Keeping the Spitzer outrage in perspective

PHOTO: Prostitute

“It’s really silly that prostitution is illegal”Andrew Sullivan

The mainstream media is almost certainly gearing up for overzealous coverage of the NY Governor Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal. But before we let ourselves get caught up in all the salacious details, I think it’s important to keep in mind a couple things:

1) Prostitution shouldn’t be illegal. As a commenter on Glenn Greenwald’s blog pointed out, it’s illogical that our country has made prostitution illegal but pornography legal. In both cases, people are being paid for sex. What’s the difference?

2) This scandal doesn’t warrant more attention than the issue of warrantless wiretaps or any of the thousand other Bush scandals. The same goes for the sex scandals involving Republican senator’s Vitter and Craig. Like gambling or smoking the sticky icky, these are essentially victimless crimes. In contrast, it’s hard to determine how many Constitutional protections we’ve lost to Bush over the last eight. years

None of this means Spitzer shouldn’t be punished. It appears he did break the law, even if the law is silly.

Flickr photo by Eleven Eight

11 Comments

  1. Ian

    Ok, I’ll agree with you completely on #2, with maybe the exception of: “these are essentially victimless crimes”. I don’t necessarily disagree with you on #1 per se, cause I haven’t really thought about it. What is your argument for legalization of prostitution exactly?

  2. Cameron

    I think you’re missing that the big story isn’t that he went to a prostitute. It’s that a governor who built his reputation on law and order and rooting out corruption went to a prostitute. As in, big fat hypocrite. And as such, his political career is over. America loves a sex scandal. But it hates a self-righteous man who turns out to be a liar.

  3. Chris

    Ian,
    I just don’t agree with the idea of legislating morality, especially when it’s not being applied consistently, vis-a-vis pornography.

    It was like when they banned online gambling in the U.S. but carved out an exception for online horse race betting. Or how they ban marijuana but leave cigarettes and alcohol legal.

    All of these things may be bad for the individuals involved, but the choice should be left up to them. We should be free to make mistakes, especially when we aren’t directly harming others.

  4. Ian

    Cameron:
    I agree with you that everyone loves to see a hypocrite get burned, but I think that even if the guy didn’t bill himself as a moral upstanding gentleman, people would still be all over him for this. See: Bill Clinton (and she wasn’t even a prostitute).

    Chris:
    I don’t know if this could even be termed “legislating morality” though. Maybe it started that way, but there are a lot of ills that come about from prostitution. There’s the whole human trafficking aspect to it, how it usually is somehow involved with the drug trade, and the most obvious is that it spreads disease. I wouldn’t be willing to call it a victimless crime because, I don’t know, do people really choose such a profession willingly or out of necessity? Prostitutes are often exploited and mistreated. Now maybe you could have government whorehouses where all the women are taken care of medically and the whole financial aspect is standardized. I don’t know, that sounds pretty fucked up to me. What about children who come from prostitution? Do we really want to start having red light districts in all major cities?

    Pornography and prostitution, I agree, are the same morally. Its people getting paid for sex no matter how you look at it. The difference comes in when you consider that pornography is more of a regulated profession. The “actors” and “actresses” in porn are regulars at what they do. They appear in hundreds of movies with the same people. They are screened for diseases and whatnot. Its not just sex with strangers. Its also more voluntary than prostitution. Its screwed up but there are women who dream of becoming porn stars.

    Read this:
    http://www.avclub.com/content/feature/nina_hartley

    Its an AV Club interview with a pornstar and I found it pretty informative. Weird to say, but I learned a lot and almost came to respect the woman.

    “All of these things may be bad for the individuals involved, but the choice should be left up to them. We should be free to make mistakes, especially when we aren’t directly harming others.”

    I absolutely agree with you, but the only thing missing here is the “harming others” when it comes to prostitution. I think that the women are being harmed and exploited. If you could come up with a situation where they weren’t, then I think legalizing it would be OK.

  5. Cameron

    Well, Bill Clinton didn’t make his career out of prosecuting politicians for doing things they shouldn’t be. And so he survived. So do a lot of politicos caught in sex scandals. But I think Spitzer’s done for since his whole appeal is based on being a crime fighter.

  6. Chris

    Cameron,
    I’m not denying that there is an element of hypocrisy. I just think the law and order is wrong in this case.

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t think the hypocrite criticism is being leveled fairly. How often does the media complain that Bush is a hypocrite for being the self-righteous champion of democracy despite being buddy buddy with various dictators? How about his support of the troops despite cutting their benefits and overworking them?

  7. Chris

    “I think that the women are being harmed and exploited. If you could come up with a situation where they weren’t, then I think legalizing it would be OK.”

    Ian,
    You could apply the same standards they do with porn stars. In fact, I believe they do this in other countries.

    As far as exploitation, women’s groups would say that porn stars are being exploited too. In the end, it’s just a job, and unlike really poor countries, people in America have a choice to do something else.

  8. Ian

    One major difference between porn and prostitution is who pays. Prostitutes are paid by their clients, the ones who have sex with them. Porn stars are paid by production companies who are paid by the people who purchase the porn, not by the people who have sex with them. I think that is a pretty major difference and it sort of gets to the point of what I am meaning. So say that a guy has a cast fetish, which was hilariously what the kid that Foley liked had. Now, a porn production company can say, “Hey, there is demand for porn with people wearing casts.” Then they can say, “Let’s call up such and such porn star who is always doing cast porn and have them be in the movie.” The pornstar consents to be in the movie, the movie is made, they get their paycheck (a pretty large one), and cast fetish boy can buy his film. Now, say cast fetish guy wants to find a prostitute to wear a cast for him and then have sex with him. He hires a prostitute and tells her to put on a cast. She doesn’t like wearing casts and it makes her super uncomfortable that this weirdo wants her to wear one, but well, she needs the money to make rent and fund her alcoholism/drug habit, so she consents. Pervert gets off, and she gets to keep living. You could obviously substitute cast fetishism for much worse things, but at the end of the day, this prostitute is being treated like an object and she can only say no so much before she ends up starving. Porn actually has its own awards, because in some weird way, it is a kind of art and there is a measure of quality. Not so with prostitution. Generally, not any woman can make a living in porn. Not so with prostitution.

    “As far as exploitation, women’s groups would say that porn stars are being exploited too.”

    Right, but you didn’t read what I said and it looks like you didn’t read the article I posted. Women in porn sign up to do porn because they want to. As odd as it sounds, some people dream about being in porn. The women in porn would probably argue that no, it isn’t exploitation. If a woman likes to wear casts during sex, then she can be in only movies that feature her wearing casts. If she doesn’t feel comfortable with that, she never has to make a movie like that.

    I don’t think I would go so far as to call prostitution “just a job”. Its not like prostitutes can go out one day and get a regular desk job. During the interview they get asked “Oh, what have you been doing the past 10 years?”

  9. Ian

    On an unrelated note, the House still hasn’t granted immunity to the telecoms and seem to be holding their ground.

  10. Chris

    I understood your point about prostitutes and exploitation. But is it impossible to imagine that some women would rather be prostitutes than be in some other sort of profession?

    “Prostitutes are paid by their clients, the ones who have sex with them. Porn stars are paid by production companies who are paid by the people who purchase the porn, not by the people who have sex with them.”
    But you’re still being paid to have sex with a stranger for someone’s amusement. I think the distinction is minimal and if there is one, it doesn’t change anything morally, IMO.

  11. Ian

    Yeah but I said it was the same “morally”, but not necessarily “ethically”, if that makes any sense. Your complaint was that it was legislating morality, but I don’t know if it necessarily is.