Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shame on Spitzer, Shame on "The Times"

“What do we know about the woman Gov. Eliot Spitzer allegedly hired as a prostitute?” asks Melissa Farley (author of “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections”) and Victor Malarek (author of “The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade”) in “The Myth of the Victimless Crime,” their Op-ed in yesterday’s “New York Times.” “She was the one person he ignored in his apology. What is she going through now? Is she in danger from organized crime because of what she knows? Is anyone offering her legal counsel or alternatives to prostitution?”

To which I pose an equally important question, “What do two academics studying sex trafficking know about high-end call girls?” I would venture next to nothing as the following supposition attests, “But most women in prostitution, including those working for escort services, have been sexually abused as children, studies show. Incest sets young women up for prostitution — by letting them know what they’re worth and what’s expected of them. Other forces that channel women into escort prostitution are economic hardship and racism.”

While I don’t doubt that sexual abuse, incest, poverty and racism are indeed factors in many women’s decision to “rent out an organ” (as the two put it), these “studies” that they’re relying on are as flawed as those 1950s studies that found gays to be depressed, often suicidal people because of their homosexuality. Today we know that 1950s gays were often depressed not because of their orientation, but because of the stigma society attached to homosexuality – and that the gays that were relatively happy weren’t participating in these studies, most likely because in order to function in society you had to stay in the closet to co-workers, friends and family. You weren’t going to volunteer for some study! Likewise, these “studies” that the article’s authors are citing are only examining a certain segment of the prostitution population – the unhappy hookers who were forced into their profession, who were victims of incest or abuse (the type of women who out themselves as former prostitutes when they seek help, and are thus easily identified guinea pigs for a study).

The honest truth is most hookers – especially those making a thousand dollars an hour – are not named Natasha, not “helpless victims.” No, they’re women like Spitzer’s “Kristen,” girls-next-door who’d rather spend a few hours a week having sex than forty hours waiting tables to pay for college. Tellingly, a neighbor who lives in the same Chelsea building as “Kristen” gave this reaction when interviewed, “I had no idea she was like that.” Like what? I wonder. Now ask yourself, if you were “Kristen” would you have the courage to come out and fight society’s misconceptions about yourself and what you do – or would you stay in the closet? Only when we take away the stigma attached to the world’s oldest profession will we uncover those happy hookers society now shames.

And the two authors righteously continue, “Telephone operators at the Emperor’s Club criticized one of the women for cutting sessions with buyers short so that she could pick up her children at school. ‘As a general rule,’ one said, ‘girls with children tend to have a little more baggage going on.’” So really, I ask, how is this environment any different from the environment faced by women in high-powered, corporate America? A great many CEOs think employees “with children tend to have a little more baggage going on.” Or so studies show.

But then who am I to criticize academic researchers? Unlike Farley and Malarek, though I’ve never been a prostitute (I’m a terrible hustler), I have been involved in the sex industry in some capacity for over a decade now (including a six-year love affair with a high-end call boy). And the dirtiest job I ever had? Working as a receptionist at a commercial editing house for a condescending boss for ten bucks an hour. I, like “Kristen,” decided long ago that I’m worth much more than that.

(And if you're interested in a truer picture of prostitutes, "The New York Times" also published The Double Lives of High-Priced Call Girls, which almost makes up for this big Op-ed flop.)

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