Foley, Kevin (August 14, 1995). "Slick S.F. posters advocate decriminalizing prostitution". The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco Media Company). Melissa Farley, a San Francisco clinical and research psychologist who helped to interview 130 local prostitutes for a survey,... 
  3. ^ a b Zuger, Abigail (August 18, 1998). "Many prostitutes suffer combat disorder, study finds". New York Times (The New York Times Company). Dr. Melissa Farley, a psychologist and researcher at the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco who directed the study with colleagues from Turkey and Africa. 
  4. ^ a b Farley, Melissa (May 1994). "Prostitution: The oldest use and abuse of women". off our backs (off our backs, inc.) 24 (5): 14–15, 22. JSTOR 20834769. 
  5. ^ Hoge, Patrick (August 31, 2004). "Sober forum, street theater on prostitution ballot issue". San Francisco Chronicle (Hearst Corporation). Melissa Farley, a San Francisco psychologist and anti-prostitution activist. 
  6. ^ a b c Farley, Melissa; Cotton, A; Lynne, J; Zumbeck, S; Spiwak, F; Reyes, ME; Alvarez, D; Sezgin, U (January 2004). "Prostitution and trafficking in nine countries: Update on violence and posttraumatic stress disorder". Journal of Trauma Practice (Taylor and Francis) 2 (3-4): 33–74. doi:10.1300/J189v02n03_03.  Pdf.
  7. ^ Farley, Melissa; Barkan, Howard (August 1998). "Prostitution, violence, and post-traumatic stress disorder". Women & Health (Taylor and Francis) 27 (3): 37–49. doi:10.1300/J013v27n03_03. PMID 9698636.  Pdf.
  8. ^ Curtis, Lynnette (6 September 2007). "Outlaw industry, ex-prostitutes say". Las Vegas Review-Journal. 
  9. ^ Waite, Mark (7 September 2007). "Panel: brothels aid sex trafficking". Pahrump Valley Times. 
  10. ^ Weitzer, Ronald (July 2005). "Flawed theory and method in studies of prostitution". Violence Against Women (Sage) 11 (7): 934–949. doi:10.1177/1077801205276986. PMID 16043578.  Pdf.
  11. ^ Chudakov, Bella; Ilan, Keren; Belmaker, R.H.; Cwikel, Julie (July 2002). "The motivation and mental health of sex workers". Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy (Taylor and Francis) 28 (4): 305–315. doi:10.1080/00926230290001439. PMID 12082669.  Pdf.
  12. ^ Weitzer, "Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution" (above-cited); "The articles in question are by Jody Raphael and Deborah Shapiro (2004), Melissa Farley (2004), and Janice Raymond (2004). At least two of the authors (Farley and Raymond) are activists involved in the anti-prostitution campaign. [...] The three articles are only the most recent examples in a long line of writings on the sex industry by authors who adopt an extreme version of radical feminist theory—extreme in the sense that it is absolutist, doctrinaire, and unscientific."
  13. ^ Jordan, Ann; et al. (April 21, 2005). "Letter to Ambassador John Miller". Center for Health and Gender Equity. p. 4.  Pdf.
  14. ^ a b Sanders, Teela; Scoular, Jane; Goodyear, Michael; et al. (April 29, 2008). A commentary on 'Challenging Men's Demand for Prostitution in Scotland': a research report based on interviews with 110 men who bought women in prostitution, (Jan Macleod, Melissa Farley, Lynn Anderson, Jacqueline Golding, 2008). The researchers were defined as people wanting to end violence against women - but presumably this may introduce bias into how the research was run. If you are asking someone to disclose buying sex but you openly disagree with this how can you hear what they say? 
  15. ^ Brenneman, Jill (September 18, 2007). "Response to Melissa Farley". SWOP East. 
  16. ^ Brown, Annie (28 April 2008). "Sex industry in Scotland: inside the deluded minds of the punters". Daily Record. Retrieved 11 May 2008. 
  17. ^ Farley, Melissa; Macleod, Jan; Golding, Jacqueline (April 2008). Challenging men's demand for prostitution in Scotland (PDF). Women's Support Project. ISBN 9780955897603. 
  18. ^ Heinzmann, David (May 5, 2008). "Some men say using prostitutes is an addiction". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  19. ^ Farley, Melissa; Keaney, Joanne C. (February 1996). "Dissociation in an outpatient sample of women reporting childhood sexual abuse". Psychological Reports (Ammons Scientific) 78 (1): 59–65. doi:10.2466/pr0.1996.78.1.59. PMID 8839296. 
  20. ^ a b Farley, Melissa; Keaney, Joanne C. (July 1997). "Physical symptoms, somatization, and dissociation in women survivors of childhood sexual assault". Women & Health (Taylor and Francis) 25 (3): 33–45. doi:10.1300/J013v25n03_03. 
  21. ^ a b Farley, Melissa; Patsalides, Beatrice M. (December 2001). "Physical symptoms, posttraumatic stress disorder, and healthcare utilization of women with and without childhood physical and sexual abuse". Psychological Reports (Ammons Scientific) 89 (3): 595–606. doi:10.2466/pr0.2001.89.3.595. PMID 9273982. 
  22. ^ Staff. "Legal Prostitution Home Page > Source Biographies > Melissa Farley, PhD". Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  23. ^ Staff. "Leadership". Prostitution Research and Education. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  24. ^ Staff. "Mission". Prostitution Research and Education. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  25. ^ deBoer, Roberta (September 24, 2006). "Feminists fight over prostitution". Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio: Block Communications). 
  26. ^ * Farley, Melissa (Spring 2006). "Prostitution, trafficking, and cultural amnesia: what we must not know in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly". Yale Journal of Law and Feminism (Yale Law School) 18 (1): 101–136.  Pdf.
  27. ^ Associated Press (April 13, 1994). "Ex-prostitutes' quilt honors slain women". Las Vegas Review-Journal (New Media Investment Group). p. 14. 
  28. ^ a b Dunn, Katia (May 9, 2002). "Prostitution: pro or con?". The Portland Mercury (Index Publishing). 
  29. ^ Portillo, Alicia (September 20, 2007). "A victimless crime?". The Rebel Yell (student newspaper) (UNLV).  Original copy.
  30. ^ Farley, Melissa (1992), "Fighting femicide in the United States: the Rampage against Penthouse", in Russell, Diana E.H.; Radford, Jill, Femicide: the politics of woman killing, New York Toronto: Twayne Publishers, ISBN 9780805790283.  Pdf.
  31. ^ Hyland, Terry (February 25, 1985). "2 groups on 'Midwestern Rampage' 'Violent Pornography' protested". Omaha World-Herald (Berkshire Hathaway). 
  32. ^ Staff writer (March 10, 1985). "Protesters of porn guilty of destruction". Omaha World-Herald (Berkshire Hathaway). 
  33. ^ "San Francisco Planning Commission - Special Public Hearing", SFGTV, March 8, 2007. (link to streaming Windows Media Video and downloadable MP3 audio)
  34. ^ Farley, Melissa (October 22, 2007). "Kink.Com in San Francisco: women and gay men's Abu Ghraib (blog)". Prostitution Research and Education. 
  35. ^ Farley, Melissa (Summer–Fall 1993). "Ten lies about sadomasochism". Sinister Wisdom (Elana Dykewomon) 50: 29–37.  Archived February 7, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ Farley, Melissa (April 29, 2009). "Is it wrong to pay for sex?". Intelligence Squared U.S. (radio show) (Intelligence Squared). 
  37. ^ Speeches (11 June 2003). "Beyer, Georgina: Prostitution Reform Bill — In Committee". Hansard (debates) (New Zealand Parliament) 609: 6159. 
  38. ^ Superior Court of Justice (September 28, 2010). "Bedford v. Canada (Attorney General), 2010 ONSC 4264". CanLII (Canadian Legal Information Institute). Retrieved September 5, 2015. 

External links[edit]