Every week the Chicago Foundation for Women e-mails a “Tuesday blast” newsletter to about 9,500 subscribers, and in these blasts the CFW frequently critiques the press. This week’s subject: “Two sex trade stories that missed the mark.”
One of them ran in the Sun-Times November 10 under the charmless but eye-catching headline, “Getting busted with a hooker may get more expensive.” The paper reported that the Cook County Board is considering a new ordinance that would add stiff civil penalties to the slap on the wrist now meted out to anyone guilty of the crime of soliciting a prostitute.
The CFW promptly wrote a letter to the Sun-Times setting it straight. First of all, it said the paper was wrong on its facts: The Sun-Times thought solicitation was being decriminalized when, in fact, the proposed $1,000 fine, impounded vehicle, and 100 hours of community service would be added to the current criminal penalty — a $100 fine and a criminal record that can be expunged by taking a two-hour class. And the CFW chastised the Sun-Times for its language, objecting that reporter Mark Konkol “repeatedly refers to prostituted people as ‘hookers.’ By using this sensationalist term, you missed an opportunity to educate your readers about this issue.”
The other story the CFW was unhappy with ran November 7 in the New York Times. The Times reported that Michael Garcia, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, has decided “not to press charges against former Gov. Eliot Spitzer for his involvement with a high-priced prostitution ring last year.” Three reasons were given: “Mr. Spitzer had apparently not used any public money or campaign funds for his trysts; there was insufficient evidence that he had broken the law in how he had structured payments to the call-girl ring; and, finally, it was not the policy of his or other federal prosecutors’ offices to charge the customers in matters of prostitution.”
In other words, letting Spitzer, a former prosecutor himself — he was attorney general of New York before he was governor — off the hook wouldn’t come off as the rankest of double standards. He let the johns off too.
“What’s missing: The demand side of the sex trade,” says the CFW in its Tuesday blast.. “Not only does Garcia’s statement (and the many media outlets that covered it) ignore the crime of buying sex, it also trivializes the importance of focusing on those who perpetuate the sex trade by buying sex or profiting from it.”
The CFW critique continues, “New York and the feds could learn a lesson from Cook County, which is making positive strides by focusing on ‘johns’ and pimps more than prostituted people—mostly women—who are much more likely to be arrested and serve time.”
Especially when they’re depersonalized as “hookers.”