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Archive for February 18th, 2011

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. –  William Blake

Those who foolishly insist on viewing the world through the filter of dogma are blind to everything that dogma will not admit, even when the truth lies right before them.  The ass who looks at prostitution with neofeminist blinkers on sees only what her driver wants her to see, and no more; prohibitionists are told that prostitution “victimizes” or “exploits” women, and their eyes remain so fixed on that false image that they can see neither the harm their policies do to prostitutes nor the dangerous precedent they set for women’s rights and the legal assumptions about women’s competence and right to self-determination.  Those without those blinkers can turn their heads and look freely at all parts of a situation, and thus may see a very different picture from those blinded by the brainwashing.

I found an obvious case of this on Brandy Devereaux’s blog last Monday (February 14th); it led me to this article on MLive.com, a Michigan news website, and I was struck by the contrast between the clear sight of Darrell Dawsey (the journalist who wrote it) and the blindness of the officials who appear in it.  I’m so impressed with the article, in fact, that I’m willing to overlook its truly annoying title in favor of its abstract: “A recent post-mortem of high-profile sex ring Miami Companions, which was broken up by federal agents last year, highlights the glaring inconsistency and imbalance in how we tackle the ‘crime’ of prostitution.”

On May 12, Gregory Carr, who prosecutors say masterminded Miami Companions, will be sentenced for running what the feds had dubbed one of the biggest sex rings in the country….But none of the 30,000-plus clients who paid as much as $500-an-hour for sex were ever outed.  The so-called black book that contains their names remains in an FBI office in Tampa under tight security.  And Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for southeast Michigan, said she has no plans to release the book — nor does she need it now that she has guilty pleas.  “Our goal is not to stamp out prostitution.  I don’t think we’ll ever do that,” she said.  “But what we are concerned about is deterring criminal organizations from exploiting women as a commodity for profit.”

“Ring” is of course a dysphemism for “suppressed business”.  When the 18th amendment went into effect in 1920 liquor dealers suddenly became “bootlegging rings”, and when the 21st amendment ended Prohibition in 1933 those “rings” magically turned back into businesses.  The word “ring” is a pejorative term intended to conjure up images of seedy gangsters meeting around tables in the back rooms of pool halls.  And the reason the “black book” isn’t being released has nothing to do with guilty pleas and everything to do with the fact that a number of prominent citizens – including some of McQuade’s bosses – are listed in that book.  “Ring” indeed.  But McQuade goes from disingenuous to asinine in the last line, considering that every commercial employer in America exploits women (and men, too) as a “commodity for profit”.  How is an escort service different from a theatrical agency or a temp agency, whose sole product is living humans of certain desired characteristics?  It of course isn’t, unless you believe that sex is somehow intrinsically different from every other human activity.

Apparently, McQuade can tolerate prostitution as long as it remains a mom-and-pop endeavor.  But grow that business from two girls on a street corner to a Web-based ring with international ties, then, suddenly, prostitution becomes deserving of federal wrath.  She’s not so much interested in busting the men who pay for sex, she says.  Or the women who provide it — as long they keep their sex ring small.  Her problem seems to be less with the act than with the scale of it:  “We’re not trying to be the morality police,” McQuade said.  “We try to go after what we perceive to be more important offenders, those who are engaged in organized criminal activity.”  But here’s the thing:  As long as prostitution is illegal, it’s all “organized criminal activity.”  Whether the sex workers are independent contractors or part of a larger group, they’re all providing pretty much the same service.  Why is it suddenly worse because some middle manager is making flight arrangements or work schedules?

I wanted to stand up and clap when I read that last part, starting with “But here’s the thing.”  McQuade claims her office isn’t trying to regulate morality, but of course that’s exactly what it’s doing whether she admits it or not.

.. McQuade’s stance [is] mired… in some common…perceptions about pimps…they can be abusive and low down…But there’s no evidence that Carr coerced any of these women…they worked when they wanted to and pursued other interests when they didn’t. Miami Companions simply made it easier, and probably more lucrative, for them to do what they wanted to do…Carr’s worst crime, as far as I can tell, seems to be getting paid to serve as a middle man in the sex industry. Is he really substantively any worse than, say, Hugh Hefner?  It seems a little disingenuous for McQuade to acknowledge that prostitution is an ineradicable trade on one hand, but then to declare it intolerable only when folks actually make money at it (which, of course, is the point of selling sex in the first place).

So what about sex workers who enjoy the trade and want the opportunity to earn more money and meet more clients?  What about the women who get into the game of their own volition, independent “working girls” who tolerate no pimps but who still see the value in growing their network?  How many clients can a “sex ring” have before McQuade determines that it’s become too big to succeed?  Despite McQuade’s clear acknowledgment of the intractability of the world’s oldest profession, the feds’ message seems to be that our government is fine with prostitution — as long as you’re not too good at it.

I don’t have anything else to add.  Thank you, Mr. Dawsey, both for your defense of women’s right to work in the profession of our choice and also for just being a rational human being.

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