left biblioblography: Draped In This Cloak Of Flesh, The Needs That Burn Us...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Draped In This Cloak Of Flesh, The Needs That Burn Us...

Close on the heels of the Spitzer scandal, I read this Chronicle column the other day in the newspaper (yes! An actual, bonafide newspaper! In the 21st century, no less!), and I gotta say: I don't agree at all.

Let's fisk this, and then we can get to the 'meat' of the matter.

There was one, and probably only one, reaction to the Eliot Spitzer scandal that surprised me: the idea, which appears to be widespread among a startling number of people, that the former governor's travails just "prove" that it's "time" to legalize prostitution (or sex work, to use the more polite term).

Like perhaps, in ancient Greece? That old adage about the 'oldest profession' isn't just a cliche, it's a fact.

The first time I heard someone railing on in this vein, I sat there, mouth agape, while he went down a long and rather incoherent list of excuses. I chalked it up to one guy's delusions, but then I heard it again and again from otherwise intelligent people (male and female) who had, I believed, a sensible grasp of reality, that is, a sense of the gap between the way that we think things should be and the way they turn out to be in daily life.

I'd have liked to have heard some of these 'incoherent excuses', but I'll assume Ms. Caille had to use some judgment inasmuch as she had a word limit.

Regardless, that's almost (but not quite) the logical fallacy of poisoning the well. I catch a hint of that American cultural cliche of 'well, he's just a man, and they all think with two parts of their bodies', but I could be wrong.

I'll start with some of the arguments I've heard recently in favor of legalizing sex work:

-- The 'people do it anyway' defense. Well, sure. But then, people also murder other people "anyway," and no one's clamoring to legalize that.

Variant on the old slippery slope routine - basically, same old razz-matazz. We let this one slide, and before you know it, there'll be rapine and murder in the streets.

Trying to make a case for whatever situation you want legalized based on the idea that some people will flout the law is the thinnest of all defenses. It groups all of us with that aberrant strain of humanity that will flout any law, and when we are making laws we need to appeal to what's reasonable, and what's good, in all of us.

Yeah, oh, say, like Prohibition? That worked out well, didn't it?

It also neglects the fact that our legal system isn't written simply for the purpose of expediency, it's also written to underline morality. You can argue about whether or not it's moral to legalize the practice of selling sex - I don't believe that it is - but not on the concept that "it happens."

Ummm...'morality' isn't a concrete constant. There was a time when homosexuality was a mental disorder, it was a-okay to ship your kid off to the factory for 12 hour days, and yes, even the good ole bible told you that it was perfectly satisfactory to sell your daughter into slavery.

And yes, you do indeed legalize things on the basis of "it happens". If it happens regularly enough, it becomes common-place. And then accepted. Because the majority doesn't decide what's moral, it decides on what's acceptable.

Really. Do us all a favor, get a clue.

Which brings me to another common argument:

-- The 'since people are already doing it, why not make it safe' defense. Note: This defense is usually backed up with a story that begins, 'When I went to Amsterdam...'

Sigh. Well, the people who believe that American public health departments can magically eliminate the violence and exploitation that tend to accompany sex work are more optimistic than I am.

'Magically'? What a stupid comment. You have an activity that's been pushed underground for a few centuries, this'll take years (maybe decades) of reform. Are we on the same planet?

Evidence about this stuff is always highly contested, but there is some that those issues have been exacerbated in and around the parts of Nevada where some legal prostitution is allowed. And those "issues," in case you weren't familiar with them, include rape, physical assaults, robbery and human trafficking.

I'd love to see these statistics. She rattles them off convincingly enough, but I found this under the Wiki entry:

State law requires that registered brothel prostitutes be checked weekly for several sexually transmitted diseases and monthly for HIV; furthermore, condoms are mandatory for all oral sex and sexual intercourse. Brothel owners may be held liable if customers become infected with HIV after a prostitute has tested positive for the virus.

Which is a far cry from most other states. Were I to avail myself of such services, I'd much rather have references and a clean bill of health, please, instead of sneaking about in some dingy part of town.

(The latter, by the way, is already a major, underpoliced, and undervalued problem in the city of San Francisco. There are a lot of city officials here who don't think it's a serious crime; I hope no one fools them into getting on a boat to a foreign country and then locks them up in a confined space for months or years.)

I have no doubt that women are getting shang-haied, both here and in other countries. It's a heinous practice, but how is it related to the topic at hand? It's not: it's a petty rhetorical practice with a slice of non sequitur thrown in.

Those are pretty serious consequences, in my opinion, and I don't know how you can argue in good conscience that the risk of making them worse is worth the opportunity to ensure that some sex workers submit to a regular battery of sexually transmitted disease tests.

More slippery slope statements. So, having needle-riddled prostitutes risking the public safety (because let's face it: there will always be a supply and demand for this sort of thing - history's proven that a thousand times over), and organized crime and sexual predators preying on them to generate income is a good thing? Oh please.

-- Prostitution can be a 'positive' thing for women. This argument is the least likely to be said with a straight face, because most people don't really believe that having sex you don't enjoy with strangers who you don't like is a positive thing, but the people who believe this argument really believe it, so to them I'll just say: It's not.

I'll have to go along with this to a point. If we reduced poverty, educated children properly (not based on pay scale), and actually got past this weird Victorian love-hate relationship with sex this culture seems to thrive on (don't blink at me: think about it), and stopped treating this profession as if the person who engaged in it was less than human, we'd be better off.

I've read that in Thailand, women actually aspire to be bar girls. That's not a good thing - but in a Third World country, it's not as if there's a plethora of options. Bar girls in China actually send money back to their family.

It's really, truly not. No woman wants to be reduced to her body parts. There are reasons why so many sex workers were abused as children, suffer from substance abuse problems, and have feelings of low self-worth, and it's not because they've got such healthy jobs. It's because they already feel like they've been devalued, and now they are in a profession that reinforces that.

Yeah, let's just bypass the fact that many women are living below the standards that enable them to get these 'healthy jobs'. Maybe you should be fighting against poverty and the stark educational standards of the sub-par schools, more people would have a better chance.

Finally, there really is a moral argument to be made against legalizing prostitution, and it's a simple one: Is this the kind of "career route" you would want for your sister or your daughter? People who like to pontificate about how we "need" to legalize prostitution always fall silent when I ask them that question, because if you believe that it should be legalized then odds are it's because you believe that someone else will bear the brunt of the pain that comes with it. Not the nice people you know.

I can't say that I'm overly thrilled about the concept. But if it were rendered legal, and a worthy profession? It was once, you know. That is, until the religious people took over, horrified that humanity should actually engage their natural urges. In the current clime? Hell no. In Nevada? That'd be a horse of a different color.

Now, there are definitely things about our prostitution laws that I think we should change - namely, the fact that they tend to focus on the act of selling sex, rather than the act of soliciting it. Focusing on the johns and the pimps seems far more fair to me, and it would probably have the unintended benefit of reducing violence against sex workers. The kind of person who's eager to assert brutality against someone who's vulnerable is exactly the kind of person who will stop what he's doing if he doesn't think he'll be able to get away with it.

Here's how you 'focus' on the pimps and johns: legalize it. Let's face facts: there are wack jobs and freak shows galore, not just here but everywhere. If there had been no prostitution in England, I'm willing to bet old Jack the Ripper would've sliced up someone based on the slimmest of excuses. Henry Lee Lucas, sick bastard that he was, didn't need the excuse - it just had to be a woman.

Make it legal, regulate it: that will go a lot farther in reducing the criminal aspect of it. Fact is, keeping it illegal will just keep the vermin's fingers in the pot. It's a victimless crime, when indeed, it should be no crime at all.

And, the fact of the matter is, there are men out there who can't get laid at all. There's a variety of them. It's not about some 'sad sack who can't get it' (let's all rise and blast a raspberry at Oprah): there are men that are horribly disfigured, paraplegic, amputees, who for one reason or another can't seem to 'rise' above a handicap, physical or mental. I might also add, there are plenty of women out there who can't either, for many of the same reasons. Don't tell me this is gender-centric: women indulge this 'vice' as well. Perhaps not in the same numbers as men do, but they're out there. Most won't cop to it, outside of some squalid Fox game show.

Oh, and where was the outrage when a famous evangelist was busted for having sex with a male prostitute, I might ask? Did anyone carry on about how Mike Jones was 'reduced to body parts'? Who sputtered in moral umbrage that a young man was prostituting himself? I don't recall one peep on that subject.

This is basically an entire argument from outrage, based on the most tenuous of concepts: the old is-ought problem.

There 'is' a prostitution problem - there 'ought' to be no such thing at all. It's a flimsy band-aid on a gaping wound that needs stitches.

Let's deal with it as a reality, instead of the old 'out of sight, out of mind' crap. Making it illegal is exactly that. Slapping more laws on the issue will drive it further underground. Which will result in more disease, back-alley abortions, and increased revenues for the criminals.

Let it be stated in the record, that I'm a big proponent of women's rights. Hell, I'm a big proponent of human rights. But that includes all people. That includes sex workers (who are, sadly enough, viewed as LTH - Less Than Human). There are drug programs galore for the recovering addict: you can get a whole new start on life, bootstraps away! But what programs are there for the sex worker, in the USA? How do you put that on a resume? This isn't very well-addressed in the media. How do you rescue someone who's been doing this for years?

Basically, it's just this: some people can afford to look down at others. If you're middle-class or higher, you have that extra option - economic pressures enter into our world unbidden, and despite the old 'American bootstrap' myth, the present climate really doesn't let that many folks climb up the fiscal ladder.

It's just the way it is.

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