A small, well-to-do, white picket fence town in Maine has been rocked by what is being called a “scandal of the century.” A 29 year old Zumba dance studio owner has been charged with running a prostitution ring out of her fitness center office. These allegations have occupied New England news for the past few days and have proved that no community can or should consider that they are exempt from the commercial sex industry.
I have fond memories of traveling to Maine every summer for the majority of my childhood – traveling to Wells, Kennebunkport, Ogunquit, Weirs Beach, etc. to see the sites, shop at the quaint stores, eat Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, gorge on lobster, clams and fried shrimp, and spend countless hours at the beach building sandcastles and hopping waves. I get why Maine residents do not want to fathom that prostitution could exist in their community. Maine sparks a pristine memory for residents and tourists alike.
But sometimes, we have to look beneath the surface and see the flaws of our community. Otherwise, we are living in a fantasy world and ignoring injustices occurring in our own backyards.
One large dilemma facing this community in the aftermath of this scandal is the notion that the names of the 150+ men who purchased sex from this fitness instructor could be released to the public. Word on the street is that some of these men are lawyers, law enforcement personnel, and other well-respected individuals in the community. The community can’t let go of that pristine image and they sure as hell can’t grasp the idea that their neighbors, professionals, and trusted constituents could be purchasing sex after work.
I get it. It’s hard to understand and come to terms with – but that doesn’t mean we should not accept it. Because the reality is – the average salary of men who purchase sex is not low. Johns (men who purchase sex) should not be profiled as non-white, uneducated, lower-class individuals. In a study in Chicago, 113 johns were interviewed and 62% made more than $40,000 a year. Additionally, 62% of the johns had a regular sex partner (i.e. girlfriend or wife). I have talked to women who have been in the commercial sex trade and they have told me they do not trust the police because police officers purchased sex from them. It’s not a pristine reality like residents of this community are used to, but it is the actual reality.
I am torn about the idea of disclosing the names to the public, however. Research from the Chicago study did show that 87% of johns thought public exposure would deter them from purchasing sex. Having your name and sometimes picture posted for the public to see is embarrassing and shameful — likely being a deterrent. However, that likelihood has never been studied because a very small percentage of johns are caught and arrested and therefore not many are publically exposed. So on the one hand, we have to start exposing them to end the demand for commercial sex. But on the other hand, these men may have wives/girlfriends and children. The humiliation does not stay isolated within the man who purchased sex. Men have to be held accountable but I am not sure to what extent that should go. Regardless, the community should understand that the men who purchased sex from this fitness instructor are friends, family, and trusted professionals within their community. Therefore, there needs to be a community response.
The sex trade is not glamorous and it is not largely made up of 29 year old fitness instructors who utilize their office to make extra money on the side via prostitution. But I’ve told you all this before. I just hope Maine is listening.