By Corinna Barnard
Saturday, May 21, 2011
A now-former IMF banker, a former governor and former reality-TV star made it a huge week for sex crimes and scandal. Catholic bishops tried to distance themselves from it all by deflecting blame to the permissive culture of the 1960s.
A less conspicuous story about sexual activity, by economics researchers at the University of Arkansas, also came to my e-mail this week. While under the radar of other events, it's likely to throw a log on the controversy burning over whether to legalize the U.S. market for commercial sex or crack down on it harder.
This study finds that affluent U.S. women are making "rational" choices to engage in various illegal forms of prostitution. Not street walking or brothel work; but as highly paid escorts or over the Internet.
The summary of the study that I read didn't mention the numbers of women surveyed, so it's hard to know how serious a trend this is. The summary focused on the methodology of the researchers in determining how women made their choice.
It didn't say if a deteriorating economy might be affecting this "rational choice" and I wondered about that. After all, a lot of homeowners are in the sickening situation of fearing foreclosure and a lot of grad students can't find jobs. I e-mailed the question to one of the researchers, but haven't heard back.
My point in asking it is not to deny that educated, intelligent women might choose to provide transactional sex. Plenty of self-described sex workers insist on their right to make a living their way and they have a vigorous advocacy movement to support them.
My point was to probe the idea of a "rational basis" in this employment decision. Plenty of people look back on certain parts of their working lives--particularly when quite young--and wonder.
I, for instance, thought little, the summer after college, of working for the university's medical school as a door-to-door surveyor of community sex practices for a major mental-health study. It was all very upright and academic; with a special way of choosing respondents, scripted questions and multiple-choice boxes to fill in.
But one memory--of sitting alone with an elderly gentleman in his living room and asking him about his favorite sex positions--now seems utterly surreal. (In fact, maybe it never happened and I was just watching too many Luis Bunuel movies at the time.)
Speaking of cinema, how about "City Island?" In that film a young woman takes a job in a strip club after her college revoked her scholarship. She doesn't want her parents to learn of her humiliation. Instead of telling them what happened she tries to make up the money by swinging around a pole and striking provocative poses. She wasn't "trafficked" into that job, but you couldn't say her decision was altogether rational.
"I regret" stories also routinely come from young female entertainers who stumble across the fuzzy--but punishing--line between acceptable show-biz and smut. This week's fallen star is Danielle Staub, a former cast member of the reality TV show "Real Housewives of New Jersey."
Staub just suffered the humiliation of having pictures of herself working as a stripper get circulated on the Internet. To her credit, Staub is standing up for her right to make mistakes and move on. She says she has left her stripper job and is seeking treatment for psychological problems stemming from childhood sexual abuse. I wish her well.
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