May 6, 2009

Escort Gets Robbed, Reports It, Gets Outed

I couldn’t help but bring attention to this article in the Providence Journal, which was emailed to me this morning by a Speak Up participant: Man charged with assaulting escort [link redacted to protect the escort, do a search of the Providence Journal or email me for the full link].

Here’s a snippet from the article. I’ve removed the legal name of the escort because I don’t want to make ever more search results turn up for her in this case.

Check out this serious bullshit:

Assistant Attorney General Stacey Pires Veroni contacted The Journal on Friday and said that [the victim] wanted to recant her allegation because of “press involvement” and urged the newspaper not to identify [redacted] as the victim. “I’m going to have difficulty with my case, or no case at all,” Veroni said.

In an interview with The Journal, [redacted] vehemently objected to having her name published and said that to avoid publicity she was going to tell the police she made up the attack. The publicity “will ruin my entire life,” she said.

The alleged robbery bears resemblance to the craigslist.com cases, where a Boston University medical student is accused of robbing women who advertised services. On Monday, the Warwick police said they had an arrest warrant for Philip Markoff, 23, on four charges for allegedly attempting to rob at gunpoint an exotic dancer staying in a hotel by T.F. Green airport.

Despite [redacted]’s insistence that she was recanting, “We believe it happened,” Providence Police Capt. James Desmarais said late last week. “Upon reviewing everything in this case, the case is still proceeding forward.”

To speak up and tell the Pro-Jo what you think of their journalism, send a letter to editor to letters@projo.com and email Amanda Milkovits, the staff writer at the paper who wrote the article, at amilkovi@projo.com.

I also found an email address for the victim and sent her a note of support. I can supply it if you’re interested and I can identify you as someone with good intentions.

Here’s the email I sent to the Pro-Jo and the journalist:

I found your article “Man charged with assaulting escort,” published on May 5,2009 to be highly problematic. By naming and giving details about a woman who is an escort and reported a crime against her, you actively discourage people who work in the sex industry from reporting violent crimes committed against them. The recent assaults and murder of sex workers in Rhode Island and Boston only underscore the vulnerability of women in the sex industry to violence and exploitation by their clients. There is no justification for giving extensive identifying details of a victim of a violent crime. You have demonstrated a lack of concern for the well-being of [redacted] that will certainly make other escorts think twice before coming forward about exploitation. Creating a wall between victims of crime and their right to legal protection is despicable.

Audacia Ray
Vice President, Sex Work Awareness
New York, NY

And here is the response of the journalist (who wrote back as I was writing this blog post):

Thank you for writing. This story was discussed pretty extensively here before it was published.

We do not publish the names of rape victims, but The Journal does publish the names of crime victims, and interviews them, and writes about the nature of the crime. Prostitutes and exotic dancers have reported being victims of assaults and robberies, and had their names published in the newspaper, including as recently as a shooting at a strip club last month.

This article was important on several levels –– showing the nature of violence and alleged customers that women may meet. [Redacted]’s profession as a lawyer is also an important ethical consideration, one that is being considered by the bar associations in two states.

I’m still grappling with the intensity of this. True, the paper treated the escort the same as other crime victims. But it seems like that was done partially as a cautionary tale. I feel like this is such an impasse. Where do we go from here? How can sex workers protect themselves when their work is so stigmatized? And remember, prostitution is legal in Rhode Island (at least for now). My head is swimming.

**EDIT** Important: indoor prostitution is NOT illegal in Rhode Island due to a legal loophole (which may soon be closing). More here about the bill to re-criminalize. See also the blog Happy Endings, by the director of a documentary of the same name about legal prostitution in RI.

15 Comments on “Escort Gets Robbed, Reports It, Gets Outed”

1
Angus Johnston
5.6.09
11:27 am

Thanks for this. It’s a really important issue.

Milkovits’ response to your letter is weirdly non-responsive. You didn’t question the decision to run the article, just the decision to publish the name of the woman who was assaulted, and neither of her defenses of the article speak directly to that decision.

(By the way, the last name of the woman who was assaulted appears in Milkovits’ letter. You may want to redact that.)

2
Marie C
5.6.09
11:32 am

I understand that they do print the names of other crime victims in reports about the crime but I cannot think of when I last saw them do a min-bio of the victim with the kind of details the paper printed in this article. What bearing does her alma mater have on the crime????? And why, pray tell, are they concerned about the Bar doing something about the victim’s choice of professions? This is an article about a criminal victimizing women, not an expose of lawyers in Providence.

3
Audacia Ray
5.6.09
11:33 am

Angus, thanks for pointing our the name, I redacted it.

I want to be more forcefully articulate about this after receiving Milkovits’ response, but honestly I’m not sure how this gets fixed on a bigger scale.

4
DDog
5.6.09
11:36 am

I’m confused. If prostitution is legal in Rhode Island, why is her second job an ethical consideration for the Bar?

And their response to your letter sounds like they’re placing the burden of accounting for violence on the victims because of their job, instead of on the perpetrators.

(There’s another unredacted instance of her name in your letter to the editor.)

5
Audacia Ray
5.6.09
11:42 am

From Anthony Kennerson, who my spam filter hates for some reason:

OK…so let me get this straight.

If the victim of this near fatal crime had been raped, then the ProJo would have respected her wishes and not posted her name and given her intimate details…even if she did happen to be an escort.

However…because she wasn’t raped — just merely stabbed and nearly killed — AND because of her reputation as a lawyer and the “importance” of outing supposedly violent offenders and clients of sex work, it is perfectly OK, according to this “journalist”, to personally destroy — beyond even the physical assault — the career and life of this woman….all in the name of “journalism”. And besides….prostitutes and other “whores” don’t deserve privacy, anyway, since the authorities reveal their names when they are arrested and charged with “illegal” activity, anyway.

Never mind the point that the woman in this case explicitly pleaded for the ProJo NOT to reveal her name…but they did so anyway.

No personal motivations for an anti-Craigslist sex panic or a Pulitizer Prize delivered on the broken backs of sex workers….really, no.

Absolutely freakin’ disgusting. And just another reason why sex work needs decriminalization, and sex workers deserve full protection as human beings.

6
Another RI Escort
5.6.09
11:47 am

This is silly and terrible. I’m also an escort in Rhode Island and would be completely freaking out if I were this woman. However, as a lawyer, I guess she should be able to figure out her own recourse.

Should you maybe not link to the original ProJo article, though? I realize the audience here is probably more sex-positive than the typical Journal reader, but I’m still not sure her name should be spread any further.

7
Jessica Mannion
5.6.09
12:16 pm

Thanks for posting this, Dacia.

I agree with Angus J. that Milkovits’ letter is essentially a non-response … and a load of bull-shit.

What pisses me off is this: for as many journalistic justifications that Milkovits and his editors can cite for why it was OK to disclose this person’s name, there are as many examples of journalists throughout history who have made exceptions to standard protocol in order to hide the identity of certain individuals, because had those individuals been identified, their lives would have been ruined. Had this woman been a CIA agent or a government worker disclosing information, her identity would have much more readily been protected. Since sex was allegedly involved, however, all bets are off.

While none of us can predict whether this woman’s future has indeed been ruined, the fact remains that the disclosure of her current job as an escort–whether it’s legal or not: doesn’t matter–places her future professional life at risk. It doesn’t matter if there is protocol to justify the disclosure of her name and her occupation: common sense and common courtesy say that the disclosure of her occupation, because of its controversial nature, should be up to her: not the press.

8
Trixie
5.6.09
12:39 pm

They’re making excuses for something that’s unjustifiable. There’s absolutely no reason to print her name except to breed more stories on the victim’s back while feigning objectivity. They reached right into a story and changed it in the most twisted way possible: by exploiting someone who’s especially vulnerable. The media in cases like this one is the same as any predator who says that their victims asked for it/deserved it, dishing out a bunch of excuses they really believe themselves for why it’s okay to fuck people and rip apart their lives.

9

[…] Ray — who is no wallflower when it comes to defending sex workers and sex work — thought the same thing as I do….and this morning, she fired off an email to the editors of the Providence Journal […]

10
Willy Wonka
5.7.09
2:53 pm

My heart goes out to this woman. I wonder if it is time to review the journalistic standards that allow for the publishing of any crime victims name, without consent. Alternatively, the state should not release any crime victim’s name without that victims consent. This would neatly solve the problem on a policy level.

I realize that eventually the accused will be given the victims name as part of trial preparation, but a victim could then have some recourse for control of information by petitioning the court. It would not always lead to a better outcome, but would at least allow for an opportunity to be heard.

I don’t see what public good is served by the current approach, where people become “public figures” without taking any action on their part. Arrestees are identified because of activity they are alleged to have engaged in. Victims, of any crime, have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sorry for the long winded comment.

11
JR
5.8.09
11:55 pm

First, let us all hope for this person’s recovery. It is a truly horrible thing. Now let me try to wade into this from the perspective of a journalist. And forgive me in advance for a very long comment.

One of the most important things to consider as a journalist is the source of the information — you never know who might have a vested interest in lying to you. This is why good, basic reporting cites sources. In this case, the police say that the woman told them she had been attacked by the man who is now the suspect. The paper contacted the woman and it appears she verified the police account. But that does not make her account fact. Until police finish the investigation and the court process plays out we have to regard her account, the accused’s account (if any), and the police account as unproven. For now, the police label her as a victim. Hypothetically, it is conceivable that a “victim” in this situation could lie to police, and an attack was actually an act of self-defense. So the newspaper has to consider that in its reporting. Part of that consideration might include a bit of digging into the accuser’s background and providing that information to the reader so the reader can weigh credibility for him or herself. Discovering, in this case, that the accuser is also an attorney may add or detract from her credibility and thus would be considered pertinent to the story.

Why reveal the victim’s name at all? Because one of the foundations of our justice system is the right to be confronted by one’s accuser. Imagine if the tables were turned in this case — a john accuses a prostitute of attacking him and police hide his name. I’ll bet a lot of people reading this would be outraged. It is the media’s job to uphold the right to confront one’s accuser, as it is also the media’s job to uphold the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Imagine the smearing that could be done to your reputation if police withheld an accuser’s name until trial. It would be incredibly easy to hire someone to file a false report of some outlandish accusation and watch that person’s reputation be destroyed in the weeks leading to a trial. Think of the blackmail racket potential.

Another aspect of this is the media’s unfortunate tendency toward prurient interest in things sexual. That’s a big part of what’s going on here — somebody is surely thinking the phrase “attorney/escort” in the headline will sell papers. All sorts of factors go into deciding what’s news and one of them is what’s “interesting”. To a geeky bunch of news people the idea of a licensed attorney getting paid for sex is fascinating. If she’s licensed in Massachusetts (where prostitution is not legal) and making money as an escort in Rhode Island (where it is legal) she has probably crossed some ethical line as far as the bar association people are concerned, which would also add to the “interest” factor.

Just to be clear: Am I saying this woman is lying? No, not at all. I’m just trying to point out reasons why an editor would reasonably decide to print her name.

Really, I think the larger issue is societal — if we accepted sex work as a reasonable way to make a living, this wouldn’t be news at all. Instead, the media drool over stories like this because they seem just dirty enough to sell papers without totally turning off readers.

What about publishing the names of rape victims? Tough call. If we accepted that the shame of rape lies entirely on the perpetrator and not the victim, publishing the victim’s name would be no big deal. We’re not there yet. But in my lifetime in this country we’ve come a long way with the issue so I have hope.

12
Trixie
5.9.09
6:02 am

JR: withholding the names of rape victims isn’t just about shielding them from *shame*. There are lots of complex reasons for not disclosing some information, like the names of minors. Or specific addresses in police blotter types of columns. Or for some hearings to be closed to cameras. And for some witnesses to be protected.

No matter how much progress we make, IT IS NEVER GOING TO BE PAINLESS/FEEL GOOD/NOT HAVE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES TO VICTIMS TO HAVE THE DETAILS OF SEX CRIMES THEY OR THEIR LOVED ONES SURVIVED BROADCAST WILLY NILLY; that’s not how it works. Rape and sexual assault are still going to suck ass in very specific shitty ways. As we progress, real victims should have their privacy respected more, not less, and people should understand that the consequences of having the harrowing details of what they suffered exposed to the world’s strangers and attached to their names and faces is way bigger than the singular, vague emo concept of “shame”.

Since you don’t seem to be able to grasp the consequences and aftermath of rape, it’s not surprising that you don’t seem to grasp the rest of this story and the repercussions of this reporter’s and newspaper’s (and so much other media coverage of similar stories) actions.

The laws, PERCEPTION of the the laws, and media coverage of these cases purposely lead people away from considering the real and viciously violent crimes/criminals and directly towards condemning the “criminal” actions of the victims.

When the media actually effects the outcome of a story by doing shit like this the journalist and the paper are becoming active participants in the story which seems especially heavy-laden with gruesome consequences coming so soon after the “Craigslist Killer” that they even have the balls to refer to without acknowledging for a second how practices like outing this woman contribute to the violence. To me it just reads like “let’s throw this whore to the wolves (because popular opinion is that these messy assaults & murders wouldn’t happen if these tramps didn’t ask for it with their illegal and immoral activities), let him strike again, and hope it becomes an epidemic that will increase readership!

You talk about the media having a responsibility to uphold an accused person’s right to know who is pointing the finger at him. BULLSHIT. A newspaper article is not a legal proceeding taking place in a courtroom – the newspaper withholding the victim’s name wouldn’t have undermined the rights you speak of; that is the domain of the courts. Anyway, the cops already said they believe it happened so as far as wanting to avoid printing a fairytale concocted by some vengeful person out to destroy an innocent man’s reputation, I think they’re covered. If you’re worried about justice being served, you’d think it would be pretty obvious that IT WON’T BE IF VICTIMS ARE AFRAID TO TESTIFY or even come forward and press charges.

13

[…] the story, because I do not want to spread the woman’s name even more, but here is a link to Waking Vixen a blog by Audacia Ray.  In this blog, the article is reprinted and names […]

14

[…] Escort Gets Robbed, Reports It, Gets Outed – my blog post about the Providence Journal being jerks to a legal escort who was assaulted in RI […]

15

[…] In early May, a colleague pointed me at this story (link to my blog post): Escort Gets Robbed, Reports It, Gets Outed and I quickly followed up with a letter to the reporter and editor, and encouraged other folks to […]

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