I Write Letters

[Trigger warning.]

Dear Alan Maimon of the Las Vegas Review Journal (also mentioned in this morning's blogaround)*,

Publishing a lavish photo spread featuring "Las Vegas' most prolific prostitutes"--under the 64-point headline, "WORKING GIRLS"--isn't edgy, interesting, or funny. It doesn't do your readers a service. And the fact that you included one perfunctory quote about how men who patronize prostitutes are the real criminals--from the mayor of Las Vegas, but still--does not make up for the fact that you devoted 1,400 words and several full-color pages to "outing" these women, many of whom (not that you'd know it from reading your story) are statistically likely to have been sexually abused, to be addicted to drugs, to be beaten and exploited by their pimps, or to have been forced into prostitution at a very young age.

A few statistics to help you with your future reporting:

• According to the US Department of Justice, the average age at which girls first enter prostitution is 12 to 14. That could explain why so many of the "working girls" in your story are have managed to be so "prolific" by 20 or 21 years old.

• About 70 percent of those arrested for prostitution are women. Clients make up only about 10 percent of all arrests, indicating that law enforcement places a much heavier emphasis on women on the street than on the men who patronize prostitutes.

• Between 40 and 85 percent of prostitutes are addicted to drugs, according to one frequently cited study.

• According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 80 percent of prostitutes were victims of childhood sexual abuse.

• In a survey of San Francisco prostitutes, 82 percent of the respondents reported being physically assaulted since entering prostitution--55 percent by clients. Sixty-eight percent of those women reported being raped.

• According to one study, two-thirds of prostitutes in nine countries displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder "at a severity that was comparable to treatment-seeking combat veterans."

• According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (pdf) 58 percent of prostituted women were or had been homeless.

• Another study, also in Chicago, showed that most prostitutes made less than $20,000 a year after giving a 25 percent cut to their pimps.

Please follow up with a piece about the effects of prostitution on female prostitutes in Las Vegas, featuring interviews with the women whose photos you featured in your story but to whom you did not give the opportunity to speak. This time, please include equivalent information (photos, name, age, offense) about the johns--the men who pay women for sex, but go largely unpunished. Please keep in mind the statistics above--statistics that may not make for a salacious story, but which might shed some light on the actual lives of the silent women who make up the "unique most wanted list" featured in your story.


* I debated about whether to post this image--the fact that posting the women's photos might repeat their victimization did not escape me--but decided to do so because I want all y'all to see just how over-the-top the Review-Journal's treatment of this story was.

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