From the AP: Deborah Jean Palfrey commits suicide.

My heart goes out to her, those close to her, and any sex worker who has been touched by suicide. Stigma kills.

May 1, 2008

‘D.C. Madam’ Kills Herself, Police Say

Filed at 2:00 p.m. ET

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — A woman police believe to be convicted Washington escort service operator Deborah Jeane Palfrey committed suicide, officials said Thursday.

Police said the body was found in a shed near Palfrey’s mother’s home Thursday morning. There was a suicide note, but police did not disclose its contents or how she killed herself.

Police said they were trying to confirm the woman’s identity, but did not immediately have additional comment when reached by telephone. Palfrey’s attorney, Preston Burton, did not return a telephone call and e-mail message.

The District of Columbia U.S. attorney’s office, which spent years investigating and prosecuting Palfrey, was aware of the media reports and was awaiting confirmation from law enforcement, said spokeswoman Channing Phillips.

Police did not immediately have additional comment when reached by telephone. Palfrey’s attorney, Preston Burton, did not return a telephone call and e-mail message.

Palfrey was convicted April 15 by a federal jury of running a prostitution service that catered to members of Washington’s political elite, including Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican.

She had denied her escort service engaged in prostitution, saying that if any of the women engaged in sex acts for money, they did so without her knowledge.

She was convicted of money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering. Palfrey faced a maximum of 55 years in prison and was free pending her sentencing July 24.

Prosecutors said Palfrey operated the prostitution service for 13 years.

Her trial concluded without revealing many new details about the service or its clients. Vitter was among possible witnesses, but did not take the stand.

Vitter, a first-term senator who is married and has four children, has acknowledged being involved with Palfrey’s escort service and has apologized for what he called a ”very serious sin.” But he avoided commenting further.

One of the escort service employees was former University of Maryland, Baltimore County, professor Brandy Britton, who was arrested on prostitution charges in 2006. She committed suicide in January before she was scheduled to go to trial.

Last year, Palfrey said she, too, was humiliated by her prostitution charges, but said: ”I guess I’m made of something that Brandy Britton wasn’t made of.”

Jacque Melody over at I Hold These Truths has this response to the New York Post.

Before I go on to write in an eloquent, well-thought-out fashion I just want to say that the NY Post is a despicable publication and Cathy Burke is a douchebag for writing this article: http://www.nypost.com/seven/04222008/news/regionalnews/hookers_laid_bare_on_show_107500.htm” about the woman who was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on 20/20 about Prostitution in America.

First of all, “hooker” is a derogatory term. It would be completely unacceptable for a reporter to write a story about a certain race, culture, or group of people using a parallel term (i.e. “fags” in an article about gay men). Why should we, the society that reads these publications and enforces these values daily, allow this? Unless you are a hardcore hater of sex workers (in which your opinion is invalid to rational discussion as the opinion of homophobes warrant no basis in the LGBT movement) you should be angry about this. You don’t have to agree with the idea of sex work, you don’t even have to have an opinion either way (Americans seem to love wallowing in apathy), but it’s very important that you pay attention. Pay attention to what is being fed to you. Think for a second, would you want to be portrayed in the media in such a harsh, black and white context without even being given the dignity of proper terms appropriated to your job/culture/race/gender/etc.? In this article the word “hooker” is used to describe Debauchette (the name she uses to identify herself on her public blog) four times. It alternates throughout the story with “blogger” and “she”. The correct term would be escort if she was specific about the work that she does, otherwise “sex worker” would suffice.

For those unfamiliar, the story broke out when Debauchette blogged, in her personal public blog, that she was in fact the woman in the Diane Sawyer interview. That even though she was hidden in shadow with her profile and voice manipulated, her mother recognized her.

Okay. Take a moment and think about this, why is this news? Why is the mainstream media even printing articles about this? America’s obsession with “scandal” is ridiculous. The culture appears to feed off of it, therefore the media dishes it out as fast as possible and completely disregards the notion of truth or the act of discretion. Certainly one could argue that Debauchette put it out there in a public medium. Well, that’s just it. She broke the story in her own words in her own space. Beyond that, what goes on between her and her mother is private and why should anyone even care to know the “juicy” details?

Because people want to know about sex workers. Because people are fascinated by the subversive. Because people get a thrill out of living vicariously through those who live outside of the system. Because people like to know when others will or will not be accepted, especially when they aren’t quite sure themselves what is and is not acceptable.

Finally, regardless people’s salacious “need to know” mentality or our society’s fucked up viewpoints, this was just a downright shoddy piece of journalism. Not only did they reinforce a derogatory term, they made assumptions about the content posted in the blog. By publishing those assumptions they turned them into false facts. The article quotes; “The unfortunate revelation didn’t quell her passion for the job, however.
‘Later in the day, I saw Gabriel . . . He told me to take my clothes off, and this made me smile . . . While we undressed, I thought about how good this is,’ she blogged.”

She never stated that Gabriel was a client, they assumed this. In a later post she clarifies this point and expresses that he is not. Perhaps Cathy Burke and the NY Post didn’t even consider that a sex worker would have intimate relations outside of their job. They also completely skewed the content, perhaps because “pro-slut” isn’t appropriate for a public paper. The exact quote is; “And later in the day, I saw Gabriel, another blissfully pro-slut individual. He told me to take my clothes off, and this made me smile, which made him smile. While we undressed, I thought about how good this is, even if I have to battle my urge to shut down.” I’m curious as to why they took out “which made him smile”. Perhaps I am incredibly cynical, but I think it’s because they wanted to continue to show her as this one-dimensional self-obsessed sex-obsessed hooker (she doesn’t even deserve to be considered a woman).

So great job Cathy Burke for furthering the puritanical judgmental asinine culture that America is wrapped up in. I hope you enjoy your work and life as much as Debauchette enjoys hers, even if she may have to fight some battles and deal with some hardships that you couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Spitzer’s true folly

A governor who pays for sex should know to mould social policies on reality, not morality
by Elizabeth Pisani

The Guardain, Thursday March 13 2008

Last November, a new law came into force in New York state. The toughest anti-prostitution statute in the United States, it brings the law crashing down on the heads of men who buy sex. Its champion, New York state governor Eliot Spitzer, has become one of its first victims.

Spitzer, known to the FBI as Client 9, resigned yesterday after forking out money – lots of money – for sex. This has led to much rejoicing on the part of Spitzer’s enemies, who resented his holier-than-thou assaults on big business in his years as New York’s attorney general. People who believe his assault on prostitution was counterproductive have been feeling pretty smug, too. But the collective gloating obscures an important truth: policies based on morality, not reality, don’t work.

Though Spitzer is a Democrat, he has fallen for a view of prostitution that has gripped the Republican administration, a view that conflates sex work with human trafficking and seeks to abolish the oldest profession in the world. Indeed, Spitzer himself has referred to sex work as “modern-day slavery”. But here’s the difference: no one chose to be a slave, to work extremely long hours in appalling conditions for zero pay. Plenty of women (and men and transgendered people) choose to sell sex, working relatively flexible hours in varying conditions for quite decent pay. Sometimes very decent pay – the women Spitzer has been busy enslaving are charging $1,000 an hour, plus tips.

The sex trade is definitely pear-shaped – it is a lot heavier at the bottom than at the top. But even at the bottom end, a lot of workers are earning much more than they would in a garment factory or a fast-food joint. My own research in a number of countries in Asia shows that, on average, female sex workers’ take-home pay is between four and seven times higher in any given week than unskilled factory workers’. If you look at pay per hour worked, selling sex is up to 30 times more lucrative. The job is also a lot more autonomous than many of the alternatives. So we have willing seller and willing buyer, exchanging a commodity that gives one person pleasure and the other person cash. And the downside is …?

The downside is that not all sellers are willing. It is true people are trafficked, it is true children are exploited, it is true sex workers get beaten up, it is true people on both sides of the equation are exposed to unpleasant and sometimes fatal diseases. But most sex workers would argue that these things are best dealt with by legalising the industry and regulating it. This makes it easier to provide health services, and easier for sex workers to report mistreatment. It also enlists the power of legitimate workers in the fight against the truly exploitative parts of the business, the shadowy corners where traffickers and those selling children lurk.

If Spitzer wanted to dedicate some of his apparently endless stock of moral outrage to prostitution, he would have done better to crusade for health and safety regulations in the sex trade than for abolition. He, of all people, knows that the industry can work perfectly well for people on both the provider and the consumer side. So why didn’t he?

For many years now, social policy in the US has been moulded by morality. (Interestingly, commercial policy hasn’t. It’s illegal for one adult to pay another for sex, but perfectly legal for two adults to be paid to have sex with one another by a third person, who will film the encounter and then sell it as pornography to other adults.)

Morality, which is hard to define let alone to measure, is not a good basis for public policy. Science is a good basis for public policy. Economics, even. But not morality. Look at sex education in the US. The Bush administration promotes abstinence. No information about condoms, nothing about safe sex. The result of this cross-your-legs-and-think-of-God approach, according to official figures released this week, is that a quarter of teenage girls in the US have a sexually transmitted infection. How moral is that?

Though morality demonstrably collapses in the face of reality, the US is committed to exporting this approach. Its taxpayers have been asked to part with an astonishing $65bn to pay for HIV prevention and care in the developing world. To get a penny of that money, organisations have to pledge that they will oppose prostitution. The pledge was brought in by former Aids tsar Randall Tobias, handpicked by George Bush. “Former” because he resigned from public life last April, after his phone number was found on the client list of a Washington escort service. Spitzer is in good company.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008