In fall of 2010, after I published an op-ed on the Huffington Post under my real name arguing that not all sex workers were victims of trafficking or under the control of a pimp (I certainly wasn’t), I was abruptly sent to the "rubber room," an administrative office turned holding cell for New York City’s unwanted educators. Four years after transitioning out of prostitution, winning a coveted position as a New York City Teaching Fellow, earning my master's degree in education, and giving lessons on art and creative writing at a struggling elementary school in the South Bronx, I sat in that drab room until the City could find a way to fire me. (I was tenured, so that required a hearing.)
Yes, it’s true, I had brought this scandal upon myself, but I could have never anticipated the fallout, or that my candor would make me a victim in another way. Like Spitzer, I was put on blast on the cover of the New York Post, then ridiculed in the national press. I was shamed by the City, including Michael Bloomberg himself. Ultimately, I was forced to resign from a career that I loved.... After I was fired, I couldn’t pay my rent. (Even now, freelance writing and the seminars I teach barely pay the bills.) Because of the negative publicity, I lost the part-time jobs that subsidized my teaching salary. And it would only get worse: When I surrendered my fight for my job, the Department of Education contested my unemployment, even though my resignation agreement had stipulated that they wouldn’t; this was the only reason I didn’t go to trial. I moved back in with an ex-boyfriend, falling back into an emotionally abusive relationship. I was four years in recovery for alcohol and sex addiction and 31 years old. Selling sex was out of the question, even though this option haunted me more then than it had in years.
Whenever "decent people" talk about sex workers and their clients—when people who oppose decriminalizing sex work talk about sex work—female sex workers are portrayed as victims in need of rescue and their male clients are portrayed as criminals. But it's always the male clients at the center of prostitution scandals—guys like Spitzer and GOP Sen. David Vitter—who are welcomed back into public life and given second chances. (Spitzer got a show on CNN and is running for office again in NYC; Vitter was reelected to to the Senate by "family values" voters in Louisiana.) The female sex workers who were outed or came out in the wake of these scandals are not given second chances. They are ostracized and condemned. Vitter keeps his job, Spitzer gets new jobs, and the escorts they "victimized" are persecuted and punished for the rest of their lives.
Can we stop pretending that criminalizing and stigmatizing sex work is about protecting women? It's about punishing women. The proof is on the front page of your daily paper.