Sunday, March 16
DO AS HE SAID
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
March 13, 2008
New York Times
The last time I saw Eliot Spitzer, he encouraged me to write about his work involving prostitution. So here goes.
The governor buttonholed me because he wanted credit for passage of a tough state law against sex trafficking. Frankly, he deserves credit, for the law took the innovative step of cracking down on johns by increasing penalties.
The big worry now among those working to stop trafficking is that the Spitzer scandal will add to perceptions of prostitution as a “victimless crime.” On my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, one person named “Carmen” argued, “if a man can hire a pro to help improve his golf, why not let him hire a pro to help improve his sex?”
Another poster, who identified herself as a former prostitute in Australia, said she had “never felt exploited or trapped” and added, “It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”
Yet the evidence is overwhelming that, in the United States, prostitution is only very rarely just another career choice. Studies suggest that up to two-thirds of prostitutes have been sexually abused as girls, a majority have drug dependencies or mental illnesses, one-third have been threatened with death by pimps, and almost half have attempted suicide.
Melissa Farley, a psychologist who has written extensively about the subject, says that girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14. She conducted a study finding that 89 percent of prostitutes urgently wanted to escape the work, and that two-thirds have post-traumatic stress disorder — not a problem for even the most frustrated burger-flipper.
The mortality data for prostitutes is staggering. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a meticulous study finding that the “workplace homicide rate for prostitutes” is 51 times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women, working in a liquor store. The average age of death of the prostitutes in the study was 34.
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Which approach (if any) do you agree with the most?