"Bizarre, salacious and inexplicably careless" - these are just a few of the judgment-laden phrases that presently swirl around Suzy Favor Hamilton, a woman some have called the greatest athlete in University of Wisconsin history.
What has changed public perception of this Olympic runner and winner of nine NCAA championships for the UW-Madison? What has suddenly changed her from an admired icon to a target of ridicule and vilification?
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A disgruntled client exposed Favor Hamilton's secret life as an escort and public reaction to the shocking news has reduced her to a fate familiar to sex workers the world over - she is being ostracized, stripped of her worth and dignity.
Most are surprised that a successful athlete, wife and mother chose to have sex with strangers for money. It can be difficult to understand how any woman would choose prostitution, especially when she has so many amazing accomplishments and resources at her beck and call. It does not appear that her financial life was in peril. Why in the world would any sane person risk so much to engage in something which seems so degrading?
And yet, though Suzy Favor Hamilton's choices may appear to be incomprehensible, she is far from alone. It is an inescapable fact that many otherwise "normal" women with a multitude of options at their disposal are in fact choosing to become prostitutes. For instance, research scientist Brooke Magnanti, supplemented her income while completing her doctoral studies by working as a London call girl. She wrote of her escapades in a book which became the Showtime cable series, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Victoria Thorne held two professional positions, that of police officer and prostitute, until her conviction for prostitution in 2009. Like Suzy Favor Hamilton, both of these women were capable, accomplished and upwardly mobile. Why would they resort to prostitution?
Sports columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, Andy Baggot, expressed conventional wisdom when he wrote "Favor Hamilton, a wife and mother, indulged in a lifestyle that can’t be excused any more than it can be explained in a rational manner."
But is he correct? Are the choices of these women and thousands of others whose names never make it to the headlines, truly insane? Or is it possible that their behavior can be explained rationally?
Most would agree that being a prostitute is an all together negative proposition. Who in their right mind would wish such a fate on any female person they care about?
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Yet, perhaps it is this assumption which leads us away from the truth.
What if we were to investigate the perspective of those women who have chosen to engage in prostitution? While many if not most people might hate working as a prostitute, is it possible that the profession could be enjoyable for some people? Could there be something about prostitution that some prostitutes find attractive? Could there be something about the profession that is pleasing, alluring or otherwise positive for them?