Emily Bazelon and Josh Levin take readers' questions about prostitution.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
March 13 2008 4:57 PM

Sex Sells

Emily Bazelon and Josh Levin take readers' questions about prostitution.

Read more of Slate's coverage of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal.

(Continued from Page 2)

Josh Levin: Hot Topic has no doubt purchased hundreds of additional presses to accommodate this print run.



What should it say on the back of the shirt? "I paid $4,300 and all I got was this lousy T-shirt and extreme public humiliation."

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The Fam: Eek! I feel so awful for Spitzer's wife and children—but I have to say, I do not understand this pervasive "stand by your man" schtick in politics. I am struggling to understand the motivation behind agreeing to stand up with your husband under such circumstances. It would be one thing if it were months later and the couple had time to talk, get therapy, decide if they were going to stick together, etc. Am I naive? Am I missing some obvious reason that this is the standard behavior of a politico's wife?

washingtonpost.com: The Silda Spitzer Lesson: Don't quit your day job(Slate, March 12)

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Emily Bazelon: Anne Applebaum, a Washington Post columnist who is married to the defense minister of Poland, wrote a v. instructive post on Slate about this. She pointed out that if you stand up there once (or in Silda Spitzer's case, twice) then no that's it, and you don't have to explain yourself later. You say what you say to your husband in private. Personally, I don't think it's for me, and I couldn't have felt worse for Silda Spitzer, too. But I'm not sure she had any good choices.

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Washington: Having been to Amsterdam last summer, in response to earlier comments: Not many of the women appeared to be Dutch (broad generalization, but it raised questions in my mind about human trafficking and women from poor countries with little to no economic opportunities), and not all of the women were in their early 20s. In Amsterdam, as on the Internet, there was someone for everyone.

Emily Bazelon: Yes, trafficking is a considerable problem there. Whereas in Sweden, where johns are prosecuted, trafficking has dropped off to v. small numbers. I wrote about this in Slate earlier in the week—here's the link.

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TheCloudBoy: Given the caliber of clients they wished to attract, I can't believe the very poor copywriting on the Web site and how the whole thing read like something my friends and I would have cooked up in ninth grade as a joke. The whole "Marisha speaks nine languages and grew up in Russia before becoming an Esteemed Dancer" bit (paraphrased, but you know it was about that bad) had me laughing and rolling on the floor.

I mean, really people ... it's like a combination of horrible copywriting and grade school kids writing a James Bond movie script. How could a governor—and one must presume other leading businessmen—fall for this? I love the uppercase on some things they wished the place emphasis on too ... I hope each and every one of their clients is found out and hauled before a court of law to explain his actions, if not his very poor taste.

Josh Levin: Not sure I buy the logic that Spitzer's punishment should be worse because he went for a site that made a mockery of conventional sentence structure. But I certainly agree that it was strange how poorly written the Emperors' Club's promotional material was. I've always wondered the same thing about spam e-mail—wouldn't those penis enlargement pitches have a higher success rate if they read like they'd been written by a human being? Apparently the underground economy does not properly value the work of copyeditors.

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Roseland, N.J.: Doesn't it disturb anyone else that this story is being used as a pivot to discuss how one goes about hiring a prostitute, how much one should expect to pay, what they'll do for the money? Is this doing the married women of America such a huge favor here? It's not like it's an integral part of reporting the story—it's just prurient interest (not that that isn't the very best kind of interest!)—and somehow everyone's been given license to stop being a political reporter and start pretending they're a hybrid Howard Stern/Dr. Drew.

Emily Bazelon: You're right, some of the coverage is inevitably prurient. (A low: The NY Observer story asking a bunch of women what THEY would do for Eliot Spitzer for $5,500.) But some of the explanations about how the sex trade works, and what the working conditions are like for women, have been entirely worth reading, I think. This is a part of the lives of some poor women, and I'm glad to be learning about it. I for one am not quite sure what I think about prostitution, and learning more facts about it is helping me make up my mind.

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Washington: I cannot believe as a woman (not you, Josh) and as a descendant of one of the most beloved chief judges of the D.C. circuit, you are defending the right of women to open up their bodies for cash—but then again, you have a political reporter on the campaign trail who trashed his own mother in a book. Maybe at Slate, anything goes. Kind of sad.

Emily Bazelon: Well that's nice about my grandfather. Not fair about John Dickerson's book, though! He wrote about his mother with a great deal of love and compassion. Did you read it? As for me, I'm not sure I'm defending anything. I'm asking questions about which legal regime keeps women who sell sex safest. I'm still not sure of the answer.

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Bonn, Germany: Most civilized countries tolerate prostitution; where it is forbidden, prostitution will go underground and come under the control of criminal elements. It was the same with prohibition in the 1920s, which made the Mafia into the power it is to this day. It is not true that all prostitutes are forced into the profession—the call girl who got Spitzer into trouble certainly did so under her own free will. Would it not make sense to legalize prostitution in the U.S., but punish those who force women into prostitution?

Emily Bazelon: I'm not sure Prohibition is the right analogy, but it's certainly ONE analogy. Punishing pimps, if that's why you mean by force women into prostitution, seems like an unalloyed good. The problem is making charges against them stick. They move around a lot, they use threats to make women fear testifying against them, etc. Law enforcement is not an easy job.

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Richmond, Va.: I'm probably the opposite of a lot of people who wonder why it's still illegal—I wonder why it's still around. That world that thought of women as vessels and chattel is what should be gone, not the illegality. With swinging parties, craigslist and friends with benefits, no one has to pay for cheap sex anymore.