It's been a little over 36 hours since the Spitzer sex scandal broke, and the focus of the media is slowly but surely turning to the prostitutes with whom he was involved, or, rather, prostitution in general. In today's New York Times, Melissa Farley and Victor Malarek, both authors of books about prostitution and policy, argue that prostitution is anything but a victimless crime. They wonder about "Kristen," the prostitute hired by Spitzer from the Emperor's Club: "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?" Farley and Malarek say that the concept of prostitution-as-victimless-crime is a myth perpetuated by the powerful men who frequent them.
In reality, they say, most women who become hookers — even the "classier" breed of escort workers — "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."
Media outlets are also scrambling to find real, live, former prostitutes for commentary, and by-and-large, the women found fit the "happy hooker" stereotype. Today, MSNBC published an interview with Natalie McLennan about her life as a call girl, and the "aspiring actress" makes prostitution sound like the logical extension of the Sex and the City lifestyle, Manolos and all. She describes a "nightmare" she used to have, and I swear to God, I think this actually happened to Carrie in front of Big in season 1:
I'd be walking into this gorgeous hotel like the St. Regis, and all of a sudden I would slip and fall in my four-inch Manolos, go tumbling across the carpet, and with me would go the contents of my purse, which were as follows: $100 bills, condoms, lube, and then make-up, cell phone and all the other girl things. It was that moment of mortification of my life being exposed for the world to see, because a girl's life is in her purse.
McLennon does not seem particularly conflicted about her time as a sex worker. She even describes Pretty Woman as "the world's best fairy tale." But writer Tracy Quan, who used to work for an escort service in Manhattan, is far more thoughtful about her time as a prostitute. In today's New York Times, she writes that Spitzer's biggest blunder was using an escort service in the first place. "Escort agencies are constantly being investigated, infiltrated and spied on," Quan explains, adding that she has no hard feelings for her former Johns. "I've never been in favor of arresting and shaming men who pay for sex. Most customers who get in trouble aren't high-profile politicians like Eliot Spitzer. Their 'crime' is that they're poor or getting started in life."
But what about these high profile men looking to pay for sex? According to Live Science, the power that goes along with being a politician lends itself to a sense of invincibility. Scott Reynolds, an assistant professor of business ethics at the University of Washington says that when men feel invincible they're "Willing to do more behaviors that are risky and we end up doing some things that aren't very smart."
Whatever the (soon-to-be-former) Governor's motivations, his transgressions have certainly opened up a dialogue about the state of prostitution in this country. Is it an inherently demeaning act for the women involved? Or is it, as Tracy Quan and Natalie McLennan seem to argue, just something lucrative to do when you're trying to make it in the big city? Whatever the answer, I imagine Eliot Spitzer, with his millions and his connections, will come out of this scandal in better shape than Kristen or any of the other members of the vaunted Emperor's Club. And according to the Wall Street Journal Spitzer's not the only super-richie getting his rocks off with a pro — 34% of males and 20% of women who own private jets have paid for sex. Getting sex for free is so nouveau riche!
The Myth Of The Victimless Crime [New York Times]
80G Addicted to Love Gov' [New York Post]
Q&A With A Call Girl[MSNBC]
A Call Girl's View Of The Spitzer Affair [Freakonomics]
Really Dangerous Liasons [New York Times]
Why Power And Prostitution Go Together [Live Science]
Why Is Prostitution Illegal? [Slate]