To the Editor:
While Will Sullivan’s article (“Prostitution is hard work in Elm City,” 3/3) about prostitution in New Haven solidly and respectfully presented a complex issue from a number of important perspectives, your front page photograph and caption completely undermined both Sullivan’s reporting and the integrity of your coverage of this issue.
The caption to the photograph, which focused on two women’s midsections — one barely clad — stated: “Despite popular stereotypes of prostitutes styled after vamped-up call-girls in hot-pants and over-the-knee boots, many New Haven sex workers dress casually in jeans, much like a typical college student.” Essentially, the caption pointed out that the photograph reflected a stereotype that is incorrect. So why perpetuate it? Regardless of your intentions, the effect is to play on the image of prostitutes as spectacles whose sexuality is humorous and worth gaping at.
I have spent most of the last year researching prostitution for my senior essay and have learned that one of the largest problems with the issue is the complete disregard and mockery sex workers face from mainstream society. In general, prostitutes are among the most marginalized people in American culture, labelled at once dirty predators and impure victims. Some may not be coerced into prostitution and may not be in constant physical danger, but they are rarely allowed a voice or fair representation in mainstream society which, for some reason, seems incapable of imagining prostitutes as much more than amusing spectacles, dangerous diseased women (or men) or threats to common morality.
I understand that finding appropriate images for this story must have been difficult since Michelle and other prostitutes would probably not want to be photographed. However, your choice both undermined the point of having an image (to enhance and complement the story) and made the front page appear to have been created by amused college students with no deeper understanding of prostitution or objectification that prostitutes face than had they never read the article.
Arielle Levin Becker ’04
March 3, 2004
The writer is a former News Editor for the Yale Daily News.