Monday, September 26, 2011

Crime Analysis: Prostitution, Robbery, Class War

 From the Sentinel:
SANTA CRUZ - A 28-year-old Santa Cruz man was robbed Thursday night after a woman he picked up to pay for sexual favors took him to a nearby motel room, police said.

The man was near Ocean Street and Broadway about 10:40 p.m. when he met a woman on the street who agreed to sexual favors in exchange for money, Lt. Larry Richard said. When the man and woman arrived at a nearby motel room, another woman and a man jumped out, attacked the man and stole his money and cellphone, Richard said.

The three attackers beat him and left him in the room, police said. The man said he saw the three leave in a blue Dodge Durango.

Law-abiding readers of this article will probably see the perpetrator as having committed two offenses against the moral order: first, that  she is a prostitute and second, that she robbed a man.  The man is twice a victim, first to his desires and second to a a prostitute whom he thought he had purchased.

Others, and with good reason, will defend the prostitute's actions because this robbery reverses the usual power dynamic. The prostitute, who is often considered powerless, is asserting her power against a potential john to whom she would usually sell her body and time. Here, the robbery is only an act of power because it assumes that she would otherwise be disempowered by renting out her body.  In this analysis, the woman's power is limited by her identity as a prostitute.

However, we can read this incident in a more nuanced way by putting aside the assumption that the woman is a prostitute. Indeed, what if this was not a robbery of a john by a prostitute, but the robbery of a mark by a con artist assuming the identity of a prostitute? This robbery wasn't an identity asserting its power, it was the use of an identity as a weapon. Power in its multiple forms is not attached to the body of the prostitute, but rather to that identity of the prostitute. In this instance, the power of the identity is used to subvert the identity itself. Rather than interpreting this as an opportunity to celebrate a particular identity, we can see this event as the subversion of identity for criminal ends.

To understand this subversion of identity it could be useful to discuss how it functions in this exchange. The john believes he is fooling the prostitute into selling their body, a supposedly invaluable commodity, for some price per hour, per act, etc.  He maintains this illusion in his mind that the prostitute belongs to him albeit briefly and he is assured that he's getting his money's worth.  This is an imagined dynamic: the john only has access to this body for a moment in time and is offered temporary, reluctant, and feigned affections to assure the maintenance of the illusion.  He is being tricked into thinking that he is purchasing something that in reality will never be for sale.

The question as to whether this is class warfare or broke-on-broke crime remains unanswered.  Johns are not bosses and they are not employers; they do not demand labor but rather they consume it.  They can be working class people whose alienated desires for sex and/or affection are transposed into the consumption of a commodity because this is how we are taught to obtain our desires.  That being said, there are also johns who deserve none of that sympathy--johns whose class position grants them access to whatever they can pay for.  These men live their entire lives sincerely convinced that what's inside of their wallets can free them. We thank them for their ignorance, because it is fools like this whose platinum bank accounts endow our criminal class of delinquents, outlaws, whores and crooks. 

By embracing our natural tendency toward the criminal, the prostitute's trickery and the booster's slyness can become the raw material for social revolt.  Though we don't assume to know the thieves' motivation, we can hope that next time it is an act of war.  Not every crime is liberatory, but every criminal is a little more free than their law-abiding neighbors.

With love,
some whores and vandals 

Post-script: On Identity
While appreciating identity as a weapon, the intention is not to discount the idea of identity completely. Identity politics gives us tools to combat the ways we have been disfigured by this society. Whatever increases our power in the social war, let's embrace it; whatever holds us back, let's cast it into the bonfire with the rest of society.

There's a pretty good zine analyzing (and not entirely dismissing identity politics) called Lines in the Sand. Read it here. And, just for kicks, here's Wolfi: Beyond Feminism, Beyond Gender.


  1. I agreee with your analysis... but I also think it is important to not completely valorize the role of criminals... NOT because they are bad people, but because a lot of people break laws not to feel liberating but because that is their only option to get by.... Sex workers shouldn't be judged anymore for working than someone working 9-5 in a factory, but nonetheless their work is just work aka a way to get by not an act of revolution (although it may feel liberating for some on a personal level)

  2. I don't know that sex work, more than any other work is 'liberating' on any kind of level. Feeling of liberation comes from feeling able to take care of oneself and those close to them - and sharing in the process. In this capitalist society, ability to care for oneself and close ones most often comes from cash in hand - whether that be from the 9-5er or any sort of criminal activity that provides $$. Criminal activity is inherently an act of war against the current conditions whether the criminal has some sort of analysis or not - just for its nature as 'criminal'.