I don't know, but it's a mistake I plan to correct. Nicholas Kristof, who's sitting in for Frank Rich today, takes on the sex industry in the US, as well as the media in a terrific column. It's hard to pick out a favorite part, but this may be it for me.
When a middle-class white girl ends up controlled like this — think of Elizabeth Smart, the Utah girl who was kidnapped in 2002 and apparently did not try to escape — then everybody is outraged at the way the kidnapper manipulated her. But when the girls are black, poor and prostituted, there is either indifference or an assumption that they are consenting to the abuse.And how many times could we use that formulation to discuss any number of issues? If it doesn't hit the privileged, it's not an issue, so gods help you if you're not part of the privileged class.
“It’s about race and class,” said Ms. Lloyd, who is bewildered when she sees Amber alerts for abducted children. Last year she worked with 250 teenage girls who had been prostituted, and not one of them ever merited an Amber alert.
“If we served 250 white girls from upstate middle-class homes, we’d be rolling in money,” she added, “and we’d be changing the law.”
It's good to hear that the federal government is looking into doing more to crack down on trafficking and pimps, although the legislation won't mean much without providing resources to enforce it, and the Justice department under both Ashcroft and Gonzales seemed more interested in battling porn under unenforceable obscenity laws (when they weren't creating cells of hapless terrorists) than doing much else.
Kristof has convinced me that the best solution is the Swedish one, wherein you decriminalize the selling of sex, but prosecute the buyers of it. Yes, it will drive the market down, but it will also reduce the demand, and it places the onus on the person most responsible for the situation.
In a perfect world, where privilege wasn't an issue, and where both parties--the prostitute and the john (because there's no room for a pimp in my equation)--came to the transaction on equal footing, I wouldn't have a problem with prostitution. But we don't live in that perfect world, and the numbers don't lie.
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.Anything we can do to bring those numbers down, we should do. To do that, we will, as a society, have to examine closely who has privilege and who doesn't, and try to bring that into balance.
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.