The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Pondering Prostitution

No, I’m not considering a new line of work or anything like that.

The Deborah Jean Palfrey story got me thinking about the whole subject of prostitution, along with some news stories I bookmarked and intended to blog about later but never got around to it. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been of the mind that prostitution should be legal. But I also understand that there’s another side to the coin currently represented by Palfry, as Hugo — whose post I linked to earlier — pointed out.

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I want the names to come out because I am convinced that prostitution is never, ever, a victimless crime. Buying the bodies of other human beings for sexual gratification is soul-destroying to both parties in the transaction. Prostitution commodifies the bodies of women who are disproportionately young, poor, and non-white. Though the media invariably finds the occasional telegenic sex worker who apparently enjoys her vocation, those who advocate for women trapped in the sex industry suggest that the vast majority loathe what they do. Most are forced into it ; many come from backgrounds of abandonment, poverty, and abuse.

I haven’t spent a lot of time talking to sex workers, but just based on what I’ve read I know he’s right that some of them are indeed poor women, often women of color, who are deceived and then trapped in prostitution, economically exploited, and regularly subject to violence. And not always by men, either.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMaribel Rodriguez is a wanted woman… by the FBI that is.

…The Federal Bureau of Investigations says this Guatemalan national lured twelve women — three mere minors — with the promise of the American dream.

“What they would do is go to these countries to the rural areas and recruit women with the promise here and making good money.”

After crossing the border, promised dreams quickly turned in to nightmares as the victims were forced into street prostitution to work off their smuggling fee.

“They were treated as slaves and they were watched at all times,” Loosie said.

Informants say Maribel’s ring paid gang members for the right to work here on Alvarado Street in Los Angeles between 7th and 8th Streets.

Though forced to turns tricks nightly, the enslaved prostitutes never saw a penny.

“Often times they were physically abused if they tried to leave they were beaten up.”

But, honestly, that wasn’t the kind of story story thought about when I first heard Palfrey’s story. Rather, it reminded me of a story of another woman in the metro D.C. area involved in prostitution, whose story ended very differently.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketShe was a former college professor who had lost almost everything — her stellar academic reputation, her financial well-being and her anonymity in the swanky suburban neighborhood where she was accused of working as a high-priced prostitute.

With Brandy Britton’s trial planned to start next week, the former University of Maryland Baltimore County professor apparently took her own life over the weekend, hanging herself in her living room, Howard County police say. A family member found the body Saturday afternoon. Police say they do not suspect foul play.

It was a grievous end to a life that friends and colleagues say was once filled with remarkable promise and ambition.

…Her trial date on four counts of prostitution — which she had decided to fight in a jury trial instead of accepting a plea agreement — was set for Monday. Police would get a chance to air their version of Brandy Britton: that in her $400,000 home at the end of a cul-de-sac where children ride Razor scooters and moms drive minivans with soccer decals, Britton had been selling herself as a call girl.

She called herself Alexis, police said and advertised on a Web site that described Alexis as a “quintessential ‘brick house’ ” and “sophisticated, refined, educated and articulate. She has two Bachelor of Science degrees, one in biology and the other in sociology. She also holds a Ph.D. from an elite university.” It continued: “An athlete, cheerleader and dancer in high school, Alexis . . . is extremely flexible in excellent shape.”

In a sting, Howard police sent an undercover officer to her house last January and arrested her.

Britton appeared to be troubled, and her story is complicated as a previous Post article makes clear. But in the article on her suicide, her attorney poses an interesting question.

In a statement yesterday, Flohr said that Britton’s death “underscores an important question: Was the public benefited at all by the resources spent on her arrest and prosecution? As we ponder the apparent senselessness of her passing, we must openly wonder about . . . a criminal justice system that seeks to punish a person rather than heal them.”

Palfrey’s story also made me think of this one, in which a group of nuns find a prostitute for a terminally ill man who wants to have a sexual experience before he dies.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketStricken with an illness that is likely to kill him before he reaches the age of 30, Nick Wallis had a special request to put to the nuns and nurses looking after him at hospice.

He asked them to help him find a prostitute and – after some hesitation – they did.

Mr Wallis, 22, persuaded them he should be allowed to have a sexual experience before he died. Knowing that he was now unlikley to have one in a loving relationship, he had decided his only alternative was to pay.

The case of Mr Wallis, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, posed a major moral dilemma for Sister Frances Dominica, the founder of Douglas House hospice in Oxford, and the establishment’s ethics committee.

After seeking advice to ensure they were not acting illegally, the decision was taken to support Mr Wallis, with nurse Chris Bloor helping him to find a suitable woman on disability sites on the Internet.

…Mr Wallis, who lives in Northamptonshire, said he had always hoped that he would experience sex as part of a close relationship.

“I began to accept that this might not happen for me,’ he added.

He said he met the prostitute after his final degree exams last May. “Her train was late, which did not help my nerves.

“She turned out to be intelligent and pleasant woman, attractive, in her late 20s. I guess that she was used to relating to nervous people as she put me at ease. The two hours passed quickly and it was, you may say, satisfactory.

So, my question: Do all of these stories belong in the same category? Does the same morality apply to them all?

In Britton’s case — whatever her other problems may have been — if she did indeed engage in prostitution, she would appear to have done it of her own volition.

In Mr. Wallis’ case, even the nuns didn’t see anything wrong with helping him acquire (can’t find a better word for it) the services of a prostitute who was willing to do the job. There’s no indication that the young woman was anything other than willing. And Wallis was probably not far from the truth in reasoning that his chances of having the experience he desired through more customary channels were as slim as he time was short. So, if that’s literally his dying wish, why shouldn’t he have it, especially if he’s unlikely to get it some other way.

But what about the women who fall into the clutches of someone like Rodriguez, and find themselves forced into a life they didn’t seek and don’t want, kept in poverty, beaten and intimidated in order to keep them trapped in that life? Or young women who run away from home and are enticed into prostitution? Or women and children who are abducted and forced into sex work?

Even if the stories like Palfrey’s, Britton’s and Wallis’ don’t involve violence, coercion or any of the factors mentioned above, do they still make possible stories like what allegedly happened to the women Rodriguez duped, trapped, and sold?

Or how about the British woman who pimped out girls as young as 12, after luring them with clothes and gifts and then getting them addicted to crack?

Fiona Walsh, 32, groomed them with clothes and other gifts before introducing them to Class A drugs.

Once they were addicted, she began offering them to customers at her home or in the streets, Inner London Crown Court was told.

Walsh, from Kilburn, west London, pleaded guilty to four counts of child prostitution and supplying drugs.

…Police believe up to five girls may have fallen into her clutches, all of whom ending up running away from home for up to two years.

One is undergoing psychiatric treatment.

Are they all part of the same story?


  1. i have a somewhat unique perspective on this..
    i live next door to a brothel.. ive lived next door to the girls for years.. they are good neighbors.. mostly all the girls seem happy and well adjusted..they dont use drugs, are not trafficked and they are not minors…who am i to judge..

    Thank you for your eloquent statement that this issue is not black and white.. and that many women live in the gray area …

    i am torn between wanting it to be legal and hopefully safer and less stigmatized..or just gone altogether (which i realize is just not gonna happen)
    and you would too if you saw what i see.. all of your brothers,fathers and friends ..all races, all ages, all socio economic strata… dropping by to visit the girls next door.. “helping individual prostitutes survive” does good work locally and is non judgmental

  2. You are absolutely correct that these are not the same story. There are already laws against kidnapping, extortion, false imprisonment, assault, terroristic threats and all the other things that predators and pimps do to drag unwilling victims into prostitution. But nything that two consenting adults choose to do with each other should be a private matter. The state, the church and the nosy neighbors need to mind the own bizness!

    Keep an eye open for it and i bet you will notice a lot of other cases where behavior that should not be objectionable on it’s own merit is lumped into a class of similar objectionable behavior, simply to increase negative perception. We have to stop falling for these types of mind games from the media, politicians, and many of our so-called leaders and commentators.

  3. Pingback: Prostitution vs. Slavery: Ethical Apples and Oranges - from The Zero Boss by Jay Andrew Allen

  4. When you compare the US with countries that don’t take punitive approaches to prostitution – or, for that matter, marijuana – I’m just not noticing that we have fewer prostitutes and pot smokers for all the trouble. Matters of fact don’t seem to enter into discussion of certain topics. The thought seems to be that if it’s legal there will be more of it, to the detriment of society. But it seems to exist as a kind of belief that we’re unwilling to test.

  5. Good thoughtful look at prostitution.

    The fact that prostitutes are sometimes exploited or enslaved is horrifying and worth plenty of law enforcement attention. But it’s no reason for banning prostitution itself. When people have to do unpleasant things to survive, we should be providing *more* and *better* options for them, rather than whittling away at the few choices they do have.

    Anyway, forced or exploited labor is sometimes used in garment manufacturing, but no one has suggested banning garments.

  6. It turns out Britton was one of the women who worked for Palfrey. However, I don't lay her death at Palfrey's door. Instead, I find myself wondering why there's been no pursuit of the "Johns." If prostitution is a crime, then soliciting a prostitute, having sex with a prostitute, and paying for it are crimes too. Right?

    In this case, going after the Johns would mean knocking on the doors of some very powerful men, law firms, lobbyists, etc. That could get messy.

    On the legalization of prostitution, I think it might have the effect of making it:

    • less profitable for criminal elements,
    • easier to regulate,
    • easier to protect the sex workers and their customers,
    • and safer.


  7. I went to jr.high with a set of twins who had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy! I have Cerebral Palsy myself! Women have closed-minds towards dis-abled people; I had many clean prostituties in my life! We have needs too!

    I only wish that I could have got a prostitute for my friends; before they died.

    There are women who provide a service; theey not all bad!

  8. Todd Smith-
    The twins you went to junior high school with were boys? And the girls in the junior high school most or all of whom did not have physical handicaps would not associate with the twins? Therefore, you believe the twins wanted but could never have sexual contact with anyone?