20/20 Story on the “D.C. Madam:” Where was the Sex Worker Advocacy Voice?

Like many media portrayals of the sex industry, the 20/20 report that aired on May 4, 2007 about Deborah Palfrey’s escort service demonstrated irresponsible journalism. For example,  an activist for the prohibition of sex work was given a voice, but no sex worker advocates were.  This showed a lack of balance.

There are various ways this report could had been better. For example, 20/20 could had  addressed how the criminalization of prostitution compounded the problems Brandi Britton was experiencing and played a major role in “pushing her over the edge” with tragic results. Britton was an escort and a professor who worked for Palfrey. If sex for payment wasn’t criminalized, then she would not had been arrested for prostitution and publicly chastised when the story got all over the media. Regardless of whether she really engaged in prostitution, the bottom line is that she could not had been arrested for it if it were decriminalized. Like Brandi Britton, many sex workers have been persecuted under these prohibitionist policies toward prostitution and I can only imagine how many more sex workers also committed suicide, as Britton allegedly did,  after being persecuted and chastised.