Maybe if that's precisely how "adult" classified ads were worded, magazines and newspapers would be ashamed to run them. But instead, every week, in every city, otherwise upstanding publications take ads for "escort services," "bodywork" and "massage parlors" by pretending to believe that these are nice, legitimate businesses.
Let's take a quick look at some of the back-of-the-book ads you can find in New York magazine, The Village Voice and The New York Press -- three of my local reads. Can you spot any that might just possibly be promoting prostitution?
"Asian Bunnies -- Wild and Fun Asian Cuties."
"Obsessions: Our Girls, Your Obsession."
"Cherry Bomb Asian: Make You Go Boom. 24/7."
Really hard to tell, right? Those Asian bunnies could be rabbits up for adoption. And the "make you go boom" -- perhaps that's an ad for drums!
At least, that seems to be what the publications are telling themselves.
"Our policy has been and remains that if ever the authorities bring us any evidence at all of the illegal activity behind any of these services or businesses advertised in our magazine, those advertisers will no longer be welcome," says Serena Torrey, spokeswoman for New York magazine.
"Our ads do not promise any sort of illegal sexual activity," says Village Voice spokeswoman Maggie Shnayerson.
And I am the Queen of Romania.
Look, it's not like we're going to immediately end the world's oldest profession by refusing to run its ads. But these ads are for an illegal business. Publications that would never take ads for heroin dealers or illegal guns -- "Make your enemy go boom!" -- have no problem taking prostitution ads. How come?
It must be because they believe that prostitution is a victimless crime -- harmless fun.
But it's not.
"A significant percentage ... of the women [in brothels] have been subjected to coercion at some point in their time in prostitution," says Dorchen Leidholdt, legal director at Sanctuary for Families, a battered-women's shelter.
Her agency works with many women who have been brought to America and forced to work as sex slaves -- a problem she says is increasing. In a way, it's just another instance of outsourcing. Wham-bam prostitution is a horrible job. Americans don't want to do it. So laborers from other countries -- Hot Asian Cuties! Sexy Russians! Sizzling Latinas! -- are brought in.
One such woman, a 20-year-old who answered an ad for nannies in a Russian newspaper, was told when she got here that the nanny job didn't pan out. The man who'd arranged her passage proceeded to confiscate her passport and give her a choice: She could pay back her debt by working at a Newark strip club or in a massage parlor. Too shy to strip in public, she chose the latter.
"I quickly found out that the massage salon did not offer massages but sexual favors," she later wrote in a deposition. "The disgusting individuals who ran the brothel were horrible people and they took advantage of paying practically nothing for the perverse and disgusting things they made us do." Her job was to service five to 25 men a night. After three years, she escaped.
She will never be able to have children.
These are not the kind of stories any publication would like to feel complicit in. But as we all know, advertising exists to promote a product. If advertising didn't work, businesses wouldn't waste money on it. Instead, brothels pay tens of thousands of dollars every month to advertise in otherwise decent publications.
Those publications must ponder just how decent they really are.
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