An Open Letter to Richard Gere, 25 years after Pretty Woman
© 2015 Kaethe Morris Hoffer
Dear Mr. Gere: It's been 25 years since you cemented your heart-throb status playing a buyer of sex. At the time the movie Pretty Woman was released, most Americans could be forgiven for not appreciating the roles that desperation, abuse and exploitation play in the sex trade.
But during the last few decades, sex trafficking -- prostitution involving girls and women sold for sex due to force and coercion -- has been exposed as a crisis that can't be denied. While many still bury their heads in the sand, the evidence is clear: millions of dollars are made every year by exploiting the bodies and lives of abused and impoverished girls and women who are in prostitution for one reason only: the demand for purchased sex is much larger than the supply of willing adult sellers.
You played a benevolent and generous man who seemed to stumble into your role as a sex-buyer, but research on real buyers -- men without whom prostitution and sex trafficking would disappear instantly -- reveals that they are substantially less naïve about the realities of prostitution than the majority of Americans. Unlike your character, men who pay for sex -- likely because of their intimate exposure to women in prostitution -- generally know that poverty, desperation, a history of being sexually abused as a child and current control by abusive pimps, are the norm, rather than the exception, for people for whom one hundred dollars (or any amount of money) is worth being sexually penetrated by a stranger.
In addition to being smarter about the realities of prostitution than men who don't pay for sex, buyers are also, and often, very cruel. While pimps are behind many of the violent rapes and physical beatings inflicted on those in prostitution, buyers are the primary source of harm to prostituted girls and women -- they are why people in prostitution live with post-traumatic-stress at rates comparable to military combat veterans, and why they frequently fail to live at all.
Because of all of this, Mr. Gere, I hope that you might take the opportunity afforded by current celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Pretty Woman, to publicly denounce the purchase of sex. I hope that you might be willing to remind boys and men who see you as a role-model, that they should never confuse the role you played with reality. Since most men live their entire lives never buying sex or being sexually abusive, I bet that you don't buy sex. And if you aren't helping fuel the sex industry, which wouldn't survive without abuse and exploitation, I hope that you might be willing to seek to undermine it, at least a little bit, by helping to disrupt any of the myths -- including ones fed by the film you were in -- that encourage people to think that prostitution is ever pretty.