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Working Girl: There’s a Fine Line between Morality and Law

Just a Regular Working Girl: Moralistic Values Gleaned from My Time in Chicago’s Seedy Underworld

Moral: There’s a Fine Line Between Morality and Law

 

Is a red light district the answer? Image by MikeCogh at Flickr Commons

Is a red light district the answer? Image by MikeCogh at Flickr Commons

My boss Caroline was looking at the New York Times, but only pretending to read it. She was distracted because one of her clients had threatened to get her arrested. It wasn’t the first time this had happened.

She sighed and said, “Do you think what I do should be illegal?”

She was an escort.

I paused in the act of scrubbing the inside of her fridge. All her food was spread out on the counter, slowly coming to room temperature while I, working as her assistant, accomplished this most non-essential of cleaning tasks. Caroline’s big, mascara-caked eyes focused on me and didn’t blink.

“No,” I said. “Of course not.”

It was a simple, straightforward, honest answer. But Caroline was unimpressed with things that were simple, straightforward and honest.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. She was impressed with things like that. She was just suspicious of them. Her suspicion tended to dissolve her respect, like acid eating into metal.

“Come on,” she said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how illegal do you think it should be?”

“With 10 being most illegal?” I said. “Zero. I mean, I think certain kinds of prostitution should be illegal. Like, manipulating women into it, or selling them into the trade, or pimps who exploit people. But you’re doing it of your own free will. You’ve made your own choices, and you’ve made it a career, and if someone wants to give you money because you’re good at it, why is it the law’s business?”

“Exactly!” Caroline said. “I’m not hurting anyone! Why do they care?”

I nodded, but didn’t say anything. Now that she’d said she wasn’t hurting anyone, I wasn’t sure I agreed. She had a group of women working under her, who she sent clients too–sometimes clients she’d never seen and didn’t trust. She glamorized the life to these girls, promising them money and self-confidence and money and independence and money and high-rolling with VIPs and money, but most of the girls I’d met were young, insecure, and had turned to prostitution as a last resort.

To her credit, Caroline didn’t think of herself as exploiting her girls. She really thought she was helping them. She was just doing it in the only way she knew how.

 

Moral: If a sex worker offers to help you get established in life . . . no.

 

Back to the topic of hurting people. Caroline had confessed to me that sometimes, if the client asked, she did the job without a condom. And what about the countless wives and kids of the men she saw, and the men themselves? Most of them were married. I couldn’t judge whether she was hurting anyone there. Each transaction would be so completely different, with different relational dynamics at play.

Maybe I should amend my vote of zero.

But I didn’t believe that what Caroline did merited jail time. Ten years later, I still don’t.

 

Moral: Just because something offends your delicate moral sensibilities, doesn’t mean someone should suffer jail time because of it.

 

“Actually,” I said, reaching to scrub the back of the fridge where something red had splashed once upon a time, “I think there should be laws enacted that protect people like you. I mean, prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. It’s not going anywhere. But if it was regulated, just think how much safer you would be.”

Another point I still believe. Granted, more severe crimes like murder and rape have been happening throughout human history, too. That doesn’t mean they should be legal. But legalizing and regulating murder or rape won’t make anyone any safer.

“OH MY GOD!” Caroline said. “I KNOW! It would be so great if cops could be our allies instead of our enemies. Then we’d actually have someone to call if things turned ugly.”

As it was, Caroline was usually on her own if things turned ugly. She could call her girls, but they lived all over town and couldn’t get there in a pinch. She had a bouncer neighbor, but he wasn’t always the most reliable fellow. Pimps were out of the question. Their “protection” came at too steep a price.

“And if it was legal,” Caroline said, “they could issue prostitution licenses, have mandatory STD tests, and there could be standard procedures for screening clients, and making sure they were legit.”

Screening clients as thoroughly as possible was Caroline’s best protection.

Even so, I knew she didn’t always screen them as thoroughly as possible. Nine times out of ten, she did. But there was always that one time when she was feeling lazy and just wanted the money.

 

Question: If prostitution were legalized and regulated, would more women be drawn to it?

Ruminations on the answer: Probably. There would be some women who saw it as a great opportunity, and would be reassured by the added safety. However, it would take a long time for prostitution to lose its stigma in the US. So maybe the majority of women it would attract would be lured to prostitution one way or another, regardless of legality. (Ex: In Colorado, where I live, marijuana is legal. But this didn’t create a sudden wave of people smoking pot who never had before. All it did was make existing smokers less concerned about hiding, and freer about enjoying themselves.)

 

Moral: There’s a fine line between morality and law.

 

Making prostitution illegal is actually another form of sexual repression and control. We’re legislating what consenting adults can and cannot do with their sexualities. “Consent” is the key word here. No consent means a violation is taking place. I’m not saying a prostitute like Caroline doesn’t hurt anyone. I’m saying that’s a moral issue, not a legal one. Like cheating on your spouse.

And Caroline’s work did have its upsides. She made a very healthy living for herself. She had several repeat clients who were disabled, and didn’t have any outlets for sex other than with her. Some of her clients would talk to her like she was their therapist. Some were so lonely, she was the only person they felt welcome with.

 

Moral: One person’s sin is another’s salvation.

 

Caroline pretended to read the paper again while I piled all her food back into her fridge. “Well,” she said, “I’m pretty good at staying under the law’s radar. I mean, there’s the occasional client like the guy today, who threatens me with the police or the Feds. But that’s why I do check-ups on my clients. So when they threaten me, I can threaten to call their families and tell them the truth.”

It was pretty clear to me even then that in our society, prostitution would always be a system that ran on the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. All of life is pretty much pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, but it’s pretty starkly illustrated in a business where people chase sex and money, and threaten each other with incarceration, violence, blackmail, extortion, and other things your local priest would frown upon.

Even if it was legal and regulated, that would still happen. The nature of the business wouldn’t change. At least, not overnight.

What do you think? Should prostitution be legal or not? Tweet me and share what you think. I want to hear all different opinions on this.
***

L. Marrick is a historical fantasy writer and freelance copywriter. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. She eats too much chocolate and still doesn’t believe downward dog is supposed to be a restful yoga pose. You can connect with her at either of her websites, and follow her on Twitter @LMarrick.


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