Johns on the spot

From Saturday’s Books section
Men need to stop kidding themselves: Victor Malarek’s books makes it clear that when they buy sex, they perpetuate the system that enslaves millions of women and children
Reviewed by Natalie McLennan

Last updated on Friday, Jun. 26, 2009 05:24PM EDT

In The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men who Buy It, Victor Malarek explores the following theory: Men looking to pay for sex plus a money-driven society equals women and children treated as commodities and trafficked in a fashion similar to drugs and guns. The truth, exposed by his thorough research and methodology, is incredibly painful. Malarek uses these victims – from children in Asia sold by their parents to runaways throughout the United States and Canada who become truck-stop prostitutes enslaved by pimps – as the backdrop to highlight the callousness of the johns who rent their bodies.

I’d like to compare Malarek’s book to others of its kind, but, as he points out, there aren’t any books or major studies or information about the men who hire prostitutes. This is the first book about johns, but then this is the first time in the history of the world’s oldest profession that, via the Internet, men who frequent prostitutes are finally coming out of the shadows and telling their stories: Wall Street guys too busy to date; divorced men who are sick of high-maintenance North American women and who prefer the accommodating attitudes of Eastern women; sex tourists, men who would rather vacation in places like Costa Rica and be treated like a king for $100 a day than date women where they live; sadists who want to punish and hurt prostitutes or women in general. The list goes on.

The Johns is a follow-up to Malarek’s 2003 The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade. It’s easy to understand why Malarek, after hearing and writing hundreds of stories of the thousands of women and children bought and sold as sex slaves, shows no sympathy toward johns. From prologue to epilogue, he does not soften or crack. He never excuses or finds compassion for his subjects. He never rants; he delivers the truth methodically, but his opinions and emotions are obvious.

Malarek villainizes every man who has ever paid for sex, and in doing so risks turning them into caricatures, types instead of human beings behaving badly. He puts most of the blame on the porn industry and an over-sexualized pop culture. I wish he had included more of the psychology, found more men willing to open up about the details of their marriages, or the roots of their desire to punish women, and their ignorance of human trafficking. Men who hire prostitutes aren’t all inherently bad human beings, and the women who choose to work as prostitutes aren’t all victims.

But they aren’t the people who need to be talked about and, ultimately, helped. The problem is that there is lots of money to be made and, as a result, all over the world prostitutes are doing as they are told for fear of being beaten, raped and killed. That is why even in countries such as Australia, where prostitution has been legalized, illegal brothels and organized crime still dominate the industry and there is an increase in human trafficking.

My other concern is that the book’s language perpetuates the stereotypes. It gives the worst of these men – violent, angry and predatory – a voice and allows their comments and misogynistic rants. My oversensitive self was shocked to find a paragraph where even Malarek fell into the behaviour he chastises. Johns often demonize women as evil temptresses, and the author, telling one prostitute’s story, describes how she leaves the bar, “her sights set on a thin, balding, {filig}ftysomething john,” placing the girl as predator and her client as prey.

One chapter, The Girlfriend Experience, is about sex workers who offer johns a more intimate, girlfriend-type experience. They are known in the industry as the happiest workers, but the chapter also includes a section called The Girlfriend View, an interview with a young woman who is anything but happy. Her off-colour jokes and self-deprecating humour are indications of a really sad human being, and she admits that she is bitter. It seems that Malarek does not believe an independent, happy sex worker can exist, which ultimately leads me away from trusting his other evidence.

Even the idea of The Johns made me nervous: Was I going to have to experience the nightmare stories I’d heard about, girls being raped and beaten by johns and pimps? This wasn’t the Pretty Woman fairy tale I signed up for a few years ago when I started working as an escort. This is hardly a feel-good book; it’s a feel really, really bad book. But it helped me understand my own feelings about the subject of selling sex. I have been a public voice and given many interviews about the escort industry, to everyone from Larry King to this newspaper. I’ve been asked over and over again how I feel about escorting and the legalization of prostitution, and I was never really sure. I thought, well, everyone would do it for the right price, wouldn’t they? Five hundred, five thousand, five hundred thousand? So I went with the popular idea that people should be able to do with they want with their bodies.

I had the best experience you could hope for when selling your body: I was never physically, emotionally or mentally abused. I was well paid and treated to a life of luxury. And even under those circumstances, I suffered from post-traumatic stress, had the money I earned stolen by the man I was working for, was arrested and spent a month in jail, saw my drug use became abuse and then addiction, and finally became suicidal; I almost threw myself off the roof of a six-storey building in Manhattan after I was released. I still sleepwalk and have nightmares, even after hours of therapy.

“There is no line between escorting and human trafficking, it’s all the same industry, and when people are being tortured and killed to sustain it, it must be shut down ”

If that’s the good end of the spectrum, imagine the pain and suffering of children who are sold by their parents into a lifetime of prostitution at the age of 5 in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, who perform oral sex on strangers every day until the age of 12, when their virginity is auctioned off. Imagine their nightmares.

What I loved about this book is that Malarek comes full circle and offers solutions, making this diehard optimist hopeful. He highlights a few of the hypocrites who have been outed: “religious” men like Jimmy Swaggart, ex-attorney-general and New York governor Eliot Spitzer, even the head of an anti-child-prostitution agency. None of these men was ever prosecuted, and it is from this fact that Malarek builds his case against legalizing prostitution. Instead, he proposes an across-the-board ban and a crackdown on johns. Not on the women and children who are the victims.

I am proof that sending prostitutes to jail doesn’t help. Yes, I stopped working, but there were a dozen girls ready to replace me. Arresting the johns and pimps would get at the people committing the crimes. I was deeply offended when I read that Spitzer would not be charged for his transactions with Ashley Dupré and the Emperor’s Club Escort Agency. Why did he, as attorney-general, waste time and money changing the laws to be harder on johns, and incite a crackdown on escort agencies in New York, if the laws don’t apply all the time – like when he’s involved?

The strongest support for punishing johns comes from Sweden, a country that has almost entirely eliminated prostitution and human trafficking. It has decided to work toward “a society in which prostitution is seen as incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human being and the equal rights of women and men.” Sweden’s government found that when you instill fear in johns through real consequences, you eliminate the customer. When you eliminate the customer, there is no need for the supply. They have also instituted government-run programs to help former prostitutes reintegrate into society. When I was released from Rikers Island, I had no ID, no way to earn money, no family in the United States and no access to counselling.

The best way to incite this sort of change is for as many people as possible to learn the reality. No one wants to admit to contributing to the enslavement of a human being. But there is no line between escorting and human trafficking, it’s all the same industry, and when people are being tortured and killed to sustain it, it must be shut down.

It would be irresponsible of me to sit back and say nothing, now that I get it. I was not willing to join the fight against prostitution because it meant admitting I was a victim. Do I have the strength to walk down the street with my head held high and move on with my life once I’ve admitted I’ve been hurt? I do have a voice, and I will do everything I can to help the women and children who are forced to sell their bodies and, ultimately, their souls. Buy this book, read it, support it; by sharing the knowledge it carries, we can stop women and children from being enslaved in the sex industry.

All you have to do is look in these girls’ eyes to know that they are not happy, not prostitutes by choice. Eyes are a recurring theme in Malarek’s book: Johns never look in the girls’ eyes, and the sparkle disappears from a child prostitute’s eyes. I never opened my eyes when I was with a client. And I kept them closed until now.

Natalie McLennan is the author of The Price: My Rise and Fall as Natalia, New York’s #1 Escort.

Natalie McLennan is a former escort; reading Johns has changed her laissez-faire attitude about prostitution.

Original on The Globe and Mail

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