Yesterday, I posted Part 1 of my response to an opinion piece by Melissa Farley and Norma Ramos arguing that Eliot Spitzer and other men who hire prostitutes should be punished as criminals. The article made me angry, and I’m trying to explain why.
To start with, although Farley and Ramos want leniency for prostitutes, they don’t want legalized prostitution. They regard the prostitutes’ customers as sexual predators, and they want them punished.
[T]he Justice Department has sent a clear message that it is acceptable to buy and sell women for sex; this in the face of growing evidence that prostitution is emotionally and physically harmful to those used in it, and that prostitution and sex trafficking are inextricably linked–prostitution is the endpoint of all sex trafficking.
There are two logical errors in that paragraph. First, the assertion that “prostitution is the endpoint of all sex trafficking” is a tautology. It’s simply true by definition: If the trafficking didn’t end in prostitution, it wouldn’t be sex trafficking.
The second error is the implication that the converse is true, that all prostitution is sex trafficking. I know of no reason to believe this to be true.
Farley and Ramos would disagree, and it is here that they show not only their hatred for men, but also their disrespect for women.
Prostitution is not a victimless crime. The DOJ policy is out of step with volumes of evidence that prostitution arises out of adverse social conditions such as being sexually abused in childhood, poverty, racism, lack of educational and economic opportunities, disability, and a culture that increasingly commodifies girls.
This is a blatant rhetorical bait-and-switch. Farley and Ramos say that prostitutes are victims of prostitution, but everything they list—sexual abuse, poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, disability—is something that may lead women to prostitution, not something caused by it.
By way of example, consider another unpleasant job women do: Cleaning toilets on one of those late-night office cleaning crews. That’s not a job I’d want. Should we therefore make it a crime to hire women to clean toilets in an office building because many cleaning ladies are driven to it by poverty, lack of opportunity, or an inability to get better jobs? Or would that just deprive a poor woman of a job?
For many women, sex work isn’t their problem, it’s a solution to their problem, and the problem is almost always the same: Not enough money. Taking away their customers takes away their money.
Farley and Ramos want us to believe that punishing prostitutes’ customers is good for prostitutes, and to that end they cite a 1999 change in Swedish law that penalizes customers but not prostitutes. It has apparently reduced prostitution by 40 percent.
That sounds like a law that works, but I wonder how the prostitutes feel about a 40 percent loss of revenue. I wonder how they feel about a law that drives their work even further underground. Farley and Ramos don’t seem to care, as long as the men are punished.
Even when the pimps are alleged to be running a high-end, high-class call-girl service, they still sell women for sexual use and still take their cut. And those in it, like Ashley Dupré–a young woman whom Mr. Spitzer bought for sex–more often than not, have entered prostitution as a result of long-term abuse, neglect, and economic desperation; a situation that worsens disproportionately for women as the economy declines.
I’m struck by the choice of words that conflates prostitution with chattle slavery. Pimps “sell woman” and Ashley Dupré is “a young woman…Spitzer bought.” That’s nonsense. Spitzer didn’t buy Dupré, he paid her to perform a service. A messy, intimate service that might be phsiologically and emotionally hard on Dupre, to be sure, but it was still just something she did for him, and then she left.
(I realize that men can threaten women with violence to gain control over them and “own” them, but that’s not what happened here. That’s not how most prostitution works in this country.)
Ms. Dupré…met up with the pimps and johns at Emperor’s Club VIP in New York, a prostitution ring that sometimes moved women from the United States to Europe on what they called “travel dates” rather than human trafficking.
The twisting of language in this piece is apalling. In all the accounts I’ve read, Dupré approached the escort services looking for work. And when you read the phrase “human trafficking,” is the first image that comes to your mind one of adult women getting on airplanes in America and flying to Europe?
There is real slavery in the world, and some of those slaves are forced into prostitution. But that’s not what happened to Ashley Dupré, and it’s not what happens to most women in the business.