• Tue, Mar 6 2012

I Have A Problem With The Way The ‘Millionaire Madam’ Case Is Being Reported

By now you’ve probably heard about Anna Gristina, the woman who is being charged with running a high-end prostitution business out of Manhattan. But as we read more and more about her, I can’t help but wonder how many times we’re going to see some variation of the following sentence:

During an investigation that lasted half a decade, prosecutors said they collected 100 hours of audio and video surveillance that shows Gristina provided prostitutes – some of them underage – to wealthy, powerful men.

Grsitina provided prostitutes, huh? Like another business model might provide cheeseburgers? This way of reporting the story — brought to you by local New York station WPIX — turns the prostitutes into little more than inanimate products, when the reality is that as far as we know, everyone involved in this situation was a fully participating and consenting adult, including the women working with Gristina.

The argument might be made by some assholes people who don’t understand sex work that prostitutes are products, since they’re selling parts of their bodies, but that’s a very slippery slope that I doubt we want to go down, because then we get into the question of what actually constitutes prostitution. After all, anyone with a job gets paid for the use of some part of their physical body, be it our arms and legs as construction workers or waiters or masseuses, our brains and hands as writers, our tongues and bellies as food critics, our entire bodies as professional athletes, or, as in this case, our sexual organs as prostitutes.

In other words, if women who are paid for the use of their sexual organs are prostitutes, we’re all prostitutes.

But that’s not even where I meant to go with this post! No. All I wanted to say was that Gristina isn’t “providing prostitutes” — rather, what happened here is that a circle of adults engaged in a very typical, even boring, business model, in which one person opens a business and hires other people to provide services, then customers pay for those services. It’s not at all different from the place you go to get your nails done — it’s just that it has to do with sex.

Oh, and fine, prostitution is illegal. But in case you couldn’t tell by now, I don’t agree with that letter of the law.

Anyway, my point is, as Jamie very eloquently said earlier, prostitutes are people. Not cheeseburgers. And they should be written about in accordance with that fact.

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  • Elle

    “In other words, if women who are paid for the use of their sexual organs are prostitutes, we’re all prostitutes.”
    Good god, what a mind-bogglingly offensive, anti-feminist statement. Women won’t have sex unless men spend money on them, right? Hurr hurr

    • Jessica

      That’s totally not what she’s saying. It’s in relation to this:

      “After all, anyone with a job gets paid for the use of some part of their physical body, be it our arms and legs as construction workers or waiters or masseuses, our brains and hands as writers, our tongues and bellies as food critics, our entire bodies as professional athletes, or, as in this case, our sexual organs as prostitutes.”

      As in, anyone who works is paid to use some part of their body.

  • softerforest

    Now you’re whitewashing pimping? This site is becoming an essential hate-read.

  • Anne O’Neemus

    I know it’s not the main focus of this trial but surely the point is that word “underage”? It seems like this post wouldn’t have happened, or would at least have been very different, if the defendant were some guy from Tacoma who was running a prostitution ring, involving underage girls, who were working on the streets.

    I’m surprised to see this site be so blinded by the fact the defendant is a woman running a prostitution ring of the nice, clean, agent provocateur kind. It’s way easier to support the (mistaken) impression that the further you get from heroin addicts on street corners, the nicer and purer prostitution becomes.

    I support the legalization of prostitution but largely that’s because I’d like to see pimping made a thing of the past. Along with any element of coercion it’s pretty much the most troubling thing about prostitution as it exists now-if we were able to do away with pimps we’d be able to better focus on the other problems like economic coercion.

  • BeccaTheCyborg

    Yeah, but that whole “underage” thing kind of punctures any accusations of unfairness. And the pimping.

    I support full decriminalization of sex work, but y’know, for adults, with consenting adults involved.

    • endn

      yeah, it doesn’t seem to be cleared up (probably won’t until the trial) whether or not there were children involved, in which case it’s a totally different discussion, and this post doesn’t acknowledge that at all… kind of weird…

      if it were a discussion of adult prostitution, then I think I see the point and agree with it, though it’s a little hard to see what exactly it was. Yes prostitutes are not products and the illegal status forces a lot of shady dealings and underground logistics that in turn often require a pimp or madam much to everyone’s detriment (except the pimp’s, I guess.) there are typically distinctions between pimps and madams but I think it’s also fascinating that this case is getting so much coverage because the madam in question is seen as atypical, a “normal”, a bourgeois white NY mom. any thoughts on that?