Filed Under:

Prostitution's Real Casualties Aren't Secret Service

Play associated audio

I've been curious about a question I haven't heard in the stories about U.S. Secret Service agents misbehaving before President Obama's arrival at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.

Why were world leaders meeting in a place with legalized prostitution?

There might have been a time — after I saw Toulouse-Lautrec's poignant paintings of life in Paris brothels, or Billy Wilder's clever Irma la Douce — when I thought of prostitution as a harmless enterprise between consenting adults.

But over the years, I've reported stories about prostitution — legal, illegal and winked at — in Chicago, San Salvador and Havana. I've visited cities, including Cartagena and Amsterdam, in which it's licensed.

Seeing prostitution close up can shake any idea you may have that it can be some kind of Julia Roberts romantic comedy.

The customers and hustlers are certainly eager participants. But the women — and the few men — I've interviewed usually seem to be drawn into that world by poverty, desperation or drugs. They often tell you it's a brutal, sad and dangerous life, in which the women are often attacked, robbed and abused.

If you walk down Amsterdam's famous red-light district, you don't see many apple-cheeked young Dutch girls in the windows. A Netherlands' government report says most of the young women who become prostitutes there are poor immigrants from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The relief organization World Vision estimates that up to a quarter of the women who become prostitutes have been literally dragged into that life by sex traffickers.

To put the question in blunt, personal terms: Whether walking the street or working as an escort, would you want someone you love to live that way?

Prostitution is legal in Cartagena — which, by the way, also has graceful art, lovely beaches and lively cafes.

"It doesn't bother people at all," Mayor Campo Elias told the Associated Press this week, "because here, it's normal."

Advocates of legalization point out that banning prostitution clearly hasn't prevented a lot of people from seeking it. They say making the trade legal can equip governments to require regular medical exams for sex workers.

But I wonder if the people who planned this year's Summit of the Americas thought through the implications of bringing 34 heads of state to meet a place in which an enterprise many people consider an exploitation of women is practiced so openly.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'End Of The Tour': An Unauthorized 'Anti-Biopic' Of David Foster Wallace

Instead of telling the author's life story, the film (which the Wallace estate does not approve of) focuses on five days in 1996 during the publicity tour for Infinite Jest.
NPR

Humans Aren't The Only Ones To Go Ape Over Diets: Chimps Detox, Too

A group of Ugandan chimps has found a great way to boost their mineral intake and neutralize bitter compounds in their diet: by eating clay.
WAMU 88.5

The Politics Hour - July 31, 2015

Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

NPR

WikiLeaks Docs Purport To Show The U.S. Spied On Japan's Government

The documents also allege that the U.S. targeted Japanese banks and companies, including Mitsubishi.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.