Tragic Result

The “D.C. Madam” has committed suicide.

Opinions among feminist about sex work vary widely, but I think we probably all agree about one thing: no just system would make things worse for the women that do the sex work, than for the men who act as customers. Yet, this blog has covered before, in this case, the johns were spared public humiliation, but the sex workers were dragged up on the stand and asked painfully invasive questions. This is not the first suicide in the case; according to the story, one of the women who worked for the service previously killed herself. A culture that puts women in a position of doing sex work and then so shames them and persecutes them for it that they take their own lives is deeply sick.


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37 Responses to Tragic Result

  1. demolitionwoman says:

    do yourself a favor and DON’T read the comments on that link…

  2. carissa says:

    I agree with you completely. And where are her rich and powerful johns?

  3. shah8 says:

    Well…let’s just say that the timing of her suicide is…unexpectedly auspicous.

  4. natmusk says:

    I just saw this story on yahoo and it is incredibly sad to me

  5. rebecca says:

    This woman did NOT commit suicide.

  6. Mnemosyne says:

    Well…let’s just say that the timing of her suicide is…unexpectedly auspicious.

    That was my thought, too. Though given that she was facing a possible 55 years in jail, it may well have been what it looked like, I can’t help but be suspicious.

  7. tayari says:

    This is really sad. I remember how composed she was at the first press conference when she said she would name names to stay out of jail. She seemed determined not to sacrific herself. Such a sad story.

  8. Am I just cynical, because my first reaction was that this is a murder covered up as a suicide. Powerful names were named, and future/current clients of prostitutes would want to make sure that people know what happens to “blabbing b___es”

  9. Kathleen says:

    I think it’s more probable that she took her own life. What did the johns have to worry about? The trial was over, she was convicted, the johns were shielded the whole time, only women were grilled and humiliated. It’s a thousand times worse than a cover-up.

  10. Thomas says:

    BGS, given that the system worked to protect the johns all the way through trial and conviction, I think there was no need to kill her. I think she is a victim of fatal slut-shaming.

  11. RenegadeEvolution says:

    55 years.

    We don’t put away all kinds of violent criminals, murders, rapists, armed robbers, away for a possible 55 years.

    This woman hurt no one. This case over all says so much about the nature of our justice system.

    Suicide or not, I don’t know, and I don’t care to speculate. But her death is a tragedy, and 55 years? That’s an affront.

  12. Miss Nomered says:

    That is so sad.

    Jesus Christ, what crime did she commit? Sex work? Gimme a break.

    Whatever happened to “live and let live”? I guess we still have a ways to go.

  13. Brian says:

    I agree that the death was tragic and that the 55-year sentence seems excessive. But I find myself a little turned off by the rhetoric of martyrdom here. For everything this woman was, she was also, if the allegations are to be believed, at least a little bit, a pimp. I know that a pimp and a madam don’t have the same connotations, and that there would be legitimate differences if it were a man in her position. But if the allegations are true, she probably should be at least somewhat culpable, no? For exploiting sex workers the same way a pimp does?

  14. Thomas says:

    Ren, I agree that throwing her in jail for years while the johns avoid even public shaming is disgraceful and a travesty of justice. However, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, she did not face 55 years. She faced 57-71 months. The guidelines are not mandatory, but she would almost certainly have been sentences within or below the guidelines.

  15. Kiru Banzai says:

    This upset me a lot. Poor Deborah.

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  17. Holly says:

    There are some reports calling into question the nature of her death. A radio talk show host has reported her as saying that she was not suicidal and if she was found dead it would be murder. On the other hand Time Magazine just published quotes from an author who said she told him she’d rather commit suicide than go to jail, in part because she’d done time for a sex work conviction before.

    I haven’t seen a whole lot of reports on how Deborah Jeane Palfrey ran her business. She was certainly making money off her employees selling sex, but there’s no evidence she coerced any of them. In fact, I’m not sure if she could have, since it sounds like it was a decentralized operation that she was running via e-mail and phone from the other side of the country, asking her employees to mail her money orders for their share of her fees. Maybe I’m missing something here, maybe she used hired goons that nobody has reported on or mentioned to intimidate workers — but even the Washington Post drew a portrait of her, before her death, as a former sex worker who was fed up with conditions at agencies she worked at and decided to start her own, was involved in criminal justice activism, and dispensed auntly advice on safety to her employees from afar. I doubt she was a saint or an angel or anything close — but she’s still dead, and the politicians who fueled her business are walking away scot-free.

  18. james says:

    “A culture that puts women in a position of doing sex work and then so shames them and persecutes them for it that they take their own lives is deeply sick.”

    You really are misrepresenting things here. She was not being persecuted for “doing sex work”, she was being persecuted for pimping and money laundering. Good. Persecuting pimps and money launderers is entirely justifiable. Making apologies for that behaviour is what is sick.

  19. donna darko says:

    I bet she was murdered.

  20. Daisy says:

    Bitter grad student, I agree with all you’ve said. This is H-I-N-K-Y beyond belief.

  21. SarahMC says:

    She was facing five to six years, IIRC.

  22. JenLovesPonies says:

    I don’t for one moment think she killed herself. Of course, I am not immune to the belief that as she somehow faked this and escaped… I like the idea, but I am not sure it happened. But I do think she simply knew too much.

  23. hara says:

    agreed – well put

    and to Brian’s Comment:
    No. A Pimp and a Madame are different.
    and no Pimp has been given such bad publicity and such a harsh (expected) sentence.
    Certainly not the Pimps like snoop dog and Ice T
    or their entourages who are comprised mostly of Pimps who are proud of it.

    Pimps tend to rape, beat and exploit and work at an entirely different level than Madames do (in the states, servicing upper class).

  24. Jeffrey says:

    The murder hypothesis, like Thomas said, is illogical just because the system does a good enough job hushing up the names of powerful johns. The threat of going to jail for the rest of her life (she was 52) would be enough to send her into a suicidal bout of depression.

    As for the punishment, the maximum punishment for 2nd degree murder here in Oregon is 25 years. Excessive much?

  25. spencer says:

    It is tragic and pointless. I wish that she hadn’t made such dismissive comments when one of her former employees killed herself before going to trial (they were something like, “I guess I’m made of something she wasn’t made of”). That suicide was tragic and pointless too.

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  27. Mnemosyne says:

    The murder hypothesis, like Thomas said, is illogical just because the system does a good enough job hushing up the names of powerful johns.

    Unless she was going to try and trade those names for the prosecution asking for a lesser sentence. Or was planning (or had written) a book naming names.

    It might not be logical to kill someone because you’re afraid she’s going to name you as one of her clients, but murder is rarely based on logic.

  28. Natalia says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one a tiiiiiny bit suspicious about this death. I’m sure she had a lot of enemies, knew a lot of secrets, and I’m also positive that practically any publisher would have taken her up on the offer of writing a tell-all book. Killing her before the trial would have immediately aroused suspicion, but this way, this death can be brushed aside.

    Well, what else is new? The men go on with their lives and women pay the price for being “sluts.” It was true 500 years ago, and it’s true today.

  29. Jeffrey says:

    Unless she was going to try and trade those names for the prosecution asking for a lesser sentence. Or was planning (or had written) a book naming names.

    It might not be logical to kill someone because you’re afraid she’s going to name you as one of her clients, but murder is rarely based on logic.

    Like I said, the system has done such a good job of covering up the names of the johns that it seems very unlikely that the prosecutors would give a lesser sentence in exchange for naming her clients. Also, a book deal would probably be off the table. It’s illegal to profit from a crime, and so any profits from the book would be seized by the government. All in all, given that the johns have been protected so well so far, there seems to have been very little reason for them to fear.

    And actually, murder is usually very logical, if you assume a very low value placed on the victim’s life.

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  31. Natalia says:

    There are definitely ways to profit personally when it comes to publishing tell-all memoirs, even if you were convicted of a felony. I think it all depends on having a brilliant editor.

  32. Natalia says:

    I think people were just really angry with her. I think she let a lot of people “down” by getting caught (in their minds, obviously). A memoir would have had to insure public repentance (am not 100% sure she would have gone for that, but who the hell knows), but it would have also insured cash, and I can think people feeling very vengeful in that regard. She would never have to name names or incriminate anyone further (she would have been barred from that anyway), but she is clearly one of those “inconvenient” figures on the public landscape.

    Even if it was a straight-up suicide, her death speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of our society.

    It’s just awful.

  33. tenacitus says:

    I really wish that she was not dead. I hate sex work, as a man I wish that the pimps and madams who pray on the prostitues were locked up. That being said I think that she got a very raw & injust deal. Why was she and her employees painted as such terrible people but the wealthy powerful johns get clean away?

    I feel very bad for her and consider her to be a victim. I truly hope that justice will really be served.

  34. Mnemosyne says:

    Also, a book deal would probably be off the table. It’s illegal to profit from a crime, and so any profits from the book would be seized by the government.

    (A) “Son of Sam” laws are unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court, so there’s not much that could be done.

    (B) Even if they were able to seize her profits, which victims of her crime will be recompensed for her making a profit off it? There is no provision for someone who committed a crime without a victim (the government doesn’t count as a victim in a money laundering case) to have his/her profits taken away.

    (C) You might want to tell Heidi Fleiss that she wasn’t allowed to write a book about her experiences as a prostitute and madam even though she was convicted on those charges, because she doesn’t seem to know.

  35. Lab Lemming says:

    From the NYTimes:

    “Randall L. Tobias… resigned as a deputy secretary of state after acknowledging to ABC News that he had used Ms. Palfrey’s service for massages”

    So that’s at least one fucker (john is such a euphemistic word) who didn’t make a clean break.

  36. Natalia says:

    Speaking of Heidi Fleiss, she was working in California, her clients were in the entertainment industry, which is probably why she’s still alive today. Don’t mean to harp on a possible murder conspiracy too much – it’s just that I’m really upset by this. :(

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