Sex Work

Nicholas Kristof Says Busting Johns Is the Key to Shutting Down the World's Oldest Profession


Nassau County District Attorney

Is there any police activity more pointless and pathetic than a "sting" aimed at people seeking to buy arbitrarily proscribed products or services? It is bad enough when the government criminalizes a transaction—a wager, a drug purchase, the exchange of money for sex—that violates no one's rights. When cops go out of their way to enforce that prohibition by tricking people into talking about transactions that will never occur, they manufacture "crimes" that are doubly phony. So how should we view armed agents of the state who invite people to engage in peaceful exchange, only to pounce on them with guns and handcuffs?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof thinks they're heroes. Consider the breathless opening of his latest column equating prostitution with "human trafficking":

Several police officers are waiting in a hotel room, handcuffs at the ready, when they get the signal. A female undercover officer posing as a prostitute is with a would-be customer in an adjacent room, and she has pushed a secret button indicating that they should charge in to make the arrest.

The officers shove at the door connecting the rooms, but somehow it has become locked. They can't get in. The undercover officer is stuck with her customer. Tension soars. Curses reverberate. A million fears surge.

Then, suddenly, the door frees and the police officers rush in and arrest a graying 64-year-old man, Michael. His smugness shatters and turns to bewilderment and shock as police officers handcuff his hands behind his back.

Exciting stuff. It takes a brave cop to join with several of his heavily armed colleagues in ambushing a defenseless 64-year-old who has committed the unpardonable offense of being smug in the presence of a fake prostitute.

How does Kristof justify this unprovoked violence? In his usual slippery way. "Some women sell sex on their own," he concedes, "but coercion, beatings and recruitment of underage girls are central to the business as well." Then he mentions "a 14-year-old girl in Queens" who ran away from home and was "locked up by pimps and sold for sex." Although they threatened to kill her if she tried to escape, "after three months she managed to call 911."

What exactly does that 14-year-old girl have to do with poor Michael, the john arrested in a Chicago hotel room after responding to an online ad placed by the Cook County Sheriff's Office? Unless the ad referred to an underage girl held against her will, there is no reason to think that Michael or any of the other men arrested in prostitution stings are complicit in such crimes. But they must suffer, Kristof says, because "police increasingly recognize that the simplest way to reduce the scale of human trafficking is to arrest men who buy sex." He insists "that isn't prudishness or sanctimony but a strategy to dampen demand."

This strategy—cops posing as prostitutes—has been a joke and a cliché for as long as I've been alive, but Kristof considers it the cutting edge of innovative policing. If targeting customers is all it takes to eradicate black markets, why do they still exist? People have been buying and selling sex for thousands of years, but Kristof seems to think they will stop if only we can get enough pretty police officers to impersonate hookers. He calls sting operations "marvels of efficiency"—which they are, assuming you want to produce futile arrests and gratuitous humiliation.

Kristof claims men who pay for sex, even when the transactions involve consenting adults, "perpetuate" crimes against women, because some prostitutes are forced into the business by threats of violence. By the same logic, people who buy automobiles perpetuate car theft, and people who hire domestic help perpetuate slavery. If anyone is perpetuating prostitution-related violence, it is prohibitionists like Kristof, who insist on maintaining a black market in which both buyers and sellers face unnecessary risks and victims are treated like criminals. 

Melissa Gira Grant covered "The War on Sex Workers" in the February 2013 issue of Reason.

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  1. He insists “that isn’t prudishness or sanctimony but a strategy to dampen demand.”

    I’ll give him that it’s a strategy to dampen demand… but why do you want to dampen demand in the first place? Ohhh right: prudishness. He probably thinks alt-text is too kinky too.

    1. Hey, it’s worked for drugs, why not hookers?

      1. Gotta do something will all those empty cells in WA and CO

  2. I’m reminded of Laud Humphrey’s identification of “the Breastplate of Righteousness”. That is:

    In donning the breastplate of righteousness, the covert deviant assumes a protective shield of superpropriety. His armor has a particularly shiny quality, a refulgence, which tends to blind the audience to certain of the practices. To others in his everyday world, he is not only normal but righteous ? an exemplar of good behavior and right thinking. However much the covert participant may be reacting to guilt in erecting his defensive barrier, he is also engaging in a performance that is part and parcel of his being. Goffman remarks that “there is often no reason for claiming that the facts discrepant with the fostered impression are any more the real reality than is the fostered reality they embarass.” The secret offender may well believe he is more righteous than the next man ? hence his shock and outrage, his disbelieving indignation, when he is discovered and discredited.

    1. I mean, look at the guy. If that isn’t a face that screams “I enjoy choking my call girls into unconsciousness before I take a shit in their mouths”, I don’t know what is.

      1. Bet he owns a van…no windows…..

          1. Nice touch….

    2. That’s just a form of projection. People like that think others are like them and so they hide it, because they know it’s disapproved of, but that’s why they’re often accusing everyone else of doing it, because they project their own issues onto everyone else.

      See also homophobic preachers who get found with rent boys, drug control advocates who get busted doing drugs, etc.

      1. I agree with you. I’m not sure where Humphreys stood in relation with Jung, but the great irony of all this was Humphreys, himself, was a closeted gay man who was married to a woman until the 1980s when he came out, a good ten years after he published Tearoom Trade.

    3. His armor has a particularly shiny quality, a refulgence

      That’s very cromulent.

      My I extent my sincerest contrafibularities on this post?

      1. I extend my sincerest compliments to Paul. to the extent which I can in light of his extant usage.

  3. So, a New York Times writer is a smug, authoritarian, slightly hysterical a$$hole. And this is a surprise, why?

    1. Hope springs eternal.

  4. Repealing the First Amendment would be a good way to stick Kristof in jail, too.
    I mean, just like him, I don’t need to justify why I think it’s a good idea, right? We all just know it is.

    1. And you can believably say it’s not because you’re a prude. It’s because he’s a fuckface.

      1. He’s a fuckface for money, something he supposedly frowns upon. He’s obviously being trafficked by unscrupulous stupidity peddlers. I suggest we deal with this by arresting New York Times subscribers.

  5. Her body, her choice–unless money is exchanged.

    1. Or it involves cigarettes, trans-fats, sugary drinks, junk food, IVF treatments… what else am I missing here?

        1. Ovum donation. If you want a leftist to use every known swear word on you, ask how that’s different from reproductive freedom.

          1. what else am I missing here?

            Having the unmitigated gall to offer your labor for less than the federally mandated minimum wage, making porn without a condom, illegal drug consumption, organ sales…the list is truly ad nauseum.

  6. What exactly does that 14-year-old girl have to do with poor Michael, the john arrested in a Chicago hotel room after responding to an online ad placed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office?

    Guilt by association, collective punishment, you know, the usual proggy/totalitarian tactics.

  7. Maggie McNeill always has excellent data on what % of whores are actually “trafficked”.

    1. Local report on NPR where a nurse stuck in so many buzzwords into her on-air statement, she got ‘trafficked’ in a healthcare conversation.

      All your healthcare are belong to them.

  8. I know I personally need big, stwong men like old Nick K. to tell me what I can and can’t do to my body. I’m just a fluffy-headed chick, after all.

    (Jezzies take note: this type of thing is where you all should be screaming “PATRIARCHY!”)

    1. I know I personally need big, stwong men

      Intentional typo? Because it still works this way.

      1. Intentional, not a typo. I sometimes type the way I would say the words out loud to convey my point.

        1. Did you have pouty lips when you wrote that?

          1. Yep. I look exactly like Betty Boop when I say it.

            1. (male gaze)

        2. It’s TWOO! It’s TWOO!

    2. I know I personally need big, stwong men … to tell me what I can and can’t do to my body.

      So, what you’re saying is that you’re into BDSM.

      1. No comment.

        1. Just don’t tell Kristof, for reasons noted upthread.

    3. (Jezzies take note: this type of thing is where you all should be screaming “PATRIARCHY!”)

      I’ve tried to make a similar point, and I might have succeeded if the people to whom I was trying to make it hadn’t deployed some weapons-grade doublethink.

    4. Jezebel will never go against this – they like this sort of thing.

      Prostitutes take away a huge amount of the power these women have because they (the Jezebelians, not the prostitutes) can withhold sex. Its not like the women there seem to have much else to offer and if her man can go down the street to get it then her monopoly power is broken.

      1. I still don’t even understand how the withholding works. What kind of dude puts up with that shit unless he’s been sucked in by a kid or something?

        1. I ask the same question, nicole. If a girlfriend tried to use withholding sex as a lever against me, she’d be out the door so fast she wouldn’t have time to have her head spin. I do not get how this works on some dudes. But then again, I am 1) not the type to get involved with someone who would do that or think it was ok, and 2) if you try to control me, I will do the exact opposite of what you want just to say “fuck you”, so this is a really bad tactic to use on me.

          1. Episiarch! I demand you never again watch your comprehensive collection of Robin Williams movies in one sitting again!

            Especially not while fondling a clown-nose you taped to your belly-button!

            1. (puts DVD of Patch Adams in Blu-Ray player)

              Hey wait…

          2. I’ve had people ask me why I don’t withhold sex myself, and I’m like…uh…because it would be wrong and insane? I mean seriously, I’ve had people ask and/or suggest it, and all I can really say is that that would not be acceptable to me ethically, but it also would not be remotely acceptable in my cultural milieu. I can’t imagine not getting broken up with for some crazy shit like that.

            1. “So nicole, why don’t you attempt to grossly and crudely manipulate the person you supposedly love and respect by refusing to have sex with them, thereby also indicating that you clearly don’t care that much about having sex with them if it’s that easy for you to withhold it, kind of asking the question, why are you with them then?”

              Did they ask like that?

              1. Well, that’s how I heard it, but I don’t think that’s what they said.

            2. Not to mention the assumption is that withholding sex is only bad for him. Exsqueeze me, but I happen to like sex. Withholding it is shooting myself in the hoof, too.

              But I get a feeling that the withholding Jezzies only see sex as an obligation in a relationship.

              1. Excellent points, Kristen!

        2. Lysistrata was always intended to be a comedy and not a documentary.

        3. Dudes who are riddled with “dude guilt” (similar to “white guilt”)

          1. I knew a guy like this in high-school.

            I believe he did get laid alot by girls in college, but they were the crazy types of the kind Woody Allen gets involved with.

            1. In other words, Jezebel commenters?

            2. Schoolgirls?

            3. Wait, his stepdaughters went to college with him?

            4. So he got laid by a lot of 9 year olds in College?

      2. Prostitutes who do the job willingly can withhold sex too.

        1. And this is the other reason the Jezzies will never support legalized prostitution: someday, somewhere, some prostitute will turn away a black customer, and then the Jezzies will have to choose a side.

      3. Prostitutes are the scabs who sabotage the efforts of the Jezzies sex union.

        How can they have an effective lockout if the MANageMENt can get these scabs to cross the dicket line?

        1. Excellent pun-to-word ratio in that second line, but you really dropped the ball on “lockout”.

  9. Kristof is nuts.

    The End.

  10. but coercion, beatings and recruitment of underage girls are central to the business as well

    Some people coerce women into being prostitutes, therefore, no prostitution for anyone.

    Some people use guns to commit crimes, therefore, no guns for anyone.

    Some people use cars to kill themselves and several others on the road, therefore, no cars for anyone.

    Some people use the internet to harass people into killing themselves, therefore no internet for anyone.

    Some people use knives to stab other people, therefore, no knives for anyone.

    Just to be on the safe side, we’d better take the sharp corners off those tables too.

    Safety. Order. Discipline. Obedience. These are the real freedoms.

  11. Yes, prostitution sometimes involves the victimization of children. So does the clothing industry, but the nanny statists don’t call for a ban on clothing.

    1. Give them time. Better yet, don’t.

  12. These disgusting SoCons and their war on womens bodies makes me sick. How dare they take away my choice to do what I want with my own body.

    Oh, wait…

    1. To be fair, it does come from both sides. However, I’m generally much less scared of the efforts of those on the Right because they tend to be limited to passing out “Sex Workers for Christ” pamphlets a few times a year.

      1. ^This. Nice pwning of sloopy.

        1. I attempted to sarcastically take down the progressive nannies…and I may have failed to get my point across.

    2. I think social conservative is a reasonable way to refer to the type of progressive leftists who want to ban prostitution, drugs, foul language in movies, violent video games, etc. They are certainly no kind of liberals on social issue. Legal abortion, BC and such have been around for long enough that supporting those things can be considered conservative in a way.

      1. …e-cigs, bitcoins, internet gambling…

  13. an online ad placed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office

    “We had to destroy the rule of law to save it because it was a nuisance.”

  14. Dear Nick Kristof,

    Fuck off, slaver.

    Also, you’re a fucking moron.

  15. Men don’t pay women for sex. They pay them to leave.

  16. police increasingly recognize that the simplest way to reduce the scale of human trafficking is to arrest men who buy sex.

    Like the easiest way to reduce the scale of narcotics trafficking is to arrest people who buy drugs?

    I mean, its worked so well *other* time its been tried, right?

  17. Since we’ve been on the subject of cops being sociopaths and the fact that ballooning police force sizes have made it so that their ranks are full of the worst possible candidates (not that they were full of good eggs before) who have nothing useful to do, I’d just like to point out that there isn’t a lot more sociopathic and fucked up than a person whose job it is is to fool people into trusting them and then suddenly arresting them for (often consensual) crimes. Think about the kind of person you’d have to be to do that, do it well, and keep doing it. Not only would you have to be unable to come to care for people, you’d have to have no problem betraying them, lying to them, and then turning around and doing it all over again.

    And vice cops are the worst (I’m sorry Crockett and Tubbs!), because that’s basically all they do, since pretty much everything they pursue is a consensual crime. Undercover cops are like the sociopaths’ sociopath.

    1. Future historians will view undercover cops the same way today’s historians view the Stasi and the Gestapo.

      1. You have a rosy view of future history.

        1. I mean way on down the line.

  18. The men’s cars are also towed, which costs them another $700 or so. Mike Anton, commander of the vice unit, says that he always tells the married men that they can avoid towing fees if they call their wives to have them pick up the car.

    “None of them has ever taken me up on that,” he added.

    Ho, ho! How droll, Mike of the Vice Unit!

    And to think that we raise a sanctimonious eyebrow to Saudi Arabia and their religious police.

    1. If only I believed that one day we could shame them out of wanting to admit to their friends and loved ones that they assault, kidnap, and murder people for a living.

    2. The type of person that would aspire to be a police officer is the last person that should ever be issued a badge.

      1. Sad, but increasingly true.

  19. Want to shut down the prostitution industry? Put a babe like this on every street corner:…..iginal.jpg

  20. Dear Nikki,

    Sorry about your false consciousness. Maybe someone with a superior intellect will come along and femsplain things to you.

    We’re all rooting for you, down here on the plantation.


    the GRRRRLZ

  21. Kristof claims men who pay for sex, even when the transactions involve consenting adults, “perpetuate” crimes against women, because some prostitutes are forced into the business by threats of violence.

    If prostitution were legal, how much of a market would there be for forcing women into the business?

    It’s like any black market. Restrict the availability of a product (in this case, sex), and the price rises, which makes it profitable to take additional risks (i.e. kidnapping) to make those profits.
    Make something illegal, and the people involved (Johns and hookers) can’t go to the police if a violent crime is involved.
    Make something illegal, and the people involved have to settle disputes through violence instead of contracts and courts.

    Mow much harder would it be to run a kidnapping ring if every John could legally call the police if a woman told him she was kidnapped?
    How much harder would it be to get customers for an illegal sex slave, if your customers can go to a legal brothel or hire a call girl without risking prosecution?

    1. So Hazel, it sounds like you’re saying that…Kristof himself may be perpetuating trafficking!!!

      I wonder if anyone has mentioned this to him before. Seriously. It might make his head explode. (I can hope, right?)

      1. Silence, Hussy. His intentions are pure. That is all that matters.

    2. Exactly.

      Why would anyone travel to a seedy motel, deal with a seedy scumbag, and pay for some bruised skank when they can walk to their nearest Whorebucks and drop $5* for the double-frap from the HJ barrista.

      *I imagine in a liberalized market, price points will develop close to this hypothetical

      1. the double-frap

        Ok, this needs to be defined.

      2. No, even where it’s significantly more liberalized than here (Amsterdam, Singapore), it’s still way more expensive than that.

      3. “I’d like a ‘gentleman’s latte’.”

    3. If prostitution were legal, how would cops get free tricks?

  22. Anyone against the liberalization of prostitution laws is pro-trafficking.

  23. Having sex is bad, mmkay. Having sex out of wedlock when both parties mutually benefit MAKES YOU A MONSTER!

    You are all going straight to “H” “E” double toothpicks.

    Kristof claims men who pay for sex, even when the transactions involve consenting adults, “perpetuate” crimes against women

    Prudes making excuses to legislate their morality. Fuck them. For free.

  24. As usual, the people who claim to act in the interest of protecting sex workers don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

  25. Busting makes me feel good.

  26. People regularly act like their only real concern is trafficking, but that could easily be solved by laws that don’t criminalize the prostitute, only the pimp – which is common in many jurisdictions, even though it’s still a dumb law.

    I think the real answer is that people think prostitution, like drugs, child labor, foreign factories, and for certain people guns, have acquired a sense of being culturally tainted as something bizarre that only the poor, stupid, or tasteless would ever be comfortable with. Therefore, these items must be controlled, wrangled, segregated, regulated, or quarantined to protect the rest of society from the taint.

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