The Rev. Janice Ford, Rector
The Church of the Reconciliation
(Episcopal)5 North Main Street, Webster
It has been called the world’s “oldest profession.” Prostitution by any other name is still as horrible a stain on the fabric of our society as ever. Every few years or so, we are reminded of this in a dramatic way. Most recently we have learned about a young woman in southern Maine who is accused of running a prostitution business out of her rented Zumba exercise studio. As so often happens in situations like this, the young woman supposedly kept careful records of who paid her for sex. Some of the names of these alleged “johns” have been published, and people are lining up to either defend the men, or bask in the glory of their very public sins.
What I find interesting is that there has been little public commentary on the young woman’s alleged prostitution itself. Nearly everyone is focused on the men whose names have now been made public. Recently, I saw a newspaper article that quoted Maine residents as saying things like, “I hope that people have short memories;” “these men are victims of an invasion of privacy” (referring to the allegation that the woman videotaped the encounters); and, “now a public spectacle will be made of them.” In other words, what we are hearing are primarily words of defense for the men who supposedly availed themselves of this young woman’s offer for paid sex. Others cite the effects this publicity will have on the families of the men. One woman said, “(publicizing) this could cause marriages to dissolve and men to lose their jobs. And the kids will suffer, too.”
Of course, there are people who find the entire matter distasteful and wrong, and some of them have made their views known as well. However, the preponderance of commentary has been around the effect all this will have on the men. I have yet to hear or read one comment regarding the young woman herself—good or bad. I am led to wonder why. Is it possible that most people in our culture today do not see prostitution as a blight on society—or, even more specifically, as a sin? Is it possible that many see it as a “victimless crime,” or that “boys will be boys,” and we should just look the other way?
Some say that women are driven into prostitution by virtue of poverty and desperation, and that is, indeed, sometimes the case—it certainly is the case in underdeveloped countries and places where women are still treated as property. Also, psychologists tell us that some women turn to prostitution because they were sexually abused as children, and their self-esteem has been shattered. These women actually believe they deserved to be punished. I wholeheartedly agree that for women who have undergone the horror of sexual abuse this is likely the case. Still, there are women who fall outside these extremes. Therefore, the deeper question is this: why would women living in a free and prosperous nation like ours to allow themselves to be used like nothing more than a blowup doll by men with whom they have no other relationship?
The most obvious answer and the one we really do not want to hear, is that selling one’s body for sex can be a very lucrative endeavor. There will always be men willing and anxious to participate, there is little or no overhead, and, as long as no one else finds out, there are no victims. It’s fee for service, right? Wrong.
Prostitution denigrates women—whether the women themselves think so, or not. It provides a means for men to be unfaithful to their wives, and the prostitutes themselves are complicit in that unfaithfulness. It can lead to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It is often linked to organized crime, sexual addiction, drug use, illegal gambling and racketeering. It can result in subsequent physical violence against the prostitutes themselves. It can lead to perpetuation of the lifestyle to the daughters of the prostitutes.
No matter how we try to make it right, prostitution is wrong. Nothing good can come from it. Does God consider it a sin? Well, we know what Jesus said about the fidelity of marriage. “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:9 NRSV) Therefore, any married man who engages a prostitute has been unfaithful to his wife. Unmarried men who engage prostitutes, as well as the prostitute herself might be judged by God to be complicit in the sin of fornication. My job is not to decide who has sinned, but to grant absolution to those who think they have, and who are genuinely remorseful. My job is also to use Scripture to instruct people on how to live a life in right relationship with God, and to offer the Sacraments so that they can receive God’s grace as a means to sustain them. My sincere hope and prayer is that all those involved in this recent event will find their way to God for such absolution, instruction and sustenance.