08/14/2008 12:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Sex Workers Speak: True-Life Tales of the World's Oldest Profession

I've done pretty well with my media predictions on L'Affaire Eliot Spitzer, but I completely missed one huge and very newsworthy area: The true-life stories of onetime sex-workers, women (and, presumably, men) who can explain the, er, ins and outs of an opaque and secretive industry. It is from these people that we can get a sense of exactly what transpired (beyond the obvious) between Spitzer and his 22-year old consort, Ashley Alexandra Dupré, a girl whom he simply knew as "Kristen."

From Pajamas Media (via Jezebel) comes the testimony of "Ruth Henderson," a former booking agent an exclusive New York escort agency:

Show me a rich and powerful man between the ages of 35 and 60 who has never paid an escort for sex, and I will show you a man who is a very rare exception. But why would a rich, powerful and handsome man pay for extra-marital sex? Aren't there tons of women waiting to throw themselves at him for free? Yes, there are. But those women always want something: they want attention, intimacy and romance. They want to enjoy the high of sleeping with a powerful man. Escorts don't want or care about any of those things. At least one of the articles about the 22 year-old escort who slept with Spitzer implied that she didn't even know who he was. Based on my experience, I think it's highly unlikely that she knew or cared. She was in it for the money, and she had as much to hide as he did.

One high-powered New York attorney explained it to me like this: "Of course I love my wife. Escorts have nothing to do with that. She comes to my hotel room and I don't have to know her name, because they all use fake names like Amber and Kimberly. I don't have to worry about how she feels or what she wants. It's a simple exchange: I give her a thousand bucks, we have a good time for a couple of hours, she goes away and we never have to see each other again."

A thousand dollars is nothing for these men. Money has little value; because no matter how hard they try they will never be able to spend their hundreds of millions. And if you are about to say that for a thousand bucks those girls must supply the best sex in history, then you really do not understand this world. Because it is not about sex; it is about power. And the simple act of ordering up an anonymously pretty 22 year-old girl to do your bidding in the salubrious confines of a luxury hotel suite is an act of power.

Her essay doesn't get much more uplifting from there, particularly in some of the more extreme examples she cited (the coke-snorting diaper-wearing CEO; the men with specific peccadilloes), but it speaks to the basic transactional nature of the exchange: Payment for discreet, accommodating, non-judgmental companionship of the carnal sort, without looking too deeply into the real source of power — youth and beauty, or wealth and position. The way the author seems to put it, probably the latter.

"Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl" author and former sex-worker Tracy Quan told a similar story earlier this week in the New York Times in her op-ed, "Really Dangerous Liaisons," about why Spitzer chose what she called the "riskiest form of indoor prostitution":

Escort agencies are constantly being investigated, infiltrated and spied on...That someone like the governor would shop for sex through an Internet escort service is mind-boggling.

Escort services are risky. When they are closed by the authorities, people's lives are turned upside down. Many of us don't recover. As one call girl told me when I was looking for a safer way to work, "If you get busted, I don't want to know you." Nobody wants to work with you if you've been in visible trouble, nor is just after a raid the best time in your life to start looking for a more conventional job. A conviction will sink your chances of getting hired.

Well-connected men, however, have typically sought out sex workers who have been recommended by their friends and who don't have Web sites. Escort agencies are supposed to be out of the question for old-school rakes who want to protect their marriages and careers....After the Spitzer news broke, Alan Dershowitz explained away Mr. Spitzer's ill-advised choice by making silly generalizations about men who pay for sex -- that they don't use their brains. But I encountered plenty of men who used their brains just fine.

From all accounts, Eliot Spitzer doesn't seem to be one of them.

Hardly something out of Pretty Woman — the reference point these days for sanitized relations between john and call girl (though the transactional nature of the original on-screen agreement between Richard Gere's Edward and Julia Roberts' Vivian expresses that, as indicated below).

Finally, here's what former call girl Jane McCormick recalls about her former profession in Las Vegas in the 60s and 70s, who in her book, Breaking My Silence: Confessions of a Rat Pack Party Girl, claims to have counted Frank Sinatra amongst her clients. Now she runs "Breaking Free," a St. Paul-based group to help former prostitutes get back on their feet. From the article:

No matter the perception of high-priced call girls like "Kristen,'' the woman who supposedly serviced Spitzer at a posh Beltway hotel on the eve of Valentine's Day, Carter says prostitution is more indentured servitude than "Pretty Woman.''

Breaking Free, Carter said, works daily with the ugly ripple effects of human trafficking, from the street level to multinational online services like the Emperor's Club outfit Spitzer allegedly used.

Yes, there are those women who claim to choose the lifestyle. But Carter's group mostly sees broken bodies and broken souls. They see and tend to girls as young as 12 and women in their 50s and 60s, racked by drug addictions or undiagnosed mental illness, coping with childhood sexual abuse and other life afflictions.

"Prostitution is about the buying, selling and trading of mainly women and girls, some as young as 5 years old in many countries,'' Carter said. "Prostitution is no more than legalized slavery.''

Carter does agree that men like Spitzer, who resigned Wednesday, are not victims.

According to a survey of men who attended Breaking Free's john school, men believe they are doing women a favor by selecting them to use for their sexual satisfaction.

"Men will go out of their way to purchase a woman or child from all over the world, and then try to justify it by saying she likes it, or she freely chose it,'' Carter said. "Women have been objectified since the beginning of time. We are trained at an early age to please men.''

Everyone has an opinion, but these are opinions uniquely informed from the inside. What is common to all three is the base transactional appreciation. Says Henderson: "I understood intellectually that the men would always want to pay women for sex, and there would always be women who wanted to be paid for sex."

I've Seen My Share of Spitzers: The View From an Escort Service
[Pajamas Media]
Really Dangerous Liaisons [NYT]
Prostitution scandals no surprise to women who know industry
[Pioneer Press]

Prostitution: A User's Manual

Related, From Pretty Woman:

EDWARD: Vivian, I have a business proposition for you.
VIVIAN: What do you want ?
EDWARD: I'm going to be in town until Sunday. I'd like you to spend the week with me.
VIVIAN: Really ?
EDWARD: Yes. I'd like to hire you as an employee. Would you consider spending the week with me? I will pay you to be at my beck and call.
VIVIAN: Look, I'd love to be your "beck and call girl," but you're a rich, good-lookin' guy. You could get a million girls free.
EDWARD: I want a professional. I don't need any romantic hassles this week.
VIVIAN: If you're talkin' hours a day, it's gonna cost you.
EDWARD: Oh, yes, of course. All right, here we go. Give me a ballpark figure. How much?
VIVIAN: Six full nights, days too. Four thousand. -
EDWARD: Six nights at ...
VIVIAN: You want days too —
EDWARD: Two thousand.
VIVIAN: Three thousand. -
VIVIAN: Holy shit ! (Laughs. Then he tells her he's going to leave her money for clothes, etc. Then:)
VIVIAN: I would've stayed for two.
EDWARD: I would've paid four. I'll see you tonight.
VIVIAN: Baby, I'm gonna treat you so nice, you're never gonna wanna let me go.
EDWARD: Three thousand, for six days. And, Vivian, I will let you go.