The Gritty Reality of a Suspected Roxbury Brothel

Stories of half-naked women chasing men down the street may sound mythical, but in the case of a recent Roxbury “brothel” closure, it’s just a bit of gritty reality. Apparently, when the business was still active, fleeing male customers were trying to dodge full payment. Nearby residents claim that some locals had “gone to their graves” complaining about the house and its disruptive activities. But although the building has been deemed structurally unsafe, the welfare of the women has been barely addressed by the local press — which I find troubling, but hardly surprising.

Prostitution has been painted as an honest profession, from the worn-but-wise streetwalkers of detective fiction, to Mary Magdalene herself. In fact, Fox News reports that women who experience sexual difficulties are increasingly referred to surrogates for healing that might involve partnered sex. Of course, the job title of “surrogate” is more palatable to many than “sex worker” or “prostitute”.

But how could we prevent scenarios like the alleged Roxbury brothel? Decriminalization might help. We need only look to New Zealand, where prostitution is decriminalized, to find sex workers who have the right to a fairer work environment: “I am appreciated by my customers and my boss,” New Zealand sex worker “Lucy” told the BBC, adding that it is the most gratifying work she has had. Although it is said that sex workers are still frowned on in New Zealand, the country’s Prostitution Reform Act has made sex work subject to the same standards of health and safety, and employment, as other businesses. Whether this means all New Zealand’s prostitutes receive fair treatment, however, is a point for further discussion.

Given the news this week, Bostonians might well be concerned about the effect decriminalization could have on trafficking or forced prostitution. While many of us are devastated by the cruelties of Boston’s Norman Barnes, legalization of sex work could actually help catch such culprits more quickly. According to sex workers who are against trafficking, legalizing the professionals who freely choose prostitution would enable them and their clients to bring suspicions and information to the police. As things stand, clients and prostitutes who are in a good position to hear about such abuse are less likely to speak up, fearing arrest for their consensual activities.

But why, oh why, is sex work so hated? Perhaps the root problem is our denigration of the body. We too often regard casual sex and multiple partners as immoral. Our culture rarely accepts that compassionate sex between strangers might enhance the lives of all involved, and indeed create an emotional connection. To foster a change, activists like Violet Blue purport that when we hire a sex worker, we do not buy sex itself(which would make it a commodity or “thing”), but rather we purchase time with a professional. Such language reminds us that we’re with a whole person during sex, in terms of body, mind, and spirit — someone who deserves safety and respect.

And if there is anything we should agree on, surely it’s that.