Escort Prostitution: A Response to Tom Vannah, Editor of the Valley Advocate

On March 4, Tom Vannah, editor of the Valley Advocate, took a few minutes to voice his displeasure with NoPornNorthampton on his WHMP radio show (listen to the mp3). We have been bringing Mr. Vannah large amounts of information about the sex industry since 2006. We have asked the Advocate to drop ads for escort services and other commercial sex enterprises. Unfortunately, Mr. Vannah believes this is a matter of freedom of speech. Any compassion he might feel for people in the sex industry or the community at large is not as important.

Mr. Vannah concedes that “there is some percentage of people who are not willing participants in the sex industry”, but believes that if the Advocate refuses to accept Massage/Escort ads, this will unacceptably crimp “artistic freedom”. He mentions Mapplethorpe pictures as an example. How dropping ads for commercial sex enterprises will compel the Advocate to turn away Mapplethorpe pictures is not clear to us.

First, NoPornNorthampton has a deep respect for the First Amendment, with some 60+ articles that touch on it in some way.

Second, the First Amendment does not apply in this situation. We are not calling for the government to censor commercial sex ads out of the Advocate. We are calling on members of the Advocate, as private citizens, to exercise their discretion about what to publish. The Advocate’s sister publication, the Gazette, has no problem with telling NoPornNorthampton what it can and cannot say in an advertisement. In 2006, for example, the Gazette refused to let us run an ad with the word “condom” in it. (The goal was to inform citizens of the fact that used condoms and other hazardous trash have been found outside the store in Kittery, Maine.)

Third, the First Amendment does not transform an illegal activity into a legal or acceptable one. In Orlando, police investigators report that “We’ve never called anyone dealing with these ads who was not providing prostitution services.” It is almost certainly the case that many, if not most of the Massage/Escort ads in the Advocate are promoting illegal businesses. How else can a person reasonably interpret an ad that promotes “FOREIGN FANTASIES…Everything Goes…InOut…GFE”, where GFE means “girl friend experience”? (According to MSNBC, the full “girl friend experience” can entail “sex without condoms”.)

Did the publisher of the Orlando Weekly claim that the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, which busted them for aiding prostitution, was motivated by the Weekly’s past criticism of the MBI? Sure, and we didn’t make that claim hard to find. We linked to a story about it in the “See Also” section of this post. The fact remains that the Orlando Weekly does appear to have aided and profited from prostitution. To complain about the motivation of the police is an attempt at distraction, as are Mr. Vannah’s claims that we care more about attracting attention to ourselves than to the issue. There are many, many less stressful ways to attract attention to ourselves, ways that won’t invite people to call us “fascists” and hope we leave town. We do this work because someone needs to care.

As for somehow tarring NoPornNorthampton as “white privileged yuppies”, we’re the ones trying to defend the interests of those who are not white privileged yuppies. White privileged male Tom Vannah is the one insisting on his right not to exercise judgment and compassion about which enterprises his private media outlet chooses to profit from.

In his March 4 broadcast and in an earlier broadcast, Mr. Vannah has tried to lessen his personal responsibility by saying we should plead our case with the publisher and/or the Tribune Company. We are in fact in communication with the publishing staff. However, Mr. Vannah’s responsibility remains. These ads contribute to his salary, and his strident claims that this is a First Amendment issue appear to be influencing the publishing side. If Mr. Vannah changed his mind, we believe it would have a profound impact.

If we have failed to exercise “due diligence” or the “proper steps”, as Mr. Vannah claims, we would be happy to know just what those steps are. We invited Mr. Vannah to dialogue with us privately last year. We received no response. There are over 45 articles in our Prostitution category. How much evidence does Mr. Vannah require before conceding the obvious, that the Advocate almost certainly abets and profits from prostitution, and that prostitution is a miserable and dangerous job for most women?

Lest there be any confusion about exactly what we’re objecting to, it’s the ads for commercial sex enterprises, not “personal ads”, as erroneously stated in the summary on WHMP’s website. We emailed Mr. Vannah to correct this on Friday evening. So far there’s been no correction.

Mr. Vannah may find it irritating or embarrassing to receive printouts from our website at WHMP or his office, but so far that’s the only thing that seems to be getting his attention. Rest assured these printouts are on 100% recycled paper. If it’s trees he’s worried about, they’re safe.

While a few women may choose a life of prostitution in a truly voluntary fashion, the reality for most is a history of sexual and/or child abuse, separation from their family and/or country, and poverty. Addictions to drugs or alcohol are common. They are routinely lied to, coerced, abused, threatened, and blackmailed (e.g. ‘I’ll hurt your family back in the Ukraine if you don’t cooperate’).

When a “progressive” outlet like the Advocate runs ads for commercial sex enterprises, it not only publicizes them but legitimizes them. It also puts a big dent in the Advocate’s moral authority. If the Advocate truly wants to
be a friend to underdogs, it needs to side with them over callous profiteers.

Sweden’s successful experience with combating prostitution is worth studying. Not only have they improved conditions for a badly oppressed group of women, their campaign has produced benefits in other areas. Quoting Marie De Santis, director of the Women’s Justice Center/Centro de Justicia Para Mujeres, “Sweden’s law enforcement community has found that the prostitution legislation benefits them in dealing with all sex crimes, particularly in enabling them to virtually wipe out the element of organized crime that plagues other countries where prostitution has been legalized or regulated.”

Prostitution is not a “victimless” crime, nor should it be seen in isolation from other criminal activity. A business that cares about women and the community should not seek profits from prostitution. The only effective rebuttal Mr. Vannah could make is to prove to us that every Massage/Escort ad in the Advocate is for a legitimate, non-exploitative business. For all his heated rhetoric, this he does not do, nor do we think he can.

Email Mr. Vannah and call Gazette publisher Aaron Julien to let them know what you think.

See also:

Prostitution: Factsheet on Human Rights Violations
As recently as 1991, police in a southern California community closed all rape reports made by prostitutes and addicts, placing them in a file stamped “NHI.” The letters stand for the words “No Human Involved.” (Linda Fairstein, Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape, 1993, New York, William Morrow.)…

The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years (M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes, Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133) or 14 years (D.Kelly Weisberg, 1985, Children of the Night: A Study of Adolescent Prostitution, Lexington, Mass, Toronto). Most of these 13 or 14 year old girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. Others were “traditional wives” without job skills who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and their children. (Denise Gamache and Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1990)…

Estimates of the prevalence of incest among prostitutes range from 65% to 90%. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon Annual Report in 1991 stated that: 85% of prostitute/clients reported history of sexual abuse in childhood; 70% reported incest. The higher percentages (80%-90%) of reports of incest and childhood sexual assaults of prostitutes come from anecdotal reports and from clinicians working with prostitutes (interviews with Nevada psychologists cited by Patricia Murphy, Making the Connections: women, work, and abuse, 1993, Paul M. Deutsch Press, Orlando, Florida; see also Rita Belton, “Prostitution as Traumatic Reenactment,” 1992, International Society for Traumatic Stress Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes,” Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133; C. Bagley and L Young, 1987, “Juvenile Prostitution and child sexual abuse: a controlled study,” Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, Vol 6: 5-26…

Pimps target girls or women who seem naive, lonely, homeless, and rebellious. At first, the attention and feigned affection from the pimp convinces her to “be his woman.” Pimps ultimately keep prostituted women in virtual captivity by verbal abuse – making a woman feel that she is utterly worthless: a toilet, a piece of trash; and by physical coercion – beatings and the threat of torture. 80% to 95% of all prostitution is pimp-controlled. (Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995, New York, New York University Press)…

62% reported having been raped in prostitution.
73% reported having experienced physical assault in prostitution.
72% were currently or formerly homeless.
92% stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately.
(Melissa Farley, Isin Baral, Merab Kiremire, Ufuk Sezgin, “Prostitution in Five Countries: Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder” (1998) Feminism & Psychology 8 (4): 405-426…

A Canadian Report on Prostitution and Pornography concluded that girls and women in prostitution have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the national average. (Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution, 1985, Pornography and Prostitution in Canada 350.)

In one study, 75% of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide. Prostituted women comprised 15% of all completed suicides reported by hospitals. (Letter from Susan Kay Hunter, Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Jan 6, 1993, cited by Phyllis Chesler in “A Woman’s Right to Self-Defense: the case of Aileen Carol Wuornos,” in Patriarchy: Notes of an Expert Witness, 1994, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine.)

Prostitution Research & Education: How Prostitution Works
Real sexual relationships are not hard to find. There are plenty of adults of both sexes who are willing to have sex if someone treats them well, and asks. But there lies the problem. Some people do not want an equal, sharing relationship. They do not want to be nice. They do not want to ask. They like the power involved in buying a human being who can be made to do almost anything.

Orlando Weekly Drops Adult-Services Ads in Wake of Police Sting; “Operation Weekly Shame”

Orlando Sentinel: “Weekly’s publisher: Arrests are payback” (10/23/07)
“When the video comes out, it will be telling because our officers tell them about specific sex acts they perform for money and ask how they can get that across better to their clientele,” Zambouros said…

“First Amendment rights do not protect anyone from committing a crime,” he said.

The Village Voice Earns $80,000/Month from Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and other Adult Ads (explicit language)
[Manny, a former pimp,] says it’s not difficult for a pimp to recruit his harem.

“You don’t have to tie a girl up — you just keep her high.”

…Betty looks Vanessa over and observes that the more decrepit a hooker looks, the more they get picked up. Johns see vulnerability; they see a weakness, they see a five-dollar blow job…

…”If [prostitutes] have good help, it is very possible to recover,” [Dr. Patrick Carnes, a sexual disorders specialist,] says. “The biggest problem is lack of resources.”

…In terms of social programs and community education, Mitchell believes prostitution is where domestic violence was 15 years ago. She wants to educate people about the reality of prostitution as she knows it…

“[The police] believe women are more of the problem,” Mitchell says. “They don’t quite get it yet that if they get rid of the men customers, the women aren’t going to be there because the money won’t be there.”

MSNBC Investigates Human Trafficking and Prostitution in the US; Valley Advocate Advertises “Foreign Fantasies” Where “Everything Goes”

Ask the Valley Advocate’s New Owner to Drop the Sex Ads

“New York Press No Longer Marketing Arm for Prostitution/Trafficking”

Another Victory for NOW-NYC: New York Magazine Drops Sex Ads
One would think that this would be exactly the kind of exploitation the [Village] Voice would revel in exposing. But because the Voice is free, it apparently needs the revenue brought in by, this week, 10 pages of these ads.

And so its press release yammers on about how our freedoms are “under attack by the Bush administration,” and makes NOW sound like the Taliban, and finally trots out the same pathetic excuse New York once made: “If there is evidence that any advertiser in our pages engaged in…sex slavery…” Blah blah blah.

It’s hard to be part of the solution, when you’re part of the problem.

S.M. Berg: “Hey, progressives! Cathouse got your tongue?”

Belltown Messenger: “Greed, Lust and Ink”

The Science Behind Pornography Addiction
[Performers in the sex industry] have high rates of substance abuse, typically alcohol and cocaine, depression, borderline personality disorder which is a particularly serious disorder and dissociative identity disorder which used to be called multiple personality disorder. The experience I find most common among the performers is that they have to be drunk, high or dissociated in order to go to work. Their work environment is particularly toxic. One study on strippers indicated that they were likely to be punched, slapped, grabbed, called cunt and whore and to be followed home or stalked. Not surprisingly, these women often work with bodyguards. This live form of pornography causes violence and the customers receiving these Permission-Giving Beliefs become carriers of these beliefs back to their homes, onto their jobs, into the street, onto the school yard. There they encounter women and children who do not have bodyguards.

The terrible work life of the pornography performer is often followed by an equally terrible home life. They have an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease including HIV, domestic violence and have about a 25% chance of making a marriage that lasts as long as 3 years.

Carolyn McKenzie: Undercover with the Viewing Booths; Disease, Intoxicants Prevalent Among Strip Dancers (explicit language)
I’ve had wives call me and say, “I’m reading the credit card bill, and there’s all these strange expenses on it, places I’ve never heard of.” Well, those places are the cover organizations for the clubs, or the massage parlors, or lingerie services that their husbands have been frequenting. The next question I get is, “Well do you think I need to get a physical check-up?” And I say, “Yes, you do.” I can’t tell you how many of them call me back and say they have turned up positive for an STD. I also want to tell you about these 39 women that we have helped to get out of the industry. Out of that number of 39 women, only 6% were married. 90% were single moms trying to support their kids… 75% of them had STD’s when we took them in for their medical check-ups. 16% had felony records that they were working with and 25% had misdemeanors. 95% of them were using drugs and alcohol, and three of them had addictions so severe that we had to put them in long term rehab programs.

“Waitressing, I cleaned the floors and I own a box of men’s wedding rings that I found on the floor.”
I went back to the strip bars to make money. I cannot tell you the lie and the fantasy that it is for men. Waitressing, I cleaned the floors and I own a box of men’s wedding rings that I found on the floor…

The degradation and inferiority and humiliation of being presented as two tits and a hole for entertainment was not as bad as the sexual harassment I received from the management of these places. Customers are not allowed to touch you, but management can and does. You cannot complain to the Labor Board because they say you put yourself there willingly, and usually it’s under the table. I felt worthless…

Former Stripper Tells Easthampton Hearing about the Life: It Stinks
Harrison then told the story of her eight years working in strip bars in four states, including Massachusetts. Her story, which she said was not for the “squeamish,” included harassment by clients and management and the prevalence of venereal disease in strip bars.

State of Minnesota, Report of the Attorney General’s Working Group on the Regulation of Sexually Oriented Businesses, Office of the Attorney General (June 6, 1989)
This is a seminal work which investigates the secondary effects of adult businesses from a number of different research perspectives. Not only is the effect on crime included, so is the effect on neighborhood disorganization and disorder, as are the effects on property values addressed. The New York study also concluded that business locations with adult-oriented businesses had a significant loss of sales tax collections (42%) as compared to control areas. Studies of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Los Angeles are cited. RICO and organized criminal elements of the industry are also discussed. It was found that dramatic increases in crime rates were directly associated with the introduction of adult-oriented businesses into any community studied. Evidence is articulated indicating that property crimes were forty to fifty percent higher, and sex-related crimes were found to be seventy to as much as 500 percent higher–depending upon the municipality. Other non-crime community issues are also discussed.

Crime, Nuisances Motivate Cities to Regulate the Location of Adult Entertainment Uses
The City of Kent, Washington had similar experiences with the Roadside Inn Tavern. Prior to its forced closing, the Roadside Inn offered topless dancing and table dancing in conjunction with its selling of alcoholic beverages. Kent police investigations conducted in the summer of 1981 revealed a very high incidence of criminal activity at the Roadside, related primarily to sex crimes (prostitution) and drug related offenses. As a result of 57 hours of on-premise investigation, 162 charges were brought against 21 persons by the Kent Police Department. The report filed by the police stated: “The total time involved, and the number of charges, break down to a time expenditure of slightly more than 20 minutes per charge, attesting to the relative ease by which the subject of prostitution arises within an environment such as the Roadside.” In September, 1981, the Roadside Inn Tavern was closed by the City of Kent.

Seattle, WA, 1989 (PDF)
Seattle had eight such dance halls (termed “adult cabarets”), six established since 1987…

The increased number of cabarets resulted in citizen complaints, including phone calls, letters (from individuals and merchant associations) and several petitions with hundreds of signatures. Protests cited decreased property values; increased insurance rates; fears of burglary, vandalism, rape, assaults, drugs and prostitution; and overall neighborhood deterioration. The report noted that patrons of these cabarets most often are not residents of nearby neighborhoods. Without community identity, behavior is less inhibited. Increased police calls to a business, sirens and traffic hazards from police and emergency vehicles are not conducive to healthy business and residential environments.

A Study of Crime and Adult Entertainment, Police Department Memorandum, City of Tucson, Arizona, (May 11, 1990) (explicit)
In sum, a covert observational study. Investigating officers found that many of employees of the adult-oriented businesses were prostitutes who were offering private shows where customers could, for a price, observe them performing live sex acts. For “the right price” customers would be allowed to “touch the dancers.” Undercover operatives also learned that customers could hire the dancers to engage in acts of prostitution, and in some instances, these acts actually occurred on the premises with the knowledge of the management. Underage females were also being hired to dance nude.
The report also confirmed many health-related perspectives: Adult entertainment establishments provide an environment and atmosphere that is conducive to high risk sexual behaviors and practices with respect to sexually transmitted diseases (HIV and hepatitis B included).