The NYT’s Awful Op-Ed on Prostitution

The New York Times op-ed page has become all too often a haven for the worst writing and opinions America has to offer.  Naturally, with prostitution in the news, they found a horrible opinion piece to publish.

The article begins with a deliberate misinterpretation of a simple notion, that of a victimless crime.  A victimless crime is simply put, a “crime” where each party to the crime is engaging in the crime consensually, as opposed to the standard crime victim, who is involuntarily subjected to the crime in question.  To say, for example, that the drug trade is a victimless crime means nothing more than that both parties in a drug deal engage in it voluntarily.  That hardly means that no one suffers due to the drug trade.  However, the op-ed tries to use this term to pretend that victimless means that everyone involved is in no way suffering, a ludicrous claim.

The op-ed then goes into unsubstantiated and pointless digression:  

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.

Is anyone suggesting that incest in victimless?  Or for its legalization?

The paragraph coming shortly afterwards, however, is stunningly laughable:

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.”

Have the authors ever met anyone with a job before?  Few employers are enthusiastic about workers who cut out early to pick up their children.  And generally speaking, employer bias against parents is well-documented.  But the authors actually try to convey the attitude that employer dislike of employees cutting work short to pick up children is a shocking act, which is evidence of the victimization of sex workers.

Those of us who have campaigned for the legalization of sex work, along with other “victimless crimes”, are not doing so because we consider these activities beneficial or beatific.  We do so because we believe, as the evidence clearly shows, that forcing certain trades into the black market does nothing to prevent the activity and does considerable harm to both the workers in such industries and to society at large.  This idiotic and offensive op-ed does our cause harm, both by pretending that it is answering any of the arguments for the legalization of sex work and by sloppy and unsubstantiated claims which do not address any meaningful issue.

Moreover, it is important to remember that there are plenty of escorts and other types of sex workers that genuinely love what they do. Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in the world and therefore it is such a shame that people are still judgmental and have preconceived notions about sex workers. Ultimately, with escort agencies similar to this Toronto Escorts Directory showing no signs of slowing down, it is undeniable that sex workers still provide a vital service.

The Times should know better than to publish such garbage.  But I hope at least that I can help readers here not be taken in.


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  1. ….for me to loathe Elliot Spitzer.  His actions are helping idiotic views like these get expanded attention.  Fuck him and his cowardice in refusing to stand up for the people who he was all too happy to put his cock in.

    • pfiore8 on March 12, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    legalize it! and what tripe from the NY Times. sadly, i have come to expect this from the grey lady.

    • pico on March 12, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    And to everything said in the comments above.  

    Though I’m not often in agreement with him, Andrew Sullivan has a great point (h/t stinerman from SC):

    A thought experiment: if you hired a couple to have sex in your bedroom while you watched, it would be prostitution. if someone else hired them, put it on video and you watched them in your bedroom, it would be porn. Why is one illegal and the other isn’t?

    Possibly because powerful politicians would rather indulge in than defend sex workers.  That’s not Spitzer-specific: it’s a national disease.

    • Valtin on March 13, 2008 at 8:21 am

    because it drips with hypocrisy and typical American sanctimony and puritanism.

    Thanks for posting this. I had a girlfriend way back that was an ex-prostitute/sex worker, but kept up her affiliation with COYOTE, which was an organization that was a kind of proto-union for sex workers.

    I also knew many sex workers from my days as a cab driver. They truly were working women, and they came from all walks of life, and had all kinds of stories and backgrounds.

    The newspaper editorials should be screaming for the decriminalization of prostitution, for public health reasons if noting else.

    What? Sex is a public health issue? Imagine that.

    As for the psychology of a guy like Spitzer, it’s an old, old story. Shakespeare even wrote a play on it, a very good one: Measure for Measure. Hint: pay special attention to the character, Angelo.

  2. But now I have some reservations.  I still come out on balance for legality, but I suggest that there are some things we as a society would have to keep in mind.

    My concern is: if prostitution becomes legal, then what is to stop people from dismissing poor women’s needs with the flip suggestion that they prostitute themselves?

    Perhaps, like me, you’ve already heard this before in casual conversation: “if she needs money, why doesn’t she just sell some of what she’s got?”  What may be more surprising — and no, I don’t have the reference — is that at least one court (I think in Germany) several years back denied some benefits to a woman on the grounds that she could make a decent income if she wanted to, by selling sex.

    To me, the problem that people favoring legalization of sex work have to address is that of coercion.  I have no problem with women who need money (or want excitement, or feelings of power over men, or whatever their motives), and who think that they are not doing anything that degrades them, being allowed to sell sex legally.  It would be a kinder world if this were legalized and destigmatized.

    However, I do have a problem with women who find this prospect degrading being forced into it against their better judgment and in violation of their sense of self.  Society would have to present a clear and subtle message here, that prostitution is OK if it’s what you really want to do, and that it’s perfectly OK not to want to do it.  And sending that message requires having a better social service system for women who might otherwise be pushed into prostitution at the cost of their self-respect, so that they can say “no” to this possibility with impugnity.  (I will only gesture in passing here to the problem of Dad telling 18-year-old daughter that she had better start selling sex and contributing to the family.)

    As with many other things — like joining the military — freedom of choice is fine if you can get past the problem of coercion, but if you fail to do so then you just give a society that wants plenty of soldiers, sailors, and prostitutes reason to keep people poor and desperate, so that the supply lines never run down.

  3. about this saga was the supreme arrogance of all involved in regards to the prostitutes. They were nothing more then pawns in a bunch of bent lawyers gotcha game. They were doubly used, first by making them the focus of his earlier prosecutions, and then by ‘linking’ to them with his penis and big money, and involving them in his weird take down.

    His speeches both of them were a window into the arrogance of a man who sees ‘crime’ as nothing more then notches on his belt, the law nothing more then a game. Such a disconnect from morality.  

    I thank you for writing this. Prostitution isn’t going to going away anymore then drugs are. Making a hero out of someone who acts like he was doing such a public service by cleaning up a danger to society is such a sham.

    I once spent 48 hours in jail for contempt of court and it was an eye opener as 80% of my fellow prisoners were not criminals, they were prostitutes and either buyers or sellers of drugs. What a waste. Meanwhile crooked pols/lawyers rake in the money  buying and selling the fate of people forced by economics or misery to make a living in a society where poverty itself is a crime.        

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