Image Credit: Photo courtesy of the author’s mother
content warning: discussions of rape and consent
One day in 1983, when my mother was a Brown University sophomore, her roommate returned from a jog and announced that she’d met a man on the street who’d offered to pay her to sit for a photo portrait session. She relayed the backstory he’d given to her in his same vague terms: that he was an amateur photographer; that he was working on some project involving female athletes for which she’d be perfect. The roommate told my mom where she was going and asked that my mom come knock on the door if she hadn’t returned in an hour. My mom agreed, and when an hour had passed and her roommate still hadn’t arrived, she went and knocked. When the roommate came down, the man accompanied her. The two roommates would leave together, but not before the man introduced himself to my mother as Stanley Henshaw III and offered to pay to photograph her too.
Emboldened by her roommate’s assurances that Henshaw was a “total marshmallow,” my mom sat for five photo sessions over the course of a couple months. “It was easy cash,” she explains to me, sitting in her living room nearly forty years later. “He didn’t seem threatening,” she says. “He was not big, not tall, not attractive, older…” He’d asked whether she felt comfortable at every turn, but the stakes had inched higher. Would she trade her clothing for a men’s shirt? Would she remove her shorts; would she crawl across the floor? She feels that her naiveté, feigned and genuine, offered protection from embarrassment and discomfort even as the photos became explicitly sexual. She committed herself to his conceit—that this was art, that his interest in her was pure aesthetic appreciation for the athletic female form—to feel okay sticking around for a few sessions more. In retrospect, she’s amused by the dissonance between Henshaw’s lascivious requests and her awkward, bare-minimum compliance, simultaneously smug at having drawn a line and mortified at how ingenuous she really was. “When he asked me to crawl”—she kneels down on the floor to demonstrate—“I did it like this.” She starts a neat, perambulatory crawl across the carpet. “I did it, but I didn’t give it to him. I wasn’t doing this.” She begins throwing her hips and shoulders into a smutty prowl, a sexed-up cat-walk on all fours, looks up at me and cackles.
Eventually she did grow uneasy and ended their working relationship. During what would be their last session, Henshaw asked that she pose on the bed with her mouth agape and head thrown back, as though she’d just had an orgasm, and she complied in her perfunctory manner. He then asked if he could masturbate her to orgasm so that he could capture the authentic moment of climax on camera. This, evidently, was her limit. She first tried indirection, asking cheekily what made him so certain that he could achieve what he proposed, but he was undeterred. She then said that she would need to ask her boyfriend first. As her boyfriend was a Rhode Island WASP who had looked pained but remained silent when she’d mentioned this latest source of quick cash, and she a Berkeley bra burner to whose identity a sense of liberation was paramount, she had no real intention of asking his permission, though it’s funny to imagine the scene anyways. Instead, she invoked the boyfriend to excuse herself, and it worked.
She more or less forgot about Henshaw until the Providence Police arrived at her workplace three years later and asked that she come into the station for questioning. Once there, they showed her images of herself, prints of the photographs she’d posed for three years earlier, along with hundreds of photos of other women, many taken in the same apartment. The police asked her to help identify the others, which she could not have done even if she’d wanted to as she did not recognize any of them, and repeatedly asked what other involvement she’d had with Henshaw, about which there was nothing to tell. She remembers feeling humiliated gazing at the photos of herself and other women as policemen looked on. This was not only because she felt exposed and that, even without extracting names from her, the police had implicated her in exposing the others by examining them in the police station, but also because the photos were so bad, artless and silly.
“There was nothing beautiful about them,” she tells me. “Not the images. Not the women, really.” Spread across the table, the photos were the first representation she’d encounter of what quickly became known in the national media as the “Brown prostitution ring,” or the “Brown sex ring.” I imagine that, had she looked closely, some of the images might have suggested the other pretenses under which Henshaw began photographing the women, while others might have displayed a lack or abandonment of pretense, just frank photographs of partly-dressed or naked women.
What my mom hadn’t known at the time was that on March 7, 1986, just a few days before she was brought in for questioning, the Providence Police had seized hundreds of photos of 46 women from Stanley Henshaw III’s residence. The day before, the Providence police inspector, working on an anonymous tip, had made undercover ‘appointments’ with each of “two Ivy League blondes” whose services were advertised in the now-defunct Providence Eagle and arrested both women. The women, Dana Smith and Rebecca Kidd, both Brown seniors, were initially charged with soliciting prostitution, a misdemeanor. Smith and Kidd would be the only women charged, and thus the only two named in the scandal. But when their cooperation brought the police to Henshaw’s residence, and the photographs were seized as evidence, the media was apprised of the fact that eight other Brown students and recent alumni had been identified in the photographs. Though students at other colleges, Providence-area residents, and, most notably, two minors, aged 14 and 17, were also among those identified, media coverage seized upon the Brown students, fixing the public’s attention on the apparently oxymoronic figure of the ‘Ivy League prostitute.’
The legal case against Henshaw hinged on whether he had “harbored prostitution,” as defined under Rhode Island law: did he “cause, induce, persuade, or encourage” either of the women to transact sex for his own monetary gain? Because the charges against Kidd and Smith were eventually dropped, their respective involvements were never put on trial as such. That is, the legal question was not whether the women had chosen to sell sex, but rather whether it could be shown that Henshaw had caused them to. The verdict, reached nearly two years later, was that he had not. In the court of public opinion, the question of choice was far more complex. The ‘Brown sex ring’ case cut to the heart of 1980s debate surrounding the precise boundaries—or lack thereof—between prostitution, pornography, and rape.
Conventional wisdom held that sex workers chose to sell sex, and therefore had no one to blame but themselves for their social stigmatization. In this view, poor sex workers’ decisions to transact sex might appear rational; but even the worst circumstances didn’t much shift the blame. In the 1980s, some feminists began to question the nature of sexual consent, and, ultimately, whether women could consent to sex at all. The ‘Brown sex ring’ and the figure of the ‘Ivy League prostitute’ provided particular fodder to those inclined to view sex work as a choice. The women appeared so privileged, their circumstances so free of need, that surely they had chosen to enter into sex work. But some radical feminists read the situation quite differently. If these women were indeed free of need, these feminists reasoned, then surely they must have been coerced by something other than money. That ‘something,’ these feminists proposed, was the fact of their sex.
The New York Times headline referred to the Brown “sex ring case,” while other outlets spoke of the Brown “prostitution ring.” The Washington Post, at least, was reflexive, observing in an article headlined “Brown winces under glare of scandal” the inflammatory tone in national papers, which spoke of a “hooker probe.” The Post’s reporter captured the same image of elite American university life which lent the story its incredibility by quoting from a student who “leaned on his bicycle and looked around him at the expanse of lawns, the 19th century stone buildings and the historic iron gates that are the landmarks of the Ivy League,” surveying his environs in preparation for a languid retelling of the facts of the case, and in brief descriptions of the two accused students: Smith was a “science major and a writing fellow”; Kidd “major[ed] in semiotics.”
The article quoted another student who had “a hard time believing that somebody could do that”—that is, engage in sex work—and whose father had questioned his decision to send her across the country to “such a liberal school.” Such coverage, like the many magazine pieces and digestions to follow in the months after the story broke, saw the sensationalism but still stumbled over it. That a prominent insurance agent was an alleged procurer, that minors were seemingly involved, that sex was traded in Providence—these writers noted, sometimes with dismay, that none of these facts revealed by the case struck the public in any revelatory way. Rather, the intrigue (then as now, for my retelling the story recapitulates the initial interest) revolved and still revolves around the question of what could possibly bring two women of Smith’s and Kidd’s backgrounds—both raised in white, upper-class Connecticut families—to trade in sex.
The piece that captured my interest more than any other was a long feature written by Aimee Lee Ball for the September 1986 issue of Mademoiselle magazine. I’m sure Mademoiselle is carefully archived somewhere, but I found the piece on the internet among the author’s clips as a slightly rumpled scan. The title banner, riffing on the issue’s ‘back-to-school’ theme, reads “School for Scandal: Selling Sex on the College Circuit.” Below, a tabloid ellipsis—“Talk about carnal knowledge…”—separates headshots of Smith and Kidd. Smith has feathery ‘80s hair and beams off-camera; Kidd’s straight smile sort of reminds me of my mother’s.
Running 1935 to 2001, Mademoiselle forged a certain model of high-cultural all-American femininity. The magazine ran beauty and fashion columns, while Joan Didion and Sylvia Plath served tenures as guest editors. As the Chicago Tribune’s 2001 eulogy for the magazine put it, Mademoiselle was “for women who wanted to write the Great American Novel, but who also wanted to have boyfriends and go to parties and have fun.” But by the mid ‘80s, Mademoiselle struggled to keep pace with the zeitgeist. The ideal reader had so successfully manifested twenty years prior—the stylish co-ed with literary aspirations—no longer resonated with the daughters of America’s upper classes in quite the same way. For whatever reasons Mademoiselle lost touch, we can imagine the attendant corporate soul-searching, the magazine’s grasping at the latest iteration of the American college girl, less who she was than whom she could be imagined to be.
What better publication, then, to publish Ball’s profile of Kidd and Smith, which combed through the two women’s biographies, performing a reckoning with the allegations against them. Ball described the “lovely-looking” Rebecca who’d once loved to bake with her sisters and listed Dana’s many high school accolades. Ball spoke with “friends and acquaintances of the two women, with teachers and counselors and principals and headmasters, with neighbors and down-the-hall dorm-mates, and, at some length, with Rebecca Kidd’s mother.” Yet even after all this, the task Ball set out for herself, the reconciliation of ‘Ivy League’ and ‘prostitute,’ is made to seem nearly impossible. In one passage, she slips from a reportorial tone to a confessional one, writing: “I hate this story. I hate it because I don’t really understand it and because, even without understanding it, it feels crummy.”
But Ball gives up her performance of incomprehension to offer some theories, beginning with quasi-Freudian readings of both women’s upbringings that find complexes rooted in parental pathologies and neuroses. She wrote that “there were some who knew Dana Smith, her complicated history and self-deprecating ideas about men, who could imagine her feeling needed, feeling desirable, feeling valuable because she was paid for sex. And there was something about Rebecca Kidd, her conventional upbringing, her sheltered background, that allowed one to imagine her being wined and dined and flattered by an older man from the ‘jet set’ of Providence, thinking that being paid for sex was exciting and different and okay.”
Ball offered her reader a second way out of her own befuddlement which drew on radical theories of women’s agency gaining traction in the mid-80s. This explanation for rich girls’ decision to prostitute themselves rejects its own premise: it resolves that it had not been a decision at all. Citing a book published in 1979, Ball wrote: “I do think of it as Female Sexual Slavery, the title of a book by Kathleen Barry […], who wrote about the prostitute this way: ‘If she is kidnapped, purchased, fraudulently contracted through an agency or organized crime, it is easy to recognize her victimization. But if she enters slavery, having been procured through love and befriending tactics, then few, including herself, are willing to recognize her victimization.”
Ball offered the notion of coercion as a sympathetic gesture, a way to redeem Kidd and Smith as victims rather than condemning them as fallen women. Even if they had considered themselves consenting participants in their prostitution, Ball suggests, no woman can truly consent to sex work under patriarchy. Though Ball says nothing of sexual relationships beyond prostitution, her invocation of Barry suggests the problematic conclusion to which such reasoning could lead: that no woman, regardless of her social position, could consent to any sex—nor indeed to anything, for her subordination to men precluded agency. Stopping short of that, though, we can observe Ball coming down hard at one far extreme of a dilemma laid out in its current form, more or less, during feminism’s second wave: the question of agency in transacted sex. This question, for all its immediate political contexts, actors, and stakes, reduces (or rather expands) to the fundamental question of agency in sex, period.
In the 1980s, some feminists determined that their best bet to end women’s social subordination was to target violence against women, perpetrated through pornography, prostitution, and rape. This strain of feminism, of which radical feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin were central figures, is often named ‘anti-pornography feminism’ after its signature legislative campaign. But the premise of their movement was more general. MacKinnon and Dworkin’s materialist analysis held that pornography and prostitution were both forms of rape, and neither the mediated quality of porn nor the monetization of sex work changed this basic fact. In a 2005 article, MacKinnon put it this way: “Throwing money at victims of sexual abuse does not make it a job, taking pictures of it does not make it freely chosen or desired. It makes it pictures of paid rape—rape in the real, if regrettably seldom in the legal, sense.” MacKinnon’s lamentation of the limitations of the law came from firsthand experience. She and Dworkin are perhaps best known, as a pair at least, for pushing civil rights-based anti-pornography legislation throughout the 1980s.
Both women were members of the New York–based activist group Women Against Pornography (WAP) in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but it was controversy surrounding the 1972 pornographic blockbuster Deep Throat that began their longtime collaboration. The star of Deep Throat, adult film actress Linda Lovelace, came forward with claims that her husband had forced her to perform in the film. WAP intended to represent Lovelace in her suit, but the group stopped short upon realizing that the statute of limitations on Lovelace’s allegations had likely passed. MacKinnon and Dworkin, however, began advocating together for nationwide anti-porn legislation. If Lovelace’s allegations were true, Deep Throatwas a feature-length rape, and civil rights law had proven inadequate to bring the rapist to justice. Lovelace’s case illustrated the pornography problem precisely as MacKinnon and Dworkin perceived it: pornography was indistinguishable from rape, and the law ought to reflect that reality.
I’ll return to Linda Lovelace in a moment, but for now the important point is that in 1986, when the Providence Police apprehended Dana Smith and Rebecca Kidd and seized the photos of some 46 women from Stanley Henshaw III’s residence, there was a contingent of radical feminists—exemplified by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon and their anti-pornography activism—that would have disputed that any of the women’s involvements could have been volitional. Though the women’s respective entanglements ranged considerably, these feminists understood the gravity of the cases as a function of the john’s success in exerting his will; every instance of a woman participating in prostitution or pornography further confirmed women’s total lack of agency. When Aimee Lee Ball ventured in Mademoiselle magazine that Smith and Kidd ought to be seen as victims, she drew on this strain of radical feminism which held that prostitution was rape by another name.
By the 1980s, discourse surrounding pornography, prostitution, and rape—the question of women’s subordination—had been distilled into a question of choice. Anti-pornography feminists challenged the status quo by arguing that all shades of transacted female sexuality were coercive, but a vehement ‘Constitutionalist’ liberalism rose to meet the anti-pornography feminists where they were. In 1980, a controversy revolving around Linda Lovelace and the film Deep Throat brought anti-pornography feminism into direct conflict with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz is a useful avatar of this opposition, which he called ‘civil-libertarianism,’ and the clash has all the trappings of a cultural battle from which ‘the culture war’ can be extrapolated. But I include it here also because of Dershowtiz’s peripheral relationship to Henshaw’s case. Not only did Henshaw’s defense rely on Dershowitz’s themes, which were clearly resonant with jurors at the time, but it turns out that Henshaw’s lawyer had actually crossed paths with our paradigmatic libertarian.
One night in 1980, Alan Dershowitz showed up at a Harvard dorm for a screening of Deep Throat organized by a group of undergraduates. The students would’ve been hard-pressed to select a film that stoked the culture war more effectively than Deep Throat, as Lovelace had just gone public with her allegations that the film was the product of abuse. Dershowitz supported the screening because he regarded the right to produce and view pornography as a First Amendment issue—he’d even represented the film’s male lead, Harry Reems, in an obscenity charge a year earlier. But pornography, and all forms of commodified sexuality, raised other concerns for Dershowitz. Dershowitz argued that feminist activism around ‘violence against women’ encouraged misapplication of the law—that all across America, women were being relieved of responsibility for their actions, leaving men to shoulder the blame.
In 1985, a year before the Henshaw sting, Dershowitz wrote an opinion piece for the Gainesville Sun in which he articulated these views. In what was probably a reference to feminists like MacKinnon and Dworkin, or at least the sort of feminism they espoused, Dershowitz observed that “it has become part of the rhetoric of certain feminists that johns must be arrested in the name of equality and feminism.” He went on to warn that the agitation of this “feminist fringe” would result in persecution of “otherwise law-abiding citizens who occasionally seek the forbidden fruit of sex for hire,” as compared to the painless arrest of the “streetwalker” for whom legal repercussions are an occupational hazard and thus attached to “little stigma or embarrassment.” Like the feminist ‘fringe’ he reviled, Dershowitz argued that transacted sex produced predator and prey, but the roles were reversed: the paying party was figured as the victim in Dershowitz’s strange utilitarian calculus, because, according to Dershowitz, it had
more to lose. Such reasoning ignores the fact that sex work—particularly when criminalized—endangers sex workers, even imperils sex workers’ lives. Dershowitz blatantly prioritized the paying party’s property and status over sex workers’ personal safety.
On December 11, 1987, the New York Times reported: “Suspect in Sex Ring Is Cleared.” Stanley Henshaw III had been acquitted of all charges related to the prostitution of Brown students. In the trial proceedings, Henshaw’s defense attorney, John Sheehan, had asserted that it was Rebecca Kidd and Dana Smith, not Henshaw, who’d initiated sexual relationships.Money had been transacted, but not, the defense maintained, for sex; therefore, Henshaw had not prostituted these women. Nor had he wronged the many other women, whom he’d merely photographed in the nude. The court found no grounds to convict Henshaw. This verdict, however, could be interpreted in much stronger terms than its narrow legal scope. Legally, it could not be proven that the women were forced; to some, this confirmed that the women must have chosen. One juror told a UPI reporter that “those girls were asking for sex,” evidently concurring with the core sentiment of Sheehan’s defense: Kidd and Smith “did it because they liked it, and they did it as a lark.”
The Brown sex ring case was scandalous, but it was not the highest-profile case that John Sheehan had litigated. In 1982, Sheehan had defended Claus von Bülow, a Newport socialite charged with attempting to murder his wife, heiress Sunny von Bülow, by insulin overdose. The jury moved to convict von Bülow, but due to a technicality, the ruling was overturned and the case was retried in 1985. For the second trial, von Bülow hired none other than Alan Dershowitz to lead his defense team. Sheehan stayed on to work with Dershowitz. The defense succeeded in arguing that it was Sunny’s own substance abuse, not her husband’s malfeasance, that had harmed her, and the highly-televised trial ended in von Bülow’s exoneration.
Dershowitz mythologized this stunning turn in his 1985 book Reversal of Fortune, later adapted into the 1990 movie of the same name. Published two years prior to Sheehan winning Henshaw’s 1987 acquittal, the book denounced Sheehan as a member of an “old-buddy network” of Rhode Island lawyers and judges open to private deals. (The following year, Sheehan was appointed to the Rhode Island Superior Court, where he sat until his death in 2003.) The von Bülow trial shows that the ‘Brown sex ring’ case did not only occur in the midst of national debate over whether or not sex, let alone transacted sex, could be truly consensual, but was also, improbably, tangentially related to its two opposing arguments. Sheehan evidently did not satisfy Dershowitz’s moral standards, but he did rub elbows with this forceful polemic. And, in his defense of Henshaw, Sheehan espoused a radical Dershowitzian liberalism, insisting that absent overt coercion, political subjects’ decisions are wholly their own—as it was his job to do, of course. On the other side, the fact that this occurred at an elite college placed it in proximity to the precise antithesis: the strain of radical feminism which equated pornography with prostitution, and opposed both because patriarchy jeopardized female agency. Radical feminist arguments that neither sex workers nor pornography performers knew what was best for them gained particular purchase at places like Brown, which fostered what could be described as a ‘philanthropic’ feminism organized around ‘saving’ such individuals.
No incident illustrates this better than the 1980 screening of Deep Throat in the Harvard dorms, where Dershowitz appeared to demonstrate his support. As a political statement, the screening’s power came not only from its flouting of obscenity laws, but also from its taunting of the actress who said she’d been coerced into performing in the film, and those who believed her. More to the point, the Deep Throat screening flew in the face of anti-pornography feminists such as Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin who understood sex work as rape, and understood pornography as rape represented. The screening staged the opposition of mirrored positions: choice and not-choice. These were the positions that converged on the Brown sex ring case.
If the Ivy League prostitute, as represented by Kidd and Smith, proved easy for the mainstream news media to condemn for her glib renunciation of charmed privilege, she also proved redeemable as a victim by the lights of anti-pornography feminism. In view of her considerable wealth and status, she was often cast as an agent who chose her unfortunate fate; but feminists countered that privilege notwithstanding, she had not chosen, that she could not have chosen, despite what her false consciousness may have led her to believe. In fact, it was precisely Kidd and Smith’s extreme privilege which proved to radical feminists that the state of womanhood is a state of subordination. Since they were not coerced along the axes of wealth or power, the reasoning went, they must have been coerced along the axis of gender.
My mom’s story is the slightest variation on this one and much less interesting. As compared to Smith and Kidd, my mom was just a bit poorer; she probably needed the cash a bit more. Part of the reason why Smith’s and Kidd’s stories captured national attention rather than my mother’s, or that of any other person who’d sold sex or their sexualized body for money, is that it’d been decided, by some implicit principle of diminishing returns, that Smith and Kidd were above the threshold of need. They therefore must have wanted it. Anti-pornography feminism offered a way out of by asserting that there was no choice to speak of.
Porn performer, writer, and activist Lorelei Lee has written about the absurdity of the choice/coercion binary that governs debate and policy around sex work. She recalls visiting a law student classroom and being asked by one student: at what level of poverty does sexual consent become impossible? The student’s question is jarring because of the stark economic terms it applies to the question of consent. Lee, writing from her own experiences as a sex worker and assessing the recent history of sex work in the US, shows that this binary framework is not merely absurd, but also actually harmful.
Today, as in 1986, many conservatives and certain radical feminists still align in the view that all sex work should be criminalized. However, bipartisan campaigns against sex trafficking in the intervening years have put sex workers and sex-work advocacy groups on the defensive, shaping a new perspective on sex work: what Lee calls the ‘liberal-libertarian’ narrative. Human trafficking is by definition forced; in this way it is unlike sex work, which is performed under a wide variety of circumstances. But in the face of stringent anti-trafficking legislation, some sex-work activists have insisted on a clear distinction between coerced victims of human trafficking and independent sex workers for whom the work is always a choice. The embrace of this dichotomy, though a strategic effort to carve out some sphere of existence for decriminalized, safe sex work, limits the means of recourse possible for sex workers.
Lee writes, “Under these constructs, we have only two options: to be victims, which means we need to be rescued from our work—even if that rescue happens in handcuffs—or to be empowered sex workers, which means saying we’ve never experienced violence or constrained choice, that we love our jobs all day every day, and to be free we only need access to the free market.”
Lee joins other sex workers and activist groups in calling for a framework that recognizes sex workers’ agency while also capturing the range of material circumstances under which people trade in sex. One possibility, coined by sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith, is to substitute a framework of ‘deliberateness’ for a framework of ‘choice.’ To act deliberately is to assess one’s situation and proceed accordingly. To say that an action is deliberate says nothing of the degree of duress under which one acts. This framework lends itself to broad-based organizing around sex workers’ safety and well-being. For instance, sex work advocacy group Decrim NY defines their coalition as people who have traded sex out of “choice, coercion, or circumstance.”
All of this is not to suggest that the Brown sex ring controversy should have litigated the question of whether the women acted deliberately rather than whether they consented. Instead, I mean to show that although it is possible to think beyond choice and coercion, the binary framing of sex work to emerge from the 1980s culture war still shapes how we conceive of and legislate sex work. In today’s landscape, however, the alignments are somewhat different. In the mid-80s, when the Brown ‘sex ring’ story broke, academic feminists had recently come to the idea that women couldn’t choose to do sex work—that consent was not part of the picture. Their assessment met the backlash of libertarians such as Alan Dershowitz, who countered that all individuals, regardless of social hierarchies, have an equal capacity to choose. This same notion is implicit in today’s ‘liberal-libertarian’ narrative, through which choice—with all its potential to pigeonhole or liberate—can be attributed to sex workers.
My mom jokes that her implication in the Brown sex ring is my Brown ‘legacy,’ which is a funny proposition but only marginally true. It is true that posing for naked photographs was one small part of what sustained her through college, and that an Ivy League credential helped to secure an upbringing not unlike Dana Smith and Rebecca Kidd’s suburban Connecticut origins for her children. She said to me that if I were to sell pictures or sex in any way, it’d be as incomprehensible as their actions, because it wouldn’t register as an act of economic desperation. But that’s not quite right. There are many of my milieu who cam or run OnlyFans accounts or seek arrangements of other kinds. Certainly many would question such acts: why, absent extreme duress, would anyone do those things? But there’s another view, increasingly prominent, which does not cry false consciousness but instead affirms that sex work works well for some. Patrolling the distinction between forcible human trafficking and elective sex work, this contemporary liberal-libertarianism enthusiastically affirms sex workers’ ‘decisions’ to transact sexuality, perhaps failing to consider how wealth, power, and the specific nature of the work shift the terms of exchange. Missing, in Lorelei Lee’s words, how lower-wage sex work can be “as good and as terrible as other, lower-wage work.”
Izzi Olive is a writer living in Providence, RI.