Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Eliot Spitzer as anti-sex work crusader and as sex worker client

Eliot Spitzer has a track record of breaking up prostitution rings, and now his behavior has led to the breaking up of the prostitution ring in which he had an involvement. Some might very well argue that the anti-prostitution crusader ended up having a psychological meltdown with the consequence of not only punishing himself for behavior that he significantly helped to criminalize, but to punish as well those women who accompanied him on his crusade.

In 2004 Eliot Spitzer as the New York State Attorney General was involved in the attempt to break up an international sex tourism organization based in Queens. According to the New York Times, he began to listen “to the entreaties of women’s advocates long frustrated by state laws that fell short of dealing with a sex trade expanding rapidly across borders.” And it was at this point that he embraced the idea that in order to effectively combat prostitution one had to “go after the men who seek out prostitutes”. However, in order to engage in such combat in New York, there had to be significant changes in the law. Such proposed legal changes met with defeat.

“We had tremendous difficulty trying to get this law passed, year after year,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of Equality Now. “Our only hope was for Eliot Spitzer to be elected governor.”

“He understood,” she added. “He got it, unlike hundreds of other politicians and law enforcement officials that we talked to.”

She and Ms. Leidholdt said the governor put his muscle behind the legislation, detailing top aides to work with sponsors of piecemeal bills that had languished, to consult with a coalition of human rights and women’s groups, and to lobby labor unions whose support was won through provisions addressing the trafficking and exploitation of workers.

This legislation went into effect on November 1, 2007. According to Spitzer’s former aide, Ken Franzblau, Spitzer wholeheartedly supported the bill and in Franzblau’s terms, the reason that the bill was so important was that

“In fact, the demand is really the lower-hanging fruit,” he added. “The johns are really afraid of being caught. The idea is that if we get some real penalties, and get D.A.’s to insist on them, we really could create a deterrent to this.”

As for Taina Bien-Aimé present feelings about Eliot Spitzer, “He was our hero”.

Of course, it is hard to fathom the psychological dynamics of Eliot Spitzer. Was Spitzer a cynical political manipulator zealously campaigning against prostitution while in his private behavior supporting sex work and sex workers? Or did he start out as a crusading true believer and then possibly as a result of his involvement in anti-sex work prosecutions become converted to that of a sex work client?

If in some sense he was converted, the dankprofessor does not hold this to be surprising. Many persons engaging in various forms of the regulating of criminal behavior end up adopting the behaviors of those they are attempting to regulate. Bribery and various forms of theft is an occupational hazard of police work. Vice officers regulating prostitution often do not share the disdain held by the public toward prostitutes, and, in fact, it is not a rarity for police to engage in sex with prostitutes. Such can occur for what many would regard as more serious violations, such as in police becoming informants for hire or assassins for hire by the mob. And there have been notorious cases in the area of arson in which arson investigators end up engaging in investigations of the results of their own arsonous and often lethal behavior.

Whatever the Spitzer dynamic may have been, the result has been betrayal and pain for all too many persons- the anti-prostitution advocates he politically supported; the sex worker who he hired; his wife and family, and a myriad of others.

And the dankprofessor wishes to make it clear that he supports the rights of sex workers to do their sex work; the dankprofessor regards prostitution as a form of commercial consensual sex that the government should not have the right to prohibit. Sex worker groups have spoken out on the Spitzer matter and sex worker advocates based in New York have issued the following statement

Desiree Alliance, http://www.desireealliance.org/-

WHAT ABOUT KRISTEN? New York Sex Worker Organizations Respond to Spitzer Scandal

…As sex worker advocates, we are concerned about the representation and fate of “Kristen” and sex workers who are being thrust into the spotlight because of the investigation into the Governor. We also share the widespread concern for Governor Spitzer’s family.

Sex worker organizations urge the press and the public to focus on the violation of sex workers rights and the need to change these laws and policies, rather than simply on the story of one individual who has purchased sexual services.

“Nobody is talking about the impact of this story on ‘Kristen’ and other women, men and trans people who are currently working in the sex industry,” Shakti Ziller of SWANK in NYC added, “Prostitutes disproportionately face punitive action after arrest as compared to clients. Whether or not she will face prison time, “Kristen” has been dragged into the spotlight and will be subjected to public humiliation. Shouldn’t the police emphasis be on catching perpetrators of violent crime and protecting sex workers – not exposing adults who are consenting to a transaction? All she did was try to make a living.”

Governor Spitzer took a lead role in developing the NY State Anti-Trafficking Law. Over the objections of advocates who worked directly with victims of human trafficking and with sex workers, Governor Spitzer pushed through penalty enhancements against clients of all sex workers. Sex worker advocates fought against such provisions because these policies drive people who need help further underground.

The press has picked up on the relationship that inter-state trafficking laws (under the Mann Act) have to this case. This connection illustrates a point that sex worker advocates have been making for a long time: Laws against inter-state transportation for the purposes of commercial sex are too often used for punishing people working as sex workers and those who work with and patronize them.

“The criminalization of prostitution breeds …hypocrisy and makes our politicians (and other public figures) vulnerable,” says Carol Leigh of Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA. “This vulnerability exists until our society recognizes that consensual sexual behavior is private and these private acts should no longer be criminalized.”

“Many of our clients are politicians, judges, lawyers and even police,” Monica S., 26 of Brooklyn said. “It’s odd that they spend so much effort putting us into jail, but then turn around and give us their money in exchange for sex. Why do they think they won’t get caught breaking the laws that they make?”

The commentary on Dealbreaker.com, a Wall-Street news site, says about Wall-street’s anti-Spitzer reaction to the ‘Client 9′ story: “‘There is a God’ was the first thought on Wall Street. The next thought is, ‘Please don’t let it be revealed that I’m Lucky Number 7.”

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 13, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, prostitution, sex, sex work, sex workers, sexual politics | Leave a comment

“Vag Club” depicts giant vagina at Harvard

The Harvard’s College Women’s Center is presenting an art exhibition which focuses on body issues. The Harvard Crimson reported that the “largest piece in the show is an over-sized photograph of a vagina, complete with pubic hair and a manifesto. The work, entitled “The Vag Club,” connects final clubs to the vulva and is just one of the many works that illuminates how art can address social issues at Harvard.”The dankprofessor was not surprised to learn that of all the art exhibited, “The Vag Club” has received by far the most attention. In fact, it is apparently quite difficult to avoid. As the Harvard Crimson reports-

“The Vag Club,” for instance, is not a reiteration of hackneyed sentiments about the body. As people walked by the over-sized photograph of a vagina, they expressed shock, enthusiastic approval, and understanding. Jenna M. Mellor ’08, who created the piece in response to an assignment for Visual and Environmental Studies 65: “Tactics-Art, Politics and Performance,” admits that she wanted her work to border on absurdity. “Vaginas do not always treat vaginas nicely. In fact it seems as though vaginas hate vaginas,” one manifesto statement reads. “Non vaginas promise to bring the vagina lots of wet vaginas with big tits,” another asserts. These strong declarations help elicit the reflective reactions that the artist had intended.

“I was shocked to see a vagina that big in my face. It’s not something that we’re used to seeing,” says Natasha Alford ’08, who calls “The Vag Club” her favorite piece. “But as somebody who frequents final clubs, I never really made that explicit connection, how body and spaces are connected. It was really thought-provoking.”

The “Vag Club” manifesto creates a linkage between the Harvard elite final clubs with their very restrictive membership which is sex segregated and predominantly male to the very restrictive policies regarding entry into vaginal space. As the Harvard Crimson puts it: “Both are exclusive sites to which access is desired by many but granted to few.”

However, it is unclear as to how far “The Vag” manifesto wishes to take this comparison. There has been much opposition to the sex segregation as practiced by the Harvard final clubs and some discard these final clubs as archaic fraternal organization, or to put it more bluntly, they are fraternities wrapping themselves in a pseudo-sophisticated rhetoric. In other words, final clubs should be demystified and discarded.

If one takes the vaginal comparison seriously then one could argue that vaginas should be demystified and be open to pedestrian entry. If such be the case, “Vag Club” art and/or manifesto is not really needed since pornography often effectively functions to demystify and pedestrian vaginal entry is considered to be axiomatic in the porn world.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 13, 2008 Posted by | ethics, feminism, Harvard University, higher education, pornography, sex, sexual politics | Leave a comment


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