Would Sex Workers Have Saved Sodini's Victims?

Would legalizing sex work have prevented George Sodini's gym rampage? That's the claim Dan Savage makes in his column this week.

Savage sums up Sodini's murder spree thus: "It's never pretty when chronic sexual deprivation and a lifetime of romantic rejection slam into a narcissistic personality with sociopathic tendencies who happens to live in a country awash in guns." He then writes,

I'm not suggesting that this tragedy could've been averted if only some selfless woman had "taken one for the team" and married Sodini, an asshole and a sociopath. The women who rejected him obviously saw him for what he was and were right to run in the other direction. But if someone had told Sodini, who hadn't had sex since 1990, to see sex workers-something I advised the guys in my column two weeks ago to consider (among other things)-it might have taken the edge off his anger and kept it from curdling into homicidal rage. Maybe if we, as a society, valued sex workers and sex work, if we legalized and regulated it, and if we viewed "paying for it" as a legitimate option for guys who would otherwise go without for decades, perhaps this tragedy could have been averted.

Is he right? Did George Sodini just need the sexual release that the services of a prostitute could provide? Let's look at those other guys Savage mentions. In his July 30 column, Savage answered a letter from "Sick Of Beatin'," who wrote,

This question comes from a point of real frustration. I'm a 26-year-old straight guy. Due to my being overweight, awkward, and generally unable to attract women I'm actually interested in, I have only been sexually intimate with prostitutes and women of low caliber.

Savage gives him a much-needed talking-to, saying, "Stop sleeping with women unless you're attracted to them on some level, and recognize that holding the women who will sleep with you in contempt is an expression of self-hatred and knock it the fuck off." He also writes,

there are sex workers out there who will not only get you off in exchange for your money, SOB, but will work with you on improving your skills and building up your confidence. You may have slept with one already without realizing it because you so resented having to pay for it that you dismissed her as a cheap whore to protect your ego. Dumb mistake.

A sex worker probably could have helped Sick of Beatin' work on his confidence and his erectile problems, but not until he worked on his disgust for sex workers and other "low caliber" women who would sleep with him. Unfortunately, a common thread between SOB, Sodini, and Sodini's fellow acolytes at the R. Don Steele school for dating younger women, is the belief that women can be plotted along an objective scale of attractiveness, and the only ones worth sleeping with are the top of that scale. Savage acknowledges this:

Sodini felt that he was entitled not just to sex and a romantic relationship, but to sex and a romantic relationship with a much younger woman. And he was following the advice of a love-and-romance guru who encouraged him to cling to that belief.

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon sums up the Sodini/Steele attitude nicely:

It's a matter of faith to PUAs that there's a single, objective standard of beauty, so if you find a girl to be X amount attractive, that's exactly how much attention she gets, and therefore exactly how much she'll be "stuck up" because she thinks she can do better.

Or, as Amanda Hess at The Sexist puts it,

It is not enough for the Pick-Up Artist devotee to date someone who is his equal; in order to receive respect in the community, he must date someone who is somehow "better" than him ("hotter"). At the same time, the Pick-Up Artist operates on the assumption that women who don't want to have sex with him-even these "better," hotter women-are conceited bitches.

Sodini, Steele, PUA types in general, and probably SOB, believe that not only that "there's a single, objective standard of beauty," but that only women who conform to it are worth banging. And paying for sex, as much as it might release sexual frustration and even pave the way for a non-paying sexual relationship, doesn't count. Because the problem with men like Sodini isn't just "chronic sexual deprivation" — it's a whole slew of damaging beliefs about women, and about what the women you fuck say about the kind of man you are. Like SOB, Sodini wanted women of "high caliber" — unlike SOB, when he couldn't have them, he went berserk.

Marcotte rightly critiques the view that pickup artistry is just about lonely guys "seeking out help." There are lots of ways lonely guys can get help, from therapy to, yes, sex workers. What PUA promises is a way for lonely guys to rank women, and then swiftly fuck the ones at the top. As Savage, Marcotte, and Hess all both point out, it's a false promise — more about selling books than about helping anybody. It's also a dangerous one.

Image of George Sodini (center) from R. Don Steele promotional video, via CBS.

Gasoline And The Match [Savage Love]
Only The Lonely [Savage Love]
Penny Arcade Update [Pandagon]
"Nice Guy Must Die": Gym Killer's Shocking Date Tape [CBS]
Why Pick-Up Game Hurts Everyone Except the Guy Shilling Books [The Sexist]