A Pox on All Their Houses

So it is shocking news that the governor of New York had been buying the services of high-class hookers? Probably the real news is the fuss that the whole of the US is making about this incident. Politician Visits Prostitute should be about as newsworthy as Dog Bites Man. Pope Visits Prostitute might just be worthy of the front page. One of the first lessons any cub reporter learns covering politics anywhere on the globe is that politicians want to be loved. They want to be loved in general, as one old political reporter once said, and they want to be loved in particular. That’s why they become politicians.

Of course, the US is not alone in its hypocrisy. Hong Kong police for example are forever raiding one-woman vice establishments, usually claiming to be in search of illegal migrants. Every now and again a sauna/massage parlor where sex is also on tap is closed, with the offending women marched to paddy wagons with bags over their heads for photographers employed by the local papers. Yet others continue to operate openly. Try Wan Chai on almost any night for the legions of “tourists” in from Colombia or Russia or Nairobi, offering their wares.

Escort services, obviously no more than prostitution fronts, advertise freely in the Yellow Pages and elsewhere and there are numerous buildings in Wan Chai, Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui and elsewhere where whole floors are occupied by one-woman apartments which are advertised in newspapers or on the internet offering “full service” sex for as little as HK$300. At the other end of the income scale, the city’s tycoons are notorious for their sexual appetites. Indeed, sex is usually their only interest other than money-making.

Malaysians flock to southern Thailand for sex but that’s because it’s cheap rather than because it is not readily available at least in the major cities and despite the occasional busts of Malay women by the religious authorities. The elite however, don’t have much to fear from such intrusions into the rooms always on hand for them to entertain their guests at luxury hotels — unless, of course, there is a political motive. Ask Chua Soi Lek, one of Malaysia’s top Chinese politicians, who resigned in January after a sexually explicit videotape — made by political rivals from four different hidden camera angles — was circulated showing him getting into bed with an unnamed woman. Like Spitzer, Chua decided it would be wiser to just quit.

In China it seems there is scarcely any middle ranking party or state official or who doesn’t have ready access to sexual services whether in return for cash or favors. As for the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia there can only be wonderment that the supposedly liberal, anything-goes US can make such a fuss about a politician spending money on sex. The mistress of Fidel Ramos was practically a member of the Filipino cabinet, so influential was she.

But the whole US media is so eager to titillate its readers with stories of extra-marital sex that Spitzer has wiped the Obama-Clinton fight off the front page. Not content with its glee over the story of the fall of Spitzer, the media is now obsessing about the life story of the young lady who was supplementing her income with an entirely voluntary act. This is mostly the same media which is apt to accuse Rupert “Dirty Digger” Murdoch of using salacious stories to sell newspapers.

Indeed, a world already disenchanted with the US because of issues ranging from Iraq and Guantanamo to foreign debt and the sub-prime fiasco looks with astonishment as the nation which makes heroes of drug-addicted singers and serial-dating starlets crucifies a leading politician for buying plain vanilla heterosexual sex from an adult.

Of course, Spitzer’s history of moralizing, including entrapment of others in just what he himself was found to be doing, set him up for a sudden fall. But disdain for Spitzer should have turned to pity in finding that the cheerleaders at his downfall were the crooks and sleazebags of Wall Street, the investment bankers and fund managers whom Spitzer had chased for the scams which enriched them at the expense of the small savers and investors. Those cheering loudest were the very Wall Street titans whose drug- and alcohol-fuelled office parties have featured everything from dwarf-tossing to on-tap prostitutes catering to every sexual taste and preference.

There is no reason that prostitution should be illegal in a free society where women have free choice of what they do with their bodies and how they earn a living. It is hard to think of any society where prostitution is not big business and where a significant proportion of females earn a living, full or part-time, from it. China under Mao, yes, the Soviet Union under Stalin maybe. Saudi Arabia today — perhaps except for the rulers themselves and rich who keep women in Beirut or Nice.

But these are rare exceptions to the rule that women often exchange sexual favors for advantages, be they cash or a job or new dress. That’s human nature just as it is human for many men to want sex as often as possible and with as many partners as chance or wealth allows. It flourishes even in places such as the Islamic Republic of Iran where theoretically the punishment is severe.

Unable in free societies to make prostitution itself illegal — although it is mostly illegal in the publicly puritan United States — the self-styled moralists instead go after the intermediaries, the agencies who act as go-betweens, the pimps and the owners of the apartments. While there are doubtless cases where these intermediaries trap and intimidate the women — most often if they are illegal migrants — this is the exception, not the norm so promoted by the media (whose own members are among the most frequent users of sexual services). In this as in any other service business, intermediaries of one sort or another are necessary. Yet application of laws is almost invariably unfair.

In the Spitzer case, vast amounts of time have been spent by FBI and other sleuths to bring a case under an obscure law about crossing state lines for immoral purposes. That makes as much sense as taxing bread being carried from New York to Washington. It is particularly absurd in a US where in the state of Nevada brothels are perfectly legal, and regulated — as they are in Australia.