Last week, a friend sent me a link to this article (about Nassau County’s public shaming of sex work clients, a sting so-named ‘Flush the Johns’) and asked if I had any feelings about it.
I’m pretty sure it was a rhetorical question, because like any conscientious sex worker, I have lots and lots of feelings about not only this particular article, but also the practice of criminalizing and targeting clients rather than workers. I also have a lot of feelings about the use of the word “John” for clients, and the general dehumanizing attitude people have when they talk about men who buy sexual services.
Most of my feelings about these things can be summed up with exclamations of “grr,” “argh,” “graagh,” “gurrargh,” and even “YAAAARGH!” but such exclamations do not make for good, thoughtful, or even comprehensible writing.
So… there are a lot of problems with this. Obviously, the main problem is that there is occasion for stories like this to be published at all, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
My first problem is the use of the word “John.” In all my years as a sex worker, I have never once heard a hooker call her client a John. I’ve never really swapped tales of the ho life with outdoor workers, but I’m not sure if those ladies even refer to clients in such a degrading, dehumanizing way. The only people I’ve ever heard use the term were either anti-sex work civilians or police officers, two groups who generally don’t draw distinctions between the individuals involved in the sex trade, either as customers or providers.
I hate the term “John” because it slaps a generic label onto men who buy the services of my co-hookers and myself, as if they aren’t all individuals in their own right. Stripping clients of their individuality contributes to the stigma surrounding my profession: if the men who pay for sexual services aren’t individuals with normal human needs, it’s okay to demonize the legions of women and men who cater to those needs. Clients are people too, and forgetting that (or worse, deliberately ignoring it) does a disservice to everyone.
On a related note, it really, seriously bothers me to see these mugshots publicized. People go to sex workers for a number of reasons–because they are ashamed of their desires, because they don’t have time to pursue relationships in their spare time, because their partners are unwilling or unable to fulfill certain fetishes, because they are too awkward to approach nonprofessional women. Absolutely none of the reasons that motivate most men to patronize sex workers are a cause for public shaming and humiliation, and by publishing photographs of these hopeful clients, publications like New York are essentially putting 13 unfortunate men into stockades and inviting the infamously cruel townspeople of the internet to throw their most rotten tomatoes. I have a problem with this. It’s sordid, tacky, and frankly vicious and so far as we know, none of the men pictured did anything to deserve such punishment.