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Trading sex for money goes on all around us, all the time




Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

The tale of the 22-year-old prostitute frequented by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer dredges up an awkward memory. I once shared an apartment – it now amazes me to say – with a call girl who brought her johns home.

Let me explain.

While in my 20s, I advertised for a non-smoker to split the costs of my two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. The most attractive respondent was a young woman I’ll call Claire. Friendly and polite, she had solid job at a midtown corporation. Claire seemed a good match.

Shortly after she moved in, I noticed something odd about her social life. The same two men would come by every few weeks. They would go into Claire’s room for some minutes, then come out for tea. Sometimes I would join them in conversation.

How could I be so dumb? For one thing, the guys didn’t fit my stereotype of johns. They were young, good-looking business types who could have picked someone up at a bar, no problem. That they spent so little time in her room made me think that they were just talking.

In any case, Claire had a regular boyfriend. He was highly opinionated, and I actually preferred the johns to him.

Claire bore zero resemblance to the streetwalker in purple spandex or the highpriced call girl in designer labels. She was not voluptuous, and her style of dress was artsy. Her favorite activity was rollerblading, for goodness sake. Her prize possession was a flowered teapot.

A week before Claire left for a two-week vacation to Europe, the two businessmen came by, one after the other. That seemed strange. I saw the second guy hand Claire a check as he left. Dim bulb that I was, the idea that this was payment for sex never occurred to me. I assumed that he owed Claire money for something ordinary. Perhaps she had bought tickets for a play.

The day after she departed, Claire’s phone rang. (We had separate lines.) I picked up her phone to let whoever was calling know that she would be away for two weeks.

“Is Claire there?” a man asked.

“No, she’ll be in Europe for the next two weeks,” I responded.

“Well, I could see you,” he said.

“You certainly may not,” I said indignantly. He hung up.

Enough lights went off in my head to blind Times Square.

When Claire returned, I asked her to leave without elaborating. I’m sure Claire knew the reason, but she nonetheless seemed hurt. Claire no doubt saw these activities as an extension of an active sex life. If a fellow hands her checks afterward, what’s the big deal? Had I accused her of prostitution with a capital “P,” she probably would have been shocked.

There’s an episode of “Law & Order” centering on middleclass college girls who join an upscale prostitution ring. They did it in a similar mindset – to make some money on the sideforlife’sluxuries. The words of Ashley Youmans, the 22-year-old call girl whose servicing of Spitzer led to the governor’s downfall, could have been Claire’s.

“I just don’t want to be thought of as a monster,” she told The New York Times. Youmans said she might move back with her family in New Jersey “to relax.”

Paid sex is all around us. It’s not just rouged hookers hanging on car doors. It’s in private homes – and even college dormitories. And what about the “understandings” between the trophy wife and her frog tycoon? She has her quid pro quo. For all you know, some variation of sex-for-money could be happening right next door – or as I found out, closer.

©2008 The Providence Journal Co.

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