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Blaming the Victims with ACORN and Prostitution

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Amy Fried, Ph.D.     Permalink
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As the MSM has reported breathlessly, Congress is shocked and outraged, at the tapes of ACORN workers "helping" a non-existent pimp and prostitute skirt the law.

The irony and hypocrisy of David Vitter - alleged client of the "DC Madame" - being one of the most outspoken critics of ACORN has been noted by some, including Jake Tapper and Joe Conason. Unfortunately, it has not broken through to the majority of the television news coverage, except perhaps in passing by Rachel Maddow. But even when it is mentioned, it is as a humorous embarrassment, not as a serious ethics issue. Indeed, few even bother to question why Vitter is still a Senator, much less why he has not been charged with a crime.

Aside from the moral issues inherent in prostitution, the other hypocrisy has been found in sprinklings of coverage. For instance, The Nation's Christopher Hayes demonstrating the infuriating outrageousness of punishing ACORN, when Blackwater, Halliburton's KBR, and Pfizer have been rewarded for financial - and sometimes criminal - allegations, with the continuation of their contracts.

And Rachel Maddow has been brilliantly highlighting the lies that have been repeated by the mainstream media, as well as the underlying agenda of those seeking to take ACORN down: fighting poor and minority voter registration, and raises to the minimum wage. She followed with a tragically hysterical piece, in which the questionable constitutionality of the bill to defund ACORN, brings to mind other government contractors that have faced allegations of murder, fraud, and forced underage prostitution. And Jeremy Scahill followed up with Where's the Defund Blackwater Act?

But the hypocrisy over Vitter, or alleged corporate malfeasance, speaks to more than the values of one Senator, or even a party or a movement. It is another example of the way prostitution is often treated by the law: blaming the victims of this industry, in which women - and sometimes children - are forced to make agonizing choices.

Noy Thrupkaew explores, in The Nation, some of these agonizing choices, which even well meaning programs subject victims to: such as "rescuing" girls and women from sex traffickers, only to discover that they are desperate to return, to avoid their younger sisters being captured in order to pay off their forced debt to their captors. And then there are the allegations of law enforcement officials abusing the victims they are supposed to be helping. A horrific New York Times story of an inmate, charged with prostitution, who died in custody as the result of overexposure to the sun, brings the trend close to home.

Prostitution Education and Research dispels many myths about prostitution, including the myth that prostitutes enjoy, or freely choose their profession, or that prostitution is a victimless crime. S. M. Berg similarly addresses common misconceptions about prostitution, such as that prostitution is a choice (90% or more say they'd like to leave, but can't); or that legalized prostitution is safer.

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The truth is: the victims of prostitution are the prostitutes themselves. Yet, the panic with which the Congress distanced itself from ACORN, is a continuation of the cultural shame of prostitution that attaches to the prostitute herself, rather than to her abusers.

A scholarly review of mainstream prostitution research by Melissa Farley and Vanessa Kelly, shows a strange bias in the medical and social science literature; looking at prostitution from the point of view of the "john." For instance, prostitutes are often portrayed as risk-takers, who pose a danger of STD infection to johns, (despite evidence that the danger is more likely the other way around).

Prostitutes are often blamed for their failure to "use" condoms, despite the physical harm prostitutes often face for suggesting their use.

Descriptions of the horrific violence suffered by prostitutes is

indistinguishable from torture. Yet, some feminists (notably, Catharine A. MacKinnon,) have noted that the perception of torture is somehow erased when the prostitution occurs in the form of pornography. (MacKinnon and others have argued that prostitution, pornography and trafficking are all one phenomenon.)

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Of course, vastly higher arrests for prostitutes, as compared to johns, (with the exception of Sweden) is one more evidence of blaming the victim in prostitution.

As in the case of the false claims of "voter fraud" against ACORN (when ACORN was, in fact the victim, and reported the problem), the rush to defund ACORN is a perfect metaphor for what is done to the victims of prostitution: a response to the tainted nature of the prostitute herself, rather than concern for the harm that prostitution brings.

The real question for Congress is: what has their swift action done to actually improve the lives of those who are victimized by prostitution (and its cousins, pornography and trafficking?) How has rushing to defund ACORN made prostitution any less likely, or dangerous? Thanks to them, prostitution victims in search of a hand up and out of their abuse, will have one less avenue to turn to, as ACORN will undoubtedly have to cut back some of its services to the poor.


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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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