Dr. Phil wages a One-Man battle to Save our Children from Prostitution

On my day off yesterday, I was flipping channels and noticed the programming notes for Dr. Phil said it was about internet prostitution. So of course, I had to watch it. Wow! I'm very easily provoked. There are so many things on TV that make me crazy. But this was above and beyond. And what really makes me angry and so very sad is that very few people who saw that show will take a step back from it and really think about what was going on there.

So my first beef is a simple and kind of comical one. He started the segment I tuned in on by saying that he has 'made it his business' to make parents aware of the things that are going on on the internet so that they aren't 'the last to know'. Gee thanks Dr. Phil! Most parents are so stupid and clueless, they would have no idea their daughters are prostitutes if you didn't tell them! He called the show 'The Dark Side of the Internet'. As if these kinds of things are happening only because the internet is around. There's a reason why prostitution is called the world's oldest profession. It's been happening since before recorded history and throughout all that time, people who want or need to do it and people who want the services of prostitutes have been finding whatever means they can to meet up. This is not something that has suddenly just started happening because Craigslist came into being. The sex industry has always been a major driver of technology. Those in the sex industry are early adopters of new technologies and figure out quickly how to use them to their advantage. It's just the way it is!

On to the more serious issue on this show. The second segment was about a young woman (early 20's I think) who got into prostitution through Craigslist because she could not find a decent job when she finished school and could not afford to make her student loan payments. I thought she presented herself as very thoughtful, intelligent, and together. I was impressed with her ability to sit there and admit to the things she was doing without letting Dr. Phil or the audience really phase her. She had made an arrangement with one man who was paying her weekly to be her companion. She said she was not having sex with him but acknowledged that might happen at some point. She felt she was better off in this arrangement because it was safer for her physical and mental health than having sex with many men and she wanted to continue this arrangement until she could find another solution to her financial problems. That's why she was on the show, she claimed - to get help.

Rather than help her, all Dr. Phil did was berate her about the choices she had made and tell her that she needed to get real. It seemed to me that she was very real. If it hadn't been so cruel and upsetting, it might have been laughable because he kept trying to confront her with the reality of what she was doing when it was quite clear that she was very aware of the reality. Here's a paraphrase of some of the exchanges I can remember:

Dr. Phil: You do understand that what you're doing is prostitution?
Woman: yes, of course I do.

Dr. Phil: You know that what you're doing is very dangerous?
Woman: yes, I know it could be dangerous and that scares me and that's why I want to stop

Dr. Phil: You know you have to tell your mother (I'm not sure where this was coming from because her mother was never mentioned)
Woman: yes, I am planning on telling her and that's part of why I came here, so that I'm forced to be honest with the people in my life about what I'm doing

Dr. Phil: You know you have to stop doing this?
Woman: Yes, I want to stop doing it. I'm just scared that if I run into money problems again, I'll go back to it because I know I can make a lot of money quickly.

He continued to throw judgements at her without allowing her the chance to explain herself. So here are my answers to his judgements and accusations:
He said 'I don't care what you have to do to make money, you sling hash at the burger doodle if you need to'. Mr. Millionaire here has lost touch with the fact that slinging hash at the burger doodle does not pay enough to cover living expenses much less a $1000 a month student loan debt.
'Just default on your student loan'. Yes, she certainly could do that. But she went to school for interior design and probably, once she can get herself going, she may be looking at starting a business down the road. You can't do that if your credit is in the toilet. And I know it seems strange that someone would choose to sell their body rather than ruin their credit rating but it's a choice to be made. And defaulting on a student loan, at least in Canada, is not an easy thing to do. It follows you for many years. Did she ever have access to people who could help her deal with her financial problems? Probably not.
'Go live on your mother's couch or live in the back of your car in the alley'. Clearly, mother's couch is not an option. And how exactly does Dr. Phil thinks it's safer for a woman to sleep in her car alone on the street than it is to meet men privately for sex (she was not hooking on the street, she was receiving calls from men and making appointments)? My guess is that the car would be more dangerous. And it's pretty rough to keep yourself in decent enough shape physically and emotionally when you are living in a car, to be able to land a job when the opportunity comes up.

They then had another woman with a horrible story and graphic gory pictures to go along with it, come on and tell her how she was brutally beaten, raped and almost murdered while she was working in the sex trade. This was done in order to scare the woman into quitting. It seemed to me she was already scared. Then a cop who was on the first segment who trolls Craigslist and busts women for prostitution was asked for his two cents. He was extremely crude and judgemental, and talked to both women as if they were children. 'I don't know how many times,' he said, 'these women have to get beaten and raped and almost murdered for them to figure out that this is dangerous'.

I think that is exactly the wrong question. My question would be 'How many times does a woman have to be murdered and dumped in a field for us to realize that prostitution is dangerous and that the women who do it need protection?' I don't understand how this becomes the woman's fault when clearly, it's the fault of the men who are committing these heinous crimes. In most cases, if a woman has a better option, she will not choose to sell her body for money. It's not an easy thing to do. They made it sound as if it was a glamorous wonderful job and they just couldn't hold themselves back from the intrigue of it. What they can't hold themselves back from is the money they need to survive. Prostitution has always existed and in most modern-day societies it has always been illegal. Making it illegal has done nothing to stop it. Maybe it's time we all 'get real' and look at how we can deal with the real problem - which is not that women are selling their bodies for money, it's that they feel they need to and that they don't have other options. Let's protect those who choose to do it from the dangers, which is not the act itself, but the health risks and safety risks that can go along with it. We can actually do something about that.

In the end, Dr. Phil promised to set the woman up with counselling so she could deal with her 'issues'. I think her real issue is that she paid for an education that she cannot seem to use for her benefit and she has to pay her rent and her student loan bills. I hope the counsellor will give her a job that pays as much as she's being paid by this man she met. Then she won't need to do something she clearly wishes she didn't have to do.

Tags: Dr. Phil sex trade