A New Circus is in Town
I must first thank my friend, Darby, for alerting me to this issue. Although Sydney gets every other piece of news that comes out of the States, apparently prosecution of a DC Madam slips under the radar.
In a case reminiscent of the Heidi Fleiss scandal, Deborah Jeane Palfrey has been charged with several crimes related to running a DC brothel. Her criminal charges prompted an appearance on the ABC News program, 20/20, in which she stopped short of naming names of clients who utilised her "sexual fantasy services," and, according to her, include high-ranking military and political personnel. She vows that if she is required to appear before Court, she will call upon these individuals to testify.
I must ask: At this point in time, is this all really necessary? Doesn't it seem like about once a decade the police begin the prosecution of yet another brothel owner? Prior to Hollywood madam, Heidi Fleiss, it was Rebecca Rand in Minneapolis. And in a few more years, the media will highlight the downfall of yet another "morally objectionable" woman (I doubt they will ever prosecute a man in connection to sex work). All of which do nothing more than ruin the lives of everyone involved (except the high-profile clients who pay to have their names removed).
As I have been looking into Palfrey's case, I see the same debate playing out that always plays out. Some academics and spokespeople come out and decry the criminalisation of prostitution, arguing, rightly so, that it is often a choice made by both the worker and the client. Then some other conservative organisations decry sex work, claiming that it is never a victimless crime -- always stressing that women servicing men are the victims; never do they make any mention of queer sex workers.
What surprised me this time around, though, are the several articles I've read which quote a number of high-ranking academics and political pundits arguing for the decriminalisation of "indoor prostitution" (i.e. brothel-work, escort services, etc). Georgetown University professor, Ron Weitzer (editor of the wonderful book, Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry) was quoted by ABC News as arguing for such decriminalisation, saying that doing so does more good than harm. The article goes on to call such prostitution "high-end prostitution" and argues that many law enforcement agencies already overlook those people who partake in it.
While I think the decriminalisation, or legalisation, of so-called indoor prostitution will be the ultimate first step in decriminalising all sex work in the US (Many Australian states have already decriminalised indoor prostitution), I think merely turning the other cheek prior to said legalisation still leaves sex workers open to police violence -- something not brought up in any of the articles I've read related to this case. And while I get excited when any news agency proposes the thought of decriminalisation, the argument to only decriminalise "high-end prostitution" creates a set of class issues in of itself.
I draw my parallels to the criminalistion of cocaine use. As we all know, there is powdered cocaine and there is crack cocaine. Powdered cocaine is not as potent, yet is more likely to be "pure" and not mixed with dozens of other substances. It is also very expensive. Crack cocaine, on the other hand, is less expensive and is often mixed with other dangerous substances. Now, over time, wealthy white people have discovered their love for cocaine in the powdered form; whereas crack cocaine is generally attributed to lower-class, African-American individuals. Eventually, laws were enacted that created harsher penalties for those using crack cocaine, and not so much for those caught with powdered cocaine. And why is this? Because those who love powdered cocaine were the ones making the laws.
As Deborah Jeane Palfrey has detailed, many of her clients are high-ranking DC officials, so are we likely to see any sort of punishment given to those men (and possibly women) who utilised Palfrey's services? Of course not. Not only will they escape any and all prosecution, these very same people may well be the ones that legalise indoor prostitution; not for the health and safety of the sex workers, but simply for their own personal gains.
I suppose, though, that even if such pro-prostitution legislation does come our way, I should be happy with whatever it is regarldless of the reasons for enacting it.