DC “Family Values”: Punish Women, Give Men a Pass

Well this is bullshit. Sen. David Vitter, a right-wing “family values” crusader and abstinence-only indoctrination architect, will likely be getting a pass in the trial of the D.C. madam he visited. Several other powerful men who visited the sex workers also won’t be at the trial.

Who will be hauled into court? Fifteen sex workers, who will subsequently be humiliated and asked about all the titillating, dirty details:

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and other powerful men appear likely to get a pass. Less lucky: the 15 terrified women being hauled by prosecutors into court to recount in graphic detail their past work as prostitutes — and more than 100 other former prostitutes whose names prosecutors are trying to make public.

Wednesday, prosecutors forced a 63-year-old retired PhD — her name, like those of other witnesses, now a matter of public record — to testify about inducing orgasms in her client; the government’s lawyers had similar questions for a mother of three who worked briefly for the escort service nearly 15 years ago.

Yesterday, it was the turn of a young naval officer to take the stand; the case will almost certainly end her career. The prosecutor, Daniel Butler, had the woman spell her name slowly and clearly, then had her talk about when she was “aggressive” with a client, when she was “more submissive,” when she had a difficult client (“he tried to remove the condom”) and how often she got “intimate.”

“What do you mean by ‘intimate’? ”

The soon-to-be-former naval officer looked at him in disbelief. “Touching, caressing,” she explained.

“What happened” after that? he demanded.


“What type of sex?”

“Sometimes it was oral sex; usually it was normal.”

“Normal?” Butler persisted.

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” the stricken witness pleaded.

“What’s normal sex?” Butler again demanded.

Judge James Robertson intervened. “He wants to know if you mean intercourse.”

Butler pressed on with more humiliating questions until the judge cut him off. “That’s enough,” Robertson said. Minutes later, the dazed woman was helped out of the room.

So the women who worked for about $40 an hour as sex workers to some of the most powerful men in the country are dragged into court and humiliated (at one point the prosecutor even asked one woman what she did about the whole sex thing while she was menstruating). But all the men who broke the law by visiting sex workers get a pass — and, like David Vitter, get to stay in office, and get to continue fighting for “family values” policies that do harm to the very women they paid to see.

Once again, I am eternally grateful for our “assholes” tag.

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36 comments for “DC “Family Values”: Punish Women, Give Men a Pass

  1. April 17, 2008 at 11:43 am

    That’s really disgusting. I’ve tried to think of something more insightful to say, but really that’s all I’ve got.

  2. Sean
    April 17, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Like Rachelgbd, I’ve tried to come up with something insightful. Perhaps some way to partially justify this–you know, so I can find this world a little easier to live in. All I’ve got is a sad, empty, nauseous feeling.

  3. Jha
    April 17, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I’m having trouble wrapping my mind about the idea that all these little details are actually important to the case. Does that prosecutor honestly have no idea what “normal sex” means? No, wait, obviously sex workers are so filthy, so unnatural that “normal sex” for them must be something beyond the pale for the ordinary citizen. That, or the prosecutor himself must be the filthy unnatural one, so he doesn’t know what “natural sex” is!

  4. student_b
    April 17, 2008 at 12:30 pm


    How in hell does this matter to the case at all?

    Really classy, punish the prostitutes while leaving the clients unpunished.

    I really, really hate those assholes with their bronze age moral values. Hah, they don’t even have moral values, they just have some stupid superstition which they can’t get out of if their lives hinged on it.


    (Sorry about my swearing, but sometimes I just get so angry. :( )

  5. April 17, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    It’s because of this double-standard that I really wish assholes like Vitter would fall to ruin. I’m so tired of the punish the woman/pat the man on the back model of “morality.”

  6. Roy
    April 17, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    I suspect that the intrusive and humiliating questions are less about the pros. not knowing what “normal sex” means, and more about wanting to exploit the situation. It’s about humiliating these women and making them feel dirty or wrong for what they did. It’s about drawing the public eye onto them, and shaming them in an environment where all eyes are focused and watching. And I wonder if part of it isn’t playing to the crowd- it’s spectacle, and this asshole is giving the crowd a show.

  7. April 17, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Something the prosecutor said in his closing remarks pissed me off too:

    “When a man agrees to pay $250 for 90 minutes with a woman, what do most men expect in that time?” prosecutor Daniel Butler asked during closing arguments Monday. “In that context, it’s pretty clear. Most men want sex.”

    It’s a more expensive version of paying for a girl’s dinner and assuming you deserve sex.

    Stupid fucks.

    I got pissed about it here

  8. sotonohito
    April 17, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    We seem to be moving in the direction of one of Japan’s less enlightened laws. In Japan it is illegal to be a prostitute, to operate a brothel, or to pimp. However it is *not* illegal to hire a prostitute. Apparently here in the USA we have the same deal, just informally rather than officially encoded into law. How nice.

  9. Moopaw
    April 17, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I have been following this trial in my daily copy of the Washington Post, and the worse part was not mentioned in your post:

    The Prosecutor submitted to evidence (thus making it available to the press) the names of all employees for this “service” over the past 8 years of business, but did not submitt any names of the customers.

    The judge asked the point other then to shame the employees, with no sadisfactory answer he held the “evidence” under advisment. I do not know if it was ever accepted.

  10. TinaH
    April 17, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    How’s the whole Swedish thing of making selling sex legal but buying it illegal working out?

    Also – the Asshole tag seems somehow insufficient. Is there a Double Secret Asshole tag? Triple?

  11. malignedtruth
    April 17, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    I am extraordinarily angry and dismayed that those ungentlemanly so-called men are of my gender, and country!

    But, I do think that the quest for power does warp all values, and those men who did not step forward to at least stand tall, and the prosecutors, all can be lumped in one pathetic category of dastardly scoundrels!

    May the men suffer ten times worse fates than the ladies who are embroiled in this victimless “crime”! After all, the customers created real crimes for which real laws exist!

  12. JPlum
    April 17, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    What do they need to know aside from “Were you employed by [the DC Madam] to perform sex acts for money? Did you perfomr sex acts for money” Maybe some details about how the business worked-how they got calls etc. But the rest is just irrelevant. Completely, totally, utterly, irrelevant.

  13. Jen
    April 17, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Another instance of slut-shaming. Those poor men, paying for prostitutes that just can’t keep their mouths shut.

    Ask yourself: if a man in the military was caught buying sex would he be let go? If a woman in the military was caught selling sex would she be let go?

    The answer is quite clear. There is a sick double standard at play here, where men, particularly powerful ones, deserve all the adultery, privacy, and sex they want. Women, however, are not allowed to sell sex, they are not allowed to talk about sex, and they are certainly not allowed to keep their poise and reputation if they, godforbid, stray outside the Madonna/Whore dichotomy and expect to have sex and keep their dignity.

    What’s perhaps the most sick about this case is that statistically, a John is much more likely to be engaging in illegal or abusive behavior (reference the “difficult customer” that tried to take off the condom) than a sex worker. A John is cheating on his wife. A John is buying a woman as an object that he can use and discard.

    A prostitute is guilty of nothing but using all of her natural abilities to supplement her income. Women, however, are whores. Their sex lives are of upmost importance to society as a whole, because society as a whole commodifies women in a sexual context. Women are objects of sexuality or chastity, they are not people deserving of respect and privacy.

  14. james
    April 17, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    On what basis should the men be hauled in? You say they were johns; but – realistically – how are you proposing to make that stick in court? The only way I can think of is to put the prostitutes on the stand to give eyewitness testimony to it, but that’s exactly what you’re outraged about.

    You also have to remember this is a money laundering trial. It’s nonsense to pretend the johns and the prostitutes are in the same boat. Doing what the johns did – handing money to someone for sex – isn’t money laundering or evidence of money laundering. It’s the madam and the prostitutes who were involved in hiding the identity/source/destination of cash, or can give evidence to this. So it makes perfect sense to call one group but not the other. You can’t just haul people into court because it outrages your feminist sensibilities that the johns aren’t being humiliated.

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  16. denelian
    April 17, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    i have to ask, why the HELL did no one take the 5th during this?
    i mean… that’s what its FOR, right?

    am i missing something else here?

  17. April 17, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    You also have to remember this is a money laundering trial.

    If this is a money laundering trial, why are the women being asked to relate specific details of sex acts they performed rather than being asked, say, how they handed the money they received off to their madam? Why is finding out whether they engaged in oral sex or intercourse, or whether their john slipped the condom off in the middle of intercourse, relevant to money laundering? Does the prosecution think that they were shoving the money up their vaginas to launder it?

    Please point me to another money laundering trial where the prosecution spent their time asking witnesses to describe sex acts in detail rather than asking them to describe their money laundering activities in detail.

  18. April 17, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    I always found it quaint, to put it nicely, when some of my clients felt paranoid about law enforcement “catching” them, feeling all risky and dangerous driving their minivans into the city to visit a hooker, as if THEY, with their wholly socially supported masculine NEEDS, could possibly be at fault when it comes to the “victimless crime” of prostitution. It was ME who had to worry if he was a cop, a stalker, a sadistic rapist, a murderer. If either of us were caught, *I*, as the WICKED WHORE, would be blamed and shamed, not to mention fined if not locked up.

    Nobody ever wants to explore the root of this demand. They can keep rounding up the working girls and it will continue to solve NOTHING. It’s far more work to make changes in society that will benefit women (and men) enough so that prostitution wouldn’t even be necessary. But that involves introspection and owning up, and men, no matter how much they wail about the need for others to “take responsibility,” would much rather excuse themselves as being “only human.”

  19. Moopaw
    April 18, 2008 at 8:46 am

    denelian —

    Yes you are missing something … all the women were granted immunity, thus they could be compelled to take the stand.

    I my opinion, because they were granted immunity, that is why they were shamed on the stand.

  20. foxglovefinn
    April 18, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Is there anything that we can do for these women? I feel like someone needs to send them flowers and a hug or something. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to have moved on with my life after being a sex worker and then have asshole prosecutors drag me out of the new life I’ve built for myself, out me as a former prostitute in front of the entire public, ruin my career (in many cases), and slut-shame me in front of friends, family, acquaintances and the general public. What can we do? How do we begin to make it up to these women? Is there some sort of charity fund or support campaign in place so that we can just let them know that not everyone is out to get them?

  21. james
    April 18, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    “If this is a money laundering trial, why are the women being asked to relate specific details of sex acts they performed rather than being asked, say, how they handed the money they received off to their madam?”

    Whether someone is guilty of money laundering usually depends upon whether the money was produced as a consequence of illegal acts, and whether whoever did the laundering knew this. If, as the Madam’s defence was claiming, these women were just being paid to hold Vitter and Co.’s hands and give them a back rub, and the sex just happened when if all got out of control, and this had nothing to do with the agency, and she wasn’t really pimping them out – then it isn’t laundering and she doesn’t go to jail. It also establishes a motive.

    They have to nail this down: hence the menstruation question – if the ‘prostitute’ didn’t have sex but still got the cash, that supports the Madam’s argument they weren’t being paid for sex or, if that sort of thing was happening, it was a private transaction and had nothing to do with her. It’s perfectly good practice for the prosecution to make sure the court knows without a doubt exactly what went on and to cover all the bases.

  22. Ros
    April 18, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Seconding what foxglovefinn said : is there anything we can do? Do people have info?

  23. Betty Boondoggle
    April 18, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    *violent fantasy alert*

    Well, that just makes me want to kick teeth in. In what twisted, misogynistic worldview is this “justice”?

  24. Level Best
    April 18, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    This is just wrong.

  25. Idontgetit
    April 18, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I thought the sex workers loved to talk about sex. They certainly love to brag and talk about it on their blogs. It all look so fun.

    But when you have to talk about it in a courtroom then it is bad? What is the deal?

    The sorry ass truth is that sex work is not glamorous or fun. It is sucking strange men off for money. It is not healthy, it is not good for your spirit or your brain. Not to mention the fact that it is illegal. It looks to me like the prosecutors are just trying to get out the message that this really is a crime and you really will be caught and prosecuted and all those sex pozzie feminists won’t be able to help explain that you thought you were above the law cause you’re special.

    The prostitution promotion propoganda campaign that is headed up by the Spread magazine and Bound Not Gagged and the SWOP is misleading people. They are bad news for the women who buy their baloney about how we can all be happy hookers one day and we just have to hold hands and band together in a little union until someday when the revolution comes and everyone will see how wonderful sex work is.

    Meanwhile, smart women who got swept up in the easy money/glamorous lifestyle story will go to jail and wonder what happened.

    Moral of the story…prostitution is against the law. Don’t do it just because the other kids are You will end up in a jail cell next to them.

  26. Idontgetit
    April 18, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Let me add that the john in the Palfrey case should each be hauled in and given the same treatment. Where are the johns? What happened to the phone list?

    Why don’t some of you intrepid bloggers investigate that and track it down. Instead of just responding to the news you could go out and make some of your own. The information is there, you just need to ask for it in the right way. Go for it.

    Bring out the johns!

  27. April 20, 2008 at 6:47 am

    “TinaH says:
    April 17th, 2008 at 2:43 pm – Edit
    How’s the whole Swedish thing of making selling sex legal but buying it illegal working out?”

    Here is a link that is discussing various questions about the law with links to national research.

    I’m Norwegian and we are well on our way to introduce the law here too. I’m looking forewards to seeing how this will change Norwegian society. But one thing:

    it is the changing oppinion of the public of the buyers responsibilities that is making this law at all possible.

    It seems other parts of the world have a long way to go on that account… Things like this make me sick. It’s aso middle ages.

  28. April 20, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Very thought provoking.
    On a less-disgusting but still parallel note, has anyone else noticed how, with this whole mess in El Dorado, Texas, it is the women and children who are being detained and questioned (sure, the women are free to go, but their children aren’t, so it’s unlikely a woman is going to leave her toddler behind and go) while the men are free to go? Yes, of course, some of the women are probably accomplices to the rapes and abuses, but the men have, for more than a week, walked free.
    (I don’t really like how Texas is handling this whole thing, but I can’t help but see the parallel here…..)

  29. Em
    April 20, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    “I thought the sex workers loved to talk about sex. They certainly love to brag and talk about it on their blogs. It all look so fun.”

    There are different types of sexwork, you know. Somehow I don’t think the prostitutes in /this/ trial were bragging about it on “their blogs”…
    And somehow I don’t think women doing sex work for $40 an hour are doing it b/c they think it’s glamorous.

    And not all sex positive feminists want women to be prostitutes, or even think that prostitution is an okay practice.
    You sound like a confused individual.

  30. Em
    April 20, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    “They have to nail this down: hence the menstruation question – if the ‘prostitute’ didn’t have sex but still got the cash, that supports the Madam’s argument they weren’t being paid for sex ”

    So what, like when she’s menstruating is supposed to be the time when she’s least likely to have sex, and like if she was ever /not/ going to have sex with a client, it would be while she’s menstruating?

    The proceedings were sexist, either way you look at it.

    Not only that question, but also just that if you’re going to charge someone for money laundering, and not charge johns for prostitution…

  31. Roy
    May 2, 2008 at 3:32 am

    Well, you women have yourselves partly to blame. It’s you who demand that prostitution be illegal (out of jealousy). Yeah, there are a few weak-dick jesus-is-my-lord men who want it to be illegal, too, but they’re a small minority.

  32. DrBubbles
    May 2, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    You also have to remember this is a money laundering trial.

    Evidently Butler forgot to remember, too: “Butler apologized to the jury for some of the more explicit testimony — he asked one witness about her menstrual cycle, to the chagrin of everyone present — but defended it. In a case that is fundamentally about sex, ‘you have to be explicit,’ Butler said.” [Emphasis added. Link.

  33. Jim Harnage
    May 7, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    In defense of comments made in the awful wake of her unfortunate death I submit the following email from Deborah Jeane Palfrey to me, a minister as I knew her, back in July 2007. For more info see Palfrey story at http://www.dianedimond.net

    Jim… what an absolutely lovely letter. It is greatly appreciated. Now, in my opinion you are the archetypical Christian. I believe there is something in the Bible which speaks specifically to the identification of the truly righteous, i.e. how most would be surprised to discover who these persons/souls really are in this world. Something as well about only a few ultimately inheriting the Kingdom of God, as I recall. And I do believe these chosen few sure as heck aren’t the persons/entities you have spoken of here.
    –Sincerely, Jeane Palfrey

    PS I am no longer accepting donations. In fact, the cc is to remind my attorney one more time to delete any such reference to the website.

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