by Lindsay A. Roth, Project Safe Executive Director, and Katherine Koster, SWOP-USA Communications Director


While everyone is charged up by Mary Mitchell’s exemplary example of “how not to write about people involved in the sex trade,” Lindsay and I would like to offer a few tips to the media about how to ethically report on sex work:

1. Stop publishing the mugshots, full names and addresses of people arrested for prostitution. Stop publishing them for clients. While we’re at it stop publishing identifying information for all non-public citizens arrested for crimes (unless that crime was, you know, a series of violent murders that the person confessed to).

Although the overwhelming majority of defendants plead guilty (check out Last Week Tonight if you have any questions about why), being arrested does not prove someone guilty — any more than, say, a few emails forwarded to your paper by a male escort. The news world got cranky when a media executive who had arranged to do something illegal was outed for that… why is it so gung-ho about publishing mug-shots of disproportionately poor, largely black and latino men arrested for (and equally not yet proven guilty of) the same type of crime? We’re all for puritanical shaming a la Salem 1692, but we have a sample bias here, and until we can shame equally across class and race lines, we just don’t feel good about connecting people to crimes they may not have committed in a permanent public record.

2. Check your source’s stats and research! The recently Melissa Farley studywas widely featured by major publications until Hilary Hanson and Elizabeth Nolan-Brown picked it’s methodology apart. Reliable data on trafficking is rare, but citing calls to a hotline is not a proxy for incidences of exploitation! We could go on. We know fact-checking is hard — but if a quick google search fails…

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