The Exploitation of Sufiah Yousof

I was looking at Al Arabiya recently, when I came across an article on child prodigy turned sex-worker, Sufiah Yousof.

Now, I am well aware of the fact that prostitution is frowned upon in all major religions, but the wording of this story, and many of the comments following it, struck me as cheap and exploitative. Let’s weep crocodile tears for Sufiah Yousof while enjoying the furtive thrill of seeing a good girl from a Muslim family go bad! What could possibly be wrong with that?

It’s easy to reduce Ms. Yousof to a two-dimensional caricature, but I suspect that her story is as complicated as any story of lived experience. Of course, a nuanced portrayal most likely means that you do not get to make a buck and/or a self-righteous fuss over the matter at hand.

Allowing people to make choices means that, every once in a while, they will do things that go against one’s ideology, perhaps even against one’s spirit. This is why people everywhere (not just in the Muslim world) are so fond of making examples out of women who stray from the fold. Women have long been regarded as property in many societies, and, in many cases, have been taught to regard themselves, their daughters, and sisters as property as well. And who wants “damaged goods”? Right?

In many ways, Sufiah’s story reminds me of the story of Britney Spears, another “good girl” gone “bad.” I am old enough to remember the days when Britney’s much-publicized virginity was the stuff of hotly-traded soundbytes and teasing magazine spreads. We just love to watch those good girls come tumbling off their public pedestals, do we not?

Let me state this loud and clear: a woman’s sexuality is not public property. What she chooses to do with it is between herself and God, if she believes in God, that is.

Using another person’s private life as a chance to score a cheap point about “the loose morals of today” or what have you is, at the very best, cruel.

I do not wish to speculate too much on Sufiah’s upbringing and the reason for her lifestyle choices. She was a prodigy, and such gifts come with all sorts of string attached. Her father was recently arrested on charges of sexual assault, and one has to wonder if assault is something Sufiah has had to endure as well, but ultimately, this is a matter that only she can testify to.

Perhaps she is happy doing what she does. Perhaps she is not. Either way, it is up to her to decide where to go from here.

She does not need to explain herself to the gawkers who have, with predictable relish, piled onto this story. She does not need to explain herself to me or you. No one is entitled to hear her version of events, lest she chooses to disclose them.

Move along now. There’s nothing more to see here.

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  1. Posted April 5, 2008 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Well said. The comments on that blog are particularly heinous, with all the “fallen woman” rhetoric.

  2. d cat
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    that woman is disgraced and ppl who defend her r disgraced. i’m not Muslim, but if i was i wud be very embarassed by her actions.

    her father needs to smack her.

  3. Tarek Fatah
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    D Cat,

    Sufiah says she did what she did because her father did “smack her” and made her life miserable. Its a sad story.

    BTW, her father turned out to have his own criminal convictions.

  4. jollyroger
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    “Perhaps she is happy doing what she does”

    Let’s take her at face value:

    “People think escorting is sleazy and terrible but I don’t see it like that,” she said. “I’ve always had a high sex drive – and now I’m getting all the sex I want.”

    The “tut tutting” of al-aribiya was certainly obnoxious, and in no way accurately reflected the tone of the Daly Mail (who managed to exploit without being overtly unxious) article.

    Since the acts in question are morally neutral, is the objection founded upon implied deception (you are only pretending to enjoy fucking me because I pay you…) or the contrary (you are really enjoying it AND I am paying you…)?

  5. James Stanhope
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Natalia said: “… people everywhere … are so fond of making examples out of women who stray from the fold. Women have long been regarded as property in many societies …”

    Historically, in non-Muslim and non-Christian societies such as ancient Greek, Roman, and mainland Chinese societies, where women really were regarded as property in varying degrees, there was no pronounced moral objection to women autonomously selling sex.

    In modern non-Muslim societies, such as Bolivia,judging from press reports, and the U.S, judging from the reactions of online commenters to N. Kristof’s NY Times article(s) on prostitution following the “outing” of Ashley Dupre as a call girl after Elliot Spitzer’s arrest, the modern, non-Muslim objection to female prostitution is that, in modern times, a woman who autonomously sells sex is perceived by married women in the West as a threat to the stability of their own marriages. Judging from this admittedly limited evidence, this is the apparent perception of married women who don’t profess a concern for the welfare of the prostitute herself. If this interpretation of these press reports is correct, it would explain the bitterly unforgiving attitude held by conservative Western married women to women who autonomously sell sex.

    Therefore, I think that in the modern West, the persistent moral objection to prostitution comes not from men objecting to a woman’s sexual autonomy, but from conservative married women who see an individual woman’s selling sex on the market as a threat to the reward that married women expect from voluntarily giving up their own sexual autonomy. I noticed that on, on AmbivaBlog, and on Kristof’s readers’ blog, married women in particular tended not to be complacent about Ashley Dupre’s occupation as a prostitute (and visibly not out of concern for Ashley), whereas most male commenters were not particularly troubled about her line of work.

    d cat said: “her father needs to smack her.”

    That is probably the problem right there. Sufiah Yousof’s father, Farooq Khan, apparently has a narcissistic, predatory outlook on life, judging from his January 2004 conviction for participating in mortgage swindling and a 2008 (?) conviction for sexual assault. Sufiah Yousof herself called him “controlling” and “bullying.” It is also noteworthy that Sufiah Yousof’s mother had no comment about Sufiah’s current occupation because Sufiah’s mother had not stayed in contact with Sufiah. According to the Daily Mail article, Sufiah refused to return to her birth parents and was put in foster care. If Sufiah refused to return to her birth parents and if her birth mother did not try to follow up on Sufiah’s progress in life, that may be evidence that Sufiah’s mother is a narcissistic parent as well. If the mother is in fact an overly narcissistic parent (big “if”), then, with a narcissistic, criminally-minded father (one who looks for opportunities to violate boundaries — twice, no less), and with a narcissistic mother who cannot be bothered to look after the welfare of Sufiah, then, to my mind, it is entirely plausible that Sufiah herself is a survivor of sexual assault by a family member, because two such parents do create the classic environment for physical and sexual abuse of children, according to reports in the U.S. It is also documented in the U.S. that survivors of childhood sexual violation respond to their trauma by oversexualizing their interactions with other people. A psychologist explained to me that survivors of childhood sexual trauma oversexualize such interactions as a way of reasserting their right to determine the boundaries of their own sexual expression and also as a way of discovering exactly where their own, self-determined boundaries are. That apparently at least partly explains why, in the U.S., some ‘voluntary’ or ‘preferential’ female prostitutes, in interviews with psychologists, reveal that they were sexually abused as children. Since, when such women were violated as children, majoritarian norms of sexual boundaries were not enforced by parents, these women did not internalize majoritarian norms, and hence they don’t see prostitution as a violation of their own sexual boundaries. Such women’s “high sex drive,” as Jolly Roger calls it, results not so much from a greater physical appetite as from a failure to internalize boundaries in childhood. That’s at least how I recall that psychologist’s explanation to me. If that explanation is correct, and if Sufiah was in fact violated as a child, that explanation could go a long way toward explaining why Sufiah, who with her talent could conceivably have earned a decent living outside of the sex industry, found it completely normal to earn a living by selling sex.

    This long comment is in response to the discussions about prostitution in Natalia’s blog and other blogs and also to the discussions in the press about Ashley Dupre’s line of work. I apologize if this comment has been overlong.

  6. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Therefore, I think that in the modern West, the persistent moral objection to prostitution comes not from men objecting to a woman’s sexual autonomy, but from conservative married women who see an individual woman’s selling sex on the market as a threat to the reward that married women expect from voluntarily giving up their own sexual autonomy.

    Don’t you think it’s a bit of both, though? How many men use the insult “whore” to put a woman “in her place”? How many men would pay a prostitute to have sexual relations with her, but never, ever, consider her as anything other than a receptacle?

    I think this problem feeds itself from all sides.

    Also, I know a number of sex-workers – some of them abused as children, some of them not at all.

    Although I agree – it’s good to remember that many women are equally complicit in furthering societal scorn toward sex-workers.

  7. jollyroger
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    “Such women’s *“high sex drive,” as Jolly Roger calls it”

    I didn’t reference her sex drive as “high”–SHE did.

    That said, I believe the analysis focussing upon the indignation of the “good” women (simultaneously threatened by and envious of the successful sex worker who has organized the community property concept on the basis of multiple support sources and limited committment of her own time) as the source of societal animus towards sex workers is correct.

    The customer’s conundrum, as I framed it, may perhaps contribute its share of hostility secondary to poorly articulated inner conflicts arising from the propensity for tricks to fall in love with their sex workers–if only for an hour–because they interact in a space free from the accumulated detritus of quotidien quarrels over the dishes and the budget.

    *in point of fact, sex workers manifestation of what in comparison to their square sisters we might call high sex drive, is merely the natural female sexuality that Freud warned us about, unrestrained, as it were, by the patriarchy.

  8. jollyroger
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    “How many men would pay a prostitute to have sexual relations with her, but never, ever, consider her as anything other than a receptacle?”

    Let me take the opportunity raised by this quote to be (unaccustomed as I am) brief AND clear:

    Men do not go to prostitutes in search of a sex (ie, “a receptacle”) They go looking for love. (More precisely, the experience of themselves as loving.)

    THAT’S why men in Spitzer’s shoes (despite being married to a beautiful and talented woman) divert thousands of dollars and risk utter ruin.

  9. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Love? Some, but not at all. You can’t generalize. If this was really the case, you wouldn’t see young men of high social standing “sowing their wild oats” in brothels before settling down with a “good girl.”

  10. jollyroger
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    “You can’t generalize”

    Fair enough; I suppose my formula breaks down in sex negative societies where masturbation is (how odd…) eschewed, and the “receptacle” function perhaps looms larger.

    Disclaimer: My third wife was a working girl (yes, we met professionally), so I have perhaps an unusual take on the issue.

  11. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    A lot of people think that masturbation somehow detracts from one’s masculinity. I have encountered this idea in the States, though not as much as elsewhere…

  12. jollyroger
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    “detracts from one’s masculinity”

    Only for ten or fifteen minutes, and then you’re good to go (if a cute girl happens by…)

  13. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I was actually dead serious with my last comment.

    “Real men don’t jerk off, they go out and get laiiiiid.” That’s pretty much verbatim.

  14. jollyroger
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Real men don’t jerk off, they die of prostate cancer (and while they’re waiting around to die of prostate cancer, when they do get laid, they come in about 75 seconds which makes them highly prized in the sack).

    But, hey, what’s more important: Fucking like a god, or keeping your hands off your dick?

  15. Posted April 9, 2008 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I tracked down who broke this story, and it turns out to be that bastion of journalistic excellence, News of the World:

    I guess this kind of “journalism” is par for the course for these paparazzi assholes, but I really have to wonder about the standards of “reputable” papers who ran with the story.

    But, hey, outing sex workers serves some greater social purpose, right?

  16. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    But, hey, outing sex workers serves some greater social purpose, right?

    Yep! Such as selling papers! And making sure we continue to perpetuate the “sex worker as subhuman” trope. Christ, if this wasn’t so depressing, I’d be laughing.

  17. Anthony Kennerson
    Posted April 10, 2008 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    For this radical sex-pos Black man, the issue is clear and simple:

    Soufiah Yousof is an adult woman.

    As an adult woman, she has the right to live her life as she chooses…even if it doesn’t meet certain people’s expectations.

    That includes her sex life as well.

    It is simply madness and exploitation to out her private sex life against her will and turn it into a media circus for mere media ratings and profit.

    But it is simply fucking CRIMINAL to even suggest that she deserves to be punished in any way for her sexual choices. Perhaps you, D-Cat, should be smacked by your father a few times before you claim the right to impose the same fate on her for being an adult woman and making choices about her body that you don’t agree with.

    This is your typical yellow journalism, which substitutes gratituous pruience combined with finger-wagging and sexual guilt for actual reporting and analysis.

    One of these days, we will treat sexual women as actual human beings. Hopefully, it will be in the next few centuries, the way we are going.


  18. jollyroger
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    “sex worker as subhuman” trope

    Oddly enough, when the agents of repression trot out Sufiah’s story as vindication of this meme, they actually shoot themselves in their feet.

    Moreover, Sufiah’s example of the accomplished and *highly paid courtesan is not unique:

    There’s this:

    Rhona Reiss, Ph.D. — said the business owner openly encouraged them to exchange sex with clients for money.

    Reiss,… holds a doctorate in occupational therapy and was 56 (ed.note:!!) at the time of her employment with Palfrey’s firm,

    or this:

    Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Dickinson told federal prosecutors at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that she had sex with nearly every client she met while working for Deborah Jeane Palfrey from October 2005 until April 2006.

    *Walk from one Starbucks to the next in downtown manhattan and I guarantee you will not reach five before you find a PhD possessing barrista making a hell of a lot less.

  19. jollyroger
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    sorry, links:

  20. jollyroger
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    There’s LOTS more, from Reiss:

    But after earning the degree, an adjunct faculty salary was far from enough to live on. “I did what I had to do, and you know, I grew up in an era when sex … was recreation. I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and I didn’t think it was such a horrible thing. I came from the era of free love, and I needed money, and that’s what I did,” she said.

  21. jollyroger
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Nor would any list of brilliant women working in the sex industry be complete without *Ren Ev.


  22. jollyroger
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    For instance, Ms. Evolution informs us currently:

    “I have a bar code tattooed on my arm. To answer the obvious question, I ring up as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, hardback edition”

    That is too fuckin’ cool…

  23. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Ren’s indeed awesome.

  24. d cat
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    u just don’t want 2 hear the truth

    more “good” hookers? whtever

  25. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    What “truth”, d cat? The fact that you’re a jerk? We heard that one loud and clear, believe me.

  26. Posted April 12, 2008 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    Great post!
    Would you mind if we linked to this in our Friday links next week?

  27. Natalia Antonova
    Posted April 12, 2008 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I would not mind in the slightest! I love ya’ll’s blog.

  28. jollyroger
    Posted April 12, 2008 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    File under “form over function”:

    “…couples must clearly establish how long the marriage will last. .. and agree on the amount of money the man must pay the woman when it ends…

    Shia Islam allows a man and woman to marry for a fixed period of time, ranging from *an hour to a century…

    Then president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, said it was a way for men and women to satisfy their sexual needs.”

    *What, no discount for the superquicky?

  29. James Stanhope
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    In response to a number of points raised above:

    Natalia mentioned “societal scorn for sex workers” and Anthony Kennerson talks about Soufiah’s “private sex life” and the tabloids’ “yellow journalism which substitutes gratuitous prurience [etc.] …”

    Response to Natalia: The “societal scorn” in the modern West probably ultimately arises from seeing prostitutes as a threat to conservative childrearing mechanisms, since traditional conservative marriages are usually perceived as society’s cheapest means of rearing children (i.e., cheapest for society as a whole). At least in the modern West, and especially in the post-Soviet bloc countries, economic collapse has led to an increase in prostitution and also puts additional stress on traditional family structures, so the increase in prostitution is seen as further aggravating the already-increasing stress on families, because the increasing availability of prostitutes whose prices are possibly spiraling downward because of increased competition, is seen as providing an incentive for husbands/fathers to leave their families or at least divert family resources to spend on sex-for-sale. That, I think, is the basis in the modern West for “societal scorn” toward sex workers. Sex workers are seen as a social threat to families who are already under economic stress. So it’s hard to make a case for not stigmatizing prostitutes where they’re seen as threatening conservative childrearing arrangements.

    Response to Anthony Kennerson: Soufiah’s “private sex life” ceased to be “private” once she charged for it. Once someone charges for a service, the public automatically gains an interest in it. If Soufiah gave sex away for free (to worthy citizens!) or donated sex in exchange for donations to a worthy cause, she might even be seen as a public benefactor (at least by some people).

    At least in the U.S., the discussion of the societal worth/legalization of the sex industry reminds me of the American discussions about alcohol sales/consumption before the enactment of Prohibition. Prohibition did not outlaw the consumption of alcohol; it outlawed only the sale of alcohol in the U.S. except for medicinal purposes, and the measure was meant to curb widespread alcoholism. During Prohibition, Americans could legally buy and operate “port-wine” kits and home-brewing kits and give away the product, and quite a few Americans did. It was only the sale of alcohol that was illegal.

    I bring up Prohibition because I think
    that, in the U.S., the sex industry could be treated like the alcoholic beverage industry (both producers and retailers) and regulated similarly. Consumption of sexual services could be forbidden below a certain age and locations where sexual services are sold could be regulated by zoning, just as counties in the state of Georgia routinely “zone” liquor stores, bars, and restaurants selling alcohol to a specified distance from schools and residential areas. Especially if counties, based on county referenda, could have the option of banning the sale of sex altogether (just as in Georgia, so-called “dry” counties ban the sale of liquor in order to combat locally-widespread alcoholism), social conservatives in America perhaps would be willing to listen to proposals to legalize prostitution, and even reduce the social stigma placed on sex workers if, as a result, sex workers were seen as less of a threat to family life (as noted above).

    Response to Anthony Kennerson’s comments about “yellow journalism” and “gratuitous prurience”:

    The fact that, in the modern West, sex workers are often seen as a threat to family life as noted above, gives misogynistic men a sort of “cultural hook” or cultural platform from which to vent their own misogyny. The sensationalism surrounding Soufiah Yousof also appeals to anti-Muslim and racist sentiment felt by some of the white British males who comprise part of the target audience for the Daily Mail in the U.K.

    This is pretty obvious stuff, and I’m sorry for the long post, but I wanted to point out that, as long as sex workers are perceived as a threat to family life, “societal scorn” will be unabated. In the U.S., it might be possible to reduce this perceived threat to family life by regulating the sex industry, like the alcohol industry, on a county-by-county basis, and by reducing the perceived threat at least somewhat reduce the societal scorn.

    Sorry again for the long post. Thanks for putting up with my posts.

  30. James Stanhope
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    As a follow-up to my comments about legalizing prostitution, I call attention to an article by Cathy Young entitled “Prostitutes and Politics: Why is it still illegal to pay for sex?,” dated May 7, 2007, in Reason Magazine online at

    In an online comment to that article by commenter “Neu Mejican” on 05/07/2007 timed 5:12 p.m., the situation of Turkey’s legalized and regulated prostitution is discussed, noting that despite legalization/regulation, abuse of women and children in Turkish brothels is still a serious problem, and Neu Mejican notes that a prior cultural context is probably required in which prostitutes already enjoy a modicum of safety — in other words, legalization by itself does not necessarily change negative public perceptions of prostitutes.

    The online commentary to Cathy Young’s article varies widely in quality, but it’s worth reading, as is Cathy Young’s article.

    H/T for Cathy Young’s article to Renegade Evolution in her post dated February 14, 2008.

  31. jollyroger
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    Stanhope, your lengthy analysis ellides the salient fact that sexual activity is the only behavior that is legal when done gratis, rendered illegal only by virtue of the exchange of *CASH (gifts of jewelry, per contra, are A-OK.)

    Sufiah’s sex life is private as contrasted with “public life” ie, political. As long as she asks no one for their vote, her pussy and it’s predilections are her own business alone.

    The sanctions against prostitution are a vestige of the old laws which punished ANY sexual activity not sanctioned by the church.

    Hence, the origin of the word,
    Pro Stituere, “to stand forth”;

    In the Websters Second Unabridged, the primary definition of prostitute was one engaging in indiscriminate sex; the commercial element was a concommitant of the secondary definition.

    This was, of course, contemporaneous with generalized prohibition of fornication, adultery, etc.

    The holding in Lawrence v. Texas makes this objection to continued criminalization even more salient.

    *even then, susceptible to amelioration via the appropriate cloaking of hypocrisy, see my post above on the temporary marriage.

    Anent which, how is the one hour marriage less of a threat to the marriage covenant (resources diverted, attention diluted, etc.) than the happy ending at the massage parlor?

  32. James Stanhope
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    A quick response to Jolly Roger’s on public versus private sex:

    When someone charges a cash price for sex, even in the privacy of her apartment as Soufiah Yousof did, that supposedly “private” sexual activity becomes a marketplace activity, and the public interest (in varying degrees) in all marketplace activities sex-for-cash. “Public” interest is not limited to politics, i.e., to the power of coercion, but also includes the power acquired by purchase with money. Hence the public’s interest in regulating mortgages/lending, corporations, and all kinds of things that involve the exchange of money.

    A quick correction on the Latin verb “prostituere” (I used to teach Latin, majored in classics, and also studied Roman law in grad school): In classical Latin, “prostituere” as applied to prostitutes actually means to “stand forth FOR SALE,” like so much merchandise on a shelf. Cf. prostitutes in Amsterdam and Bangkok who sit in windows, advertising themselves to potential clients.

    Your point about modern Western social stigmatization originating in Christian culture does carry weight, but it should also be noted that, throughout its history, the western (Roman/Latin) Christian church has had mixed views of prostitution. St. Augustine thought prostitution should be tolerated as an evil lesser to adultery, in order to provide an alternative to adultery, since, in the theology of that time, Christian marriage was a sacrament necessary for salvation and Augustine believed that the sin of adultery (violation of a marriage) was a possible impediment to salvation. During the Middle Ages, Catholic cities, as they grew, apparently were mostly pragmatic in their attitudes toward prostitution, and tried to regulate it rather than eliminate it. During the Reformation, the Calvinists in particular came down hard on prostitution, and the modern American scorn for prostitutes is probably influenced by British Calvinism.

    The reason I brought up the issue of prostitution being perceived as a threat to marriage was an article on, I think, the BBC web site several months ago (I haven’t looked it up right now) which described a riot by Bolivian housewives in some neighborhood in a Bolivian city, in which these housewives destroyed bars, restaurants, etc., which were known to be frequented by prostitutes, whose availability was claimed to be endangering the marriages of the Bolivian housewives. Also, on within the installment series called “The XX Factor,” various married female columnists, in discussing the fall of Elliot Spitzer, dismissed the claim that prostitution was a “victimless crime” on the ground that the wives and children of the male customers of prostitutes could be the first victims of prostitution; at least that’s how I recall it offhand.

    I myself have no brief against legalizing prostitution, because I don’t see sex-for-cash as a moral crime, provided it’s between consensual adults, etc., etc.

    When I talked about the origins of the current social stigma, I was simply trying to explain why the stigma was so persistent even in countries like Britain which are only nominally Christian. Even the Swedish government, which is often cited as having the best-possible model of regulated prostitution (but see comments cited by Renegade Evolution), apparently regards prostitution as an activity that needs to be discouraged. Since ethnic Swedish culture at this point is hardly even nominally Christian, I’m not certain what ‘cultural’ reasons Swedes would have against prostitution, so I assume the reason is pragmatic.

    Again, Cathy Young’s article in Reason Magazine online dated May 7, 2007 (link cited above), with the extensive commentary, is worth reading (and cited by Renegade Evolution). And note again, in the commentary to the Reason article, the commenter Neu Mejican notes that in Turkey, where brothels and prostitutes are legal and regulated, there are still problems with abuse and prostitutes apparently don’t enjoy that much public respect, even though Turkey is not a Christian country.

    It might be that the Western social stigma placed on prostitutes predates Christianity. Pagan classical writers (from elite social classes) made no specifically moral objections to prostitution as an activity, but prostitutes as a profession were forced to endure a very low social status (with probably a few elite exceptions, as with Thais, a high-ranking courtesan in Periclean Athens). The Roman/Byzantine empress Theodora, who was the consort of the Roman/Byzantine emperor Justinian I (ruled 527-565 C.E.) was alleged to have started her career as a low-comedy actress and prostitute, and both professions were held against her (see Procopius’s “Secret History,” which is called “Anekdota” in the original Greek). But Theodora was both a devout Chistian (of allegedly unorthodox views) and a genuinely phenomenal empress, being a noted advocate for women’s rights under Roman law.

    Sorry for the again-lengthy analysis, but I was just trying to understand WHY prostitution is still stigmatized in the West; I was not arguing that it SHOULD be stigmatized. And the Turkish model suggests that legalization and regulation, by themselves, might not change the social stigma placed on prostitutes, if a culture is already strongly prejudiced against prostitution.

    Quick note on the Iranian 1-hour “marriage” — that is presumably an effort to “Islamize” an inevitable activity, in order to keep Iranian Muslim men loyal to the mosque, as it were. The threat-to-marriage argument that I offered applies mostly to largely-secular, Western cultures. My attempted explanation is that, to the degree that formally-married women gain in socioeconomic status (as in the West), to that degree such married women will resent prostitutes as a threat to the marriage in which such women have an investment. But I don’t offer that explanation as an argument against legalizing prostitution, but only as an explanation as to why the stigma persists.

  33. James Stanhope
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Two corrections to the above post:

    1st large paragraph, 4th line: “in all marketplace activities sex-for-cash” should read “… marketplace activities INCLUDES sex-for-cash”.

    5th large paragraph: “consensual adults” should read “CONSENTING adults.”

    I wish we could edit these posts.

  34. jollyroger
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    “stand forth FOR SALE,”

    The word means what it means.

    The “for sale” is a gloss.

    I refer my learned colleague (not offered with irony) to the ranked definitions Webster’s Second, which is, as he is doubtless aware, the reference of choice for deconstructing judicial linguistic issues. The elimination of fornication as a sanctioned activity coincides with the transition to Webster’s Third, where the former secondary definition migrates to primary.

    Withal, my point is that the object of laws against prostitution was not originally to single out commercial sexual activity, but merely included it within an assortment of extra marital, hence illicit, sex.

    I think, certainly, that we are more on the same page than not, as to policy; I merely wish to highlight the anachronistic quality of the prohibition which has lingered over the commercial version of the activity while the freebie has become legal.

    Re:public vs private.

    Granted, a barber needs a license whereas my girlfriend can cut my hair for free (that is, if I let anyone cut my hair, which would be an atrocity and a stench in the nostrils of the lord, but that’s another story…).

    That said, I believe most commentators who subscribe themselves as free market capitalists (not me..) consider as private the interaction of two free individuals meeting in the free market for the free exchange of goods (sorry, I know the “free” thing gets tired…)

    I wish we could edit too–I stay away from html tags because I can’t preview the outcome and don’t want to make a bigger fool of myself than I already do.

  35. jollyroger
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    One further point:

    This issue arises as part of the transition to *civil from clerical jurisdiction over a variety of human actiities once under the jurisdiction of church courts.

    Virtually all of the laws subsumed in the criminal code as “offenses against the public morality” , (wherein we will find prostitution, public drunkenness, intemperate language, indecent exposure, laws against suicide, and the like) represent in some measure the tension between the former clerical jurisdiction and modern secular government which has as a founding concept limitations on the vindicable interests of the state against the autonomy of the individual.

    I have, tucked away on a back shelf, my (more than slightly overdue) PhD. dissertation, The History of the **Secularization of

    *eg, marriage, inheritance, etc.

    **This process is proceeding, as a brief glimpse around the world demonstrates, unevenly.

    So is the thesis…

  36. jollyroger
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Like Columbo, “one more thing”

    The peculiar twist on all this, which I believe highlights the underlying rationale that seeks to prefer marrital over non-marital sex (here to support S’s point) is that within the context of marriage the exchange of cash is perfectly agreeable–eg, the bride price, or Ari and Jackie O.’s prenup which was specific even to the number of instances of intercourse that Ari was entitled to per month in return for an “allowance” of x millions/mo.l

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