The details uncovered by investigators portray Alix Catherine Tichelman as a callous, calculating killer. Her mugshot reveals piercing, haunting eyes. And her social media trail portrays a troubled soul who battled addiction and body image issues.

The 26-year-old California call girl was indicted yesterday for allegedly leaving a Google executive for dead on his yacht after injecting him with a fatal dose of heroin.

Alix Tichelman of Folsom, Calif., confers with public defender Diane August during her arraignment in Santa Cruz Superior Courton July 9, 2014, in Santa Cruz, Calif. (Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, police found Forrest Timothy Hayes, 51, dead on his yacht — named “Escape” — in the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. The yacht’s security cameras show Tichelman injecting Hayes with heroin. He slips into unconsciousness, but she doesn’t call 911. She did, however, collect her belongings — the heroin and needles— casually sidestepping Hayes’s body. “At one point, she steps over the body to finish a glass of wine,” police said, adding that Tichelman did one last thing before fleeing the boat: She closed the blinds, ensuring that no one would see the body from the outside.

She showed no regard for him,” Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark told the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Tuesday. “She was just trying to cover her tracks.”

Hayes and Tichelman met, according to investigators, through the Web site “Seeking Arrangement,” which promises to help “Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it.”

According to news reports, Hayes worked at Google’s innovation lab, where “moon shot” projects like self-driving cars and Google glass are dreamed up. An obituary written by his family describes Hayes as a beloved husband and father of five who enjoyed spending time with his family and on his boat. On a Web site that has since been taken down, friends and family shared fond memories of him, the Associated Press reported.

Tichelman’s life online tells a different story, not of a loving family but of destruction and an intense self-loathing disguised as bravado with a bustier and sultry makeup (check out her YouTube makeup tutorial at the end of the story).

 “Selling my soul would be a lot easier if i could find it,” she wrote on Twitter in July 2012. “I have always been attracted to the darker side,” she said in an interview with fetish magazine fiXE, according to “My parents said by the time I was there I was an intense child, and already liked horror movies.”

She appears to have struggled with addiction for years. On her Instagram account, she posted a photo in May, 2013 with the tagline: “My eyes are red red red … combination of the glitter eyeliner and the medical grade I’ve been smokin on.” And in a note titled “heroin” posted on her Facebook page almost exactly a year before the alleged murder she wrote:

this private downward spiral-this suffocating blackhole
makes you feel so warm inside,
yet makes your heart so cold.
each day takes it’s toll,
your thoughts become emotionless,
your soul feels too old.
the demons whispers to me ever so lightly,
he never let’s go of his hold,
taking everything from me,
I’ll end up dying alone.

In another note titled “Thinspiration,” she revealed a struggle with body image and possibly child sex abuse: “I will be thin and pure like a glass cup. Empty. Pure as light. Music. I move my hands over my body – my shoulders, my collarbone, my rib cage, my hip bones like part of an animal skull, my small thighs. In the mirror my face is pale and my eyes look bruised. My hair is pale and thin and the light comes through. I could be a lot younger than twenty four. I could be a child still, untouched.”

In photos posted on her Facebook page in 2012, Tichelman vacillates between skinny and emaciated. In one of them she boasts “size zero … no more size two for me.” She idolized Kate Moss, who also appears several times in her timeline photos. Her Facebook and Instagram photos, a combination of provocative professional model shots and sexy selfies, reveal a scantily clad split personality: a goth in fishnet thigh highs, a pinup girl in panties, heroin chic.

Tichelman doesn’t say much about her family. The notes section of her Facebook page includes a novel-in-progress about a girl named Kat (her middle name is Catherine). It’s not clear whether it’s autobiographical, but the tale tells of an alienated teenager who turns to heroin to escape a broken home where an alcoholic mother entertains “random men.”

Alix Tichelman

According to USA Today, Tichelman’s parents now live in Folsom, Calif., where her father Bart is the chief executive of a tech company, SynapSense Corp. He took the job in November 2012, a year before the alleged murder, after working with Renewvia Energy Corp., a solar power project developer in Atlanta. Tichelman was living in Folsom at the time of her arrest but previously lived in Atlanta, according to her social media accounts.

Two years ago, she posted often about a boyfriend named Dean, who gave her a black and white diamond ‘promise ring’ on June 22, 2012. There are pictures of the them together playing with baby monkeys.

In her last post on Jan. 11, 2013, she counted among her blessings “a great boyfriend, nice house, monkeys, loving family … doesn’t get any better than this I don’t think.”

USA Today identified the boyfriend as Dean Riopelle, 53, who died Sept. 24, 2013, after a heart attack, according to a newspaper obituary. Riopelle owned a nightclub called “Masquerade” and was known as “Monkey Man” because he raised monkeys on his property, according to an Atlanta indie weekly

The details of Tichelman’s tale continue to unravel. Investigators suspect she was involved in an incident in another state similar to Hayes’s alleged murder on the yacht. Santa Cruz police arrested Tichelman on the Fourth of July after an officer posed as a potential client willing to pay $1,000 for her sexual services. She appeared in Santa Cruz Superior Court on Wednesday on eight felony and misdemeanor charges including manslaughter and prostitution. Her arraignment has been postponed until July 16. Assistant District Attorney Rafael Vazquez said the investigation is ongoing and more serious charges may be filed, the AP reported.

WHEN men paid Shelia Faye Simpkins for sex, they presumably thought she was just a happy hooker engaging in a transaction among consenting adults.

It was actually more complicated than that, as it usually is. Simpkins says that her teenage mom, an alcoholic and drug addict, taught her at age 6 how to perform oral sex on men. “Like a lollipop,” she remembers her mom explaining.


Simpkins finally ran away from home at 14 and into the arms of a pimp.

“I thought he was my boyfriend,” Simpkins remembers. “I didn’t realize I was being pimped.”

When her pimp was shot dead, she was recruited by another, Kenny, who ran a “stable” of four women and assigned each of them a daily quota of $1,000. Anyone who didn’t earn that risked a beating.

There’s a common belief that pimps are business partners of prostitutes, but that’s a complete misunderstanding of the classic relationship. Typically, every dollar earned by the women goes to the pimp, who then doles out drugs, alcohol, clothing and food.

“He gets every penny,” Simpkins explains. “If you get caught with money, you get beat.”

Simpkins periodically ran away from Kenny, but each time he found her — and beat her up with sticks or iron rods. On average, she figures that Kenny beat her up about once a week, and she still carries the scars.

“I was his property,” Simpkins says bluntly.

I met Simpkins here in Nashville, where my wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and I have been filming a segment about sex trafficking as part of a PBS documentary accompanying our next book. We were filming with Ashley Judd, the actress, who lives in the Nashville area and is no neophyte about these issues. Judd has traveled all around the world to understand sexual exploitation — and she was devastated by what we found virtually in her backyard.


“It’s freaking me out,” she told me one day after some particularly harrowing interviews. It’s easier to be numbed by child prostitution abroad, but we came across online prostitution ads in Nashville for “Michelle,” who looked like a young teenager. Judd had trouble sleeping that night, thinking of Michelle being raped in cheap hotels right in her hometown.

In this respect, Nashville is Everytown U.S.A. Sex trafficking is an American universal: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported in 2011 that over a two-year period, trafficking occurred in 85 percent of Tennessee’s counties, including rural areas. Most are homegrown girls like Simpkins who flee troubled homes and end up controlled by pimps.

Of course, there are also women (and men) selling sex voluntarily. But the notion that the sex industry is a playground of freely consenting adults who find pleasure in their work is delusional self-flattery by johns.

Sex trafficking is one of the most severe human rights violations in America today. In some cases, it amounts to a modern form of slavery.

One reason we as a society don’t try harder to uproot it is that it seems hopeless. Yet Simpkins herself is a reminder that we needn’t surrender.

Simpkins says that she would be dead by now if it weren’t for a remarkable initiative by the Rev. Becca Stevens, the Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt University here, to help women escape trafficking and prostitution.

Rev. Stevens had been searching for a way for her congregation to address social justice issues, and she felt a bond with sex trafficking survivors. Rev. Stevens herself had been abused as a girl — by a family friend in her church, beginning when she was 6 years old — and she shared with so many trafficked women the feelings of vulnerability, injustice and anger that go with having been molested.

With donations and volunteers, Rev. Stevens founded a two-year residential program called Magdalene for prostitution survivors who want to overcome addictions and start new lives. To help the women earn a living, Rev. Stevens then started a business, Thistle Farms, which employs dozens of women making products sold on the Internet and in stores like Whole Foods. This year, Thistle Farms has also opened a cafe, employing former prostitutes as baristas.

Shelia Simpkins went through the Magdalene program and overcame her addictions. In December, she will earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology, and then she plans to earn a master’s in social work.

She regularly brings in women off the street who want to follow her in starting over. I met several of Simpkins’ recruits, including a woman who had been prostituted since she was 8 years old and is now bubbling with hope for a new future. Another has left drugs, started a sales job and found a doctor who agreed not to charge her to remove 16 tattoos designating her as her pimp’s property. And a teenage prostitute told me that she’s trying to start over because, “the only person who visited me in jail was Miss Shelia.”

Magdalene and Thistle Farms fill part of what’s needed: residential and work programs for women trying to flee pimps. We also need to see a much greater crackdown on pimps and johns.

Simpkins figures she was arrested about 200 times — and her pimps, never. As for johns, by my back-of-envelope calculations, a john in Nashville has less than a 0.5 percent chance of being arrested. If there were more risk, fewer men would buy sex, and falling demand would force some pimps to find a new line of work.

In short, there are steps we can take that begin to chip away at the problem, but a starting point is greater empathy for women like Simpkins who were propelled into the vortex of the sex trade — and a recognition that the problem isn’t hopeless. To me, Simpkins encapsulates not hopelessness but the remarkable human capacity for resilience.

She has married and has two children, ages 4 and 6. The older one has just been accepted in a gifted program at school, and Simpkins couldn’t be more proud.

“I haven’t done a lot of things right in my life, but this is one thing I’m going to do right,” she said. “I’m going to be the world’s best mom.”

By  , October 12, 2013

Nearly every woman I know can recall one or more instances in which she was sexually assaulted, harassed, threatened, inappropriately touched or even raped.

Yet few told anyone about it at the time, or reported it to the police.
I have clear memories of three such episodes from my childhood, one of which involved a man who owned a store in my neighborhood. Not knowing at age 11 anything about reproduction (in 1952, expectant teachers had to take leave when they “showed”), I was terrified that I could become pregnant from having been forced to touch his penis.

I had trouble sleeping, and I avoided the block where the store was. Yet, fearing that the assault was somehow my fault, I said nothing to my parents.
Experts on sexual assault and rape report that even today, despite improvements in early sex education and widespread publicity about sexual assaults, the overwhelming majority of both felony and misdemeanor cases never come to public or legal attention.

It is all too easy to see why. More often than not, women who bring charges of sexual assault are victims twice over, treated by the legal system and sometimes by the news media as lying until proved truthful.
“There is no other crime I can think of where the victim is more victimized,” said Rebecca Campbell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University who for 20 years has been studying what happens legally and medically to women who are raped. “The victim is always on trial. Rape is treated very differently than other felonies.”

So, too, are the victims of lesser sexual assaults. In 1991, when Anita Hill, a lawyer and academic, told Congress that the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her repeatedly when she worked for him, Ms. Hill was vilified as a character assassin and liar acting on behalf of abortion-rights advocates.

Credibility became the issue, too, for Nafissatou Diallo, an immigrant chambermaid who accused the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of forcing her to perform fellatio in a Manhattan hotel room.Prosecutors eventually dropped the case after concluding that Ms. Diallo had lied on her immigration form and about other matters, though not directly about the encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
When four women, two of whom identified themselves publicly, said they had been sexually harassed by Herman Cain, the Republican presidential hopeful, they, too, were called liars, perhaps hired by his opponents.

Charges of sexual harassment often boil down to “she said-he said” with no tangible evidence of what really took place. But even when there is DNA evidence of a completed sexual act, as there was in the Strauss-Kahn case, the accused commonly claim that the sex was consensual, not a crime.
“DNA technology has not made a dramatic change in how victims are treated,” Dr. Campbell said in an interview. “We write off a lot of cases that could be successfully prosecuted. It’s bunk that these cases are too hard to prosecute.”

Victims must be better supported with better forensics, investigations and prosecutions, Dr. Campbell said. “This is a public safety issue. Most rapists are serial rapists, and they must be held accountable.”

In one study, published in 1987 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 126 admitted rapists had committed 907 rapes involving 882 different victims.
Rapists are not the only serial sexual offenders. Witness the all-too-frequent revelations of sexual abuse of children involving multiple victims and persisting for decades even when others in positions of authority knew it was going on.

In the latest such scandal, an assistant football coach at Penn State University stands accused of molesting 10 boys. The charges led to the firing of a revered head coach, Joe Paterno, and forced the resignation of the university president for failing to take more immediate action.
The Risks

Last year, according to the Department of Justice, 188,280 Americans were victims of sexual violence.

Among female victims, nearly three-quarters are assaulted by men they know — friends, acquaintances or intimate partners, according to federal statistics.
But fewer than 40 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police. Underreporting is more common among male victims and women raped by acquaintances or domestic partners. Only one-quarter of rapes are committed by strangers.

The result of underreporting and poor prosecution: 15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail, according to the network. Dr. Judith A. Linden, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, reported in The New England Journal of Medicine in September that in the United States, “fewer than half of rape cases are successfully prosecuted.”

Victims may be reluctant to report a rape because they are embarrassed, fear reprisals and public disclosure, or think they won’t be believed. “Victims often think they somehow brought it on themselves,” said Callie Rennison, a criminologist at the University of Colorado in Denver. “Rape is the only crime in which victims have to explain that they didn’t want to be victimized.”

These feelings are especially common among college women who may have been drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs when raped by a date or acquaintance.

Victims may not realize that any form of sexual behavior that is not consented to and that causes discomfort, fear or intimidation is considered sexual assault in most jurisdictions. That includes indecent exposure, unwanted physical contact (including kissing and fondling) and lascivious acts, as well as oral and anal sex and vaginal rape, whether with a body part or an instrument.

A minor — in general, 16 or 17, depending on the state — can legally consent to sexual activity. A person of any age who is forced or threatened, developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, unconscious or preparing to undergo a medical procedure cannot legally consent to sexual activity.

Among young children, girls and boys are equally at risk of being sexually abused. But as they age, girls increasingly become targets; among adults, women represent about 90 percent of cases.

Experts have long debated whether rape should be seen as an act of aggression and control or the product of an irresistible sexual urge. To the victim, the distinction is moot.

The consequences can include pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease; feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and low self-esteem; self-blame and depression; substance abuse and eating disorders; fears of intimacy; numbness;post-traumatic stress disorder (nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety attacks, difficulty functioning); borderline personality disorder; unexplained physical problems; and even suicide.

Thus, even if rape victims choose not to report the attacks, prompt medical attention and psychological counseling can be critically important to their long-term well-being.


* Text by JANE E. BRODY, NYT, December 12, 2011

The FBI estimates that each year more than 100,000 underage American girls are exploited for commercial sex

Underage prostitution in the US is organized crime’s third biggest money-maker after guns and drugs. But the kids get blamed instead of the criminals. Young girls are put behind bars for walking the streets, with no offer of rescue or help.

The US State Department regularly puts out reports on how horrific human trafficking is in other countries.
Yet for the home country, the FBI estimates that each year more than 100,000 underage American girls are exploited for commercial sex. The average age is 13 years old. But the usual treatment the children get, when arrested, is either jail time or probation.

In the US, prostitution laws do not exempt minors from prosecution. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported 1,600 juveniles were arrested for prostitution within just one year.
But lawyers say in the US, the paradox of the system is that the children are prosecuted for crimes for which they cannot legally give consent.

“We say that this child is a victim and yet we send them to jail. Somewhere along the line, there’s something wrong with that and we need to take a look at ourselves and a look at the fact that we have made detention, and law enforcement, and the criminal justice system, and juvenile justice system a default setting for what happens to these kids. And we just kind of lock them up and shove them away. And that’s the end of our response to these issues, this system. We wanna make sure that these kids are treated as victims,” says Raychel Lloyd from Girls Educational and Mentoring Services.

But treating the victims and providing for their recovery requires funding.
“There’s no federal money for US victims of trafficking,” says Tina Frundt who works with a non-profit group in Washington, which helps the children to get their lives back providing them with housing and medical treatment. She herself was trafficked at the age of 13.

Tina says it is easier for the government to label the children as prostitutes, charge them and send them to detention centers, rather than fund shelters and invest in their future.

“There’s not enough housing for sex trafficking victims at all. So what they’re saying is that for their safety we will arrest them and put them in jail. Then we charge the victim. We don’t put rape victims in jail, why would we put victims who were trafficked in jail?” asks Frundt.

Almost all of the victims of child trafficking remember being constantly raped and abused both by pimps and clients.
“Many of the young people we served have been incarcerated and charged as an adult under the age of 16. So they have this lengthy 15, 20, 30, 40 arrests both as a juvenile and as ‘an adult’ for prostitution. When they go to apply for public housing, they are not eligible for that. When they go to do certain employment, that pops up in a background check and they are booted out of an employment training program,” says Raychel Lloyd.

The past of such children is already scarred as it is. And the non-profit organizations that help victims of sex trafficking say by prosecuting the children and by not investing in their recovery it is the government that scars their future.

Published: 16 April, 2011

Jasmine Caldwell was 14 and selling sex on the streets when an opportunity arose to escape her pimp: an undercover policeman picked her up.
The cop could have rescued her from the pimp, who ran a string of 13 girls and took every cent they earned. If the cop had taken Jasmine to a shelter, she could have resumed her education and tried to put her life back in order.

Instead, the policeman showed her his handcuffs and threatened to send her to prison. Terrified, she cried and pleaded not to be jailed. Then, she said, he offered to release her in exchange for sex.
Afterward, the policeman returned her to the street. Then her pimp beat her up for failing to collect any money.
“That happens a lot,” said Jasmine, who is now 21. “The cops sometimes just want to blackmail you into having sex.”
I’ve often reported on sex trafficking in other countries, and that has made me curious about the situation here in the United States. Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed). But the scene on American streets is still appalling — and it continues largely because neither the authorities nor society as a whole show much interest in 14-year-old girls pimped on the streets.
Americans tend to think of forced prostitution as the plight of Mexican or Asian women trafficked into the United States and locked up in brothels. Such trafficking is indeed a problem, but the far greater scandal and the worst violence involves American teenage girls.
If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.
These domestic girls are often runaways or those called “throwaways” by social workers: teenagers who fight with their parents and are then kicked out of the home. These girls tend to be much younger than the women trafficked from abroad and, as best I can tell, are more likely to be controlled by force.
Pimps are not the business partners they purport to be. They typically take every penny the girls earn. They work the girls seven nights a week. They sometimes tattoo their girls the way ranchers brand their cattle, and they back up their business model with fists and threats.
“If you don’t earn enough money, you get beat,” said Jasmine, an African-American who has turned her life around with the help of Covenant House, an organization that works with children on the street. “If you say something you’re not supposed to, you get beat. If you stay too long with a customer, you get beat. And if you try to leave the pimp, you get beat.”
The business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of “friendship,” humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts.
It’s not solely violence that keeps the girls working for their pimps. Jasmine fled an abusive home at age 13, and she said she — like most girls — stayed with the pimp mostly because of his emotional manipulation. “I thought he loved me, so I wanted to be around him,” she said.
That’s common. Girls who are starved of self-esteem finally meet a man who showers them with gifts, drugs and dollops of affection. That, and a lack of alternatives, keeps them working for him — and if that isn’t enough, he shoves a gun in the girl’s mouth and threatens to kill her.
Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops.
“The problem isn’t the girls in the streets; it’s the men in the pews,” notes Stephanie Davis, who has worked with Mayor Shirley Franklin to help coordinate a campaign to get teenage prostitutes off the streets.
Two amiable teenage prostitutes, working without a pimp for the “fast money,” told me that there will always be women and girls selling sex voluntarily. They’re probably right. But we can significantly reduce the number of 14-year-old girls who are terrorized by pimps and raped by many men seven nights a week. That’s doable, if it’s a national priority, if we’re willing to create the equivalent of a nationwide amber alert.



Some comments  from  Editors’ Selections NYTimes, than  aim to highlight the most interesting and thoughtful comments that represent a range of views.


I live in New Zealand where prostitution is legal. This has helped sex workers in many ways although problems remain. It’s legalization hasn’t started NZ down any sort of moral slippery slope and in fact (as an American expat) I find my new homeland to be a much more moral place than the US (although again certainly not perfect).
— David, Rotorua, New Zealand

How come no one ever writes about young teenage boys ‘on the street’?…’s just as much a problem in the the USA, as it is in Thailand, or other exotic sex tourism locations that do get written about.
— Tim Hughes, Amesbury,England,UK


Many state have laws allowing newborns to be abandoned at hospitals to prevent them from being discarded into dumpsters. These children are placed in protective custody by the state. How about making similar laws to protect girls who are in forced prostitution? They would just need to show up at any emergency room to escape their abuse. I have never heard of any state allowing children 13 yrs old to consent to sex. The pimps, johns and corrupt police officers need to be prosecuted as high-level sex offenders. It is immoral to not offer strong protection and care to these children.
— Minta Keyes, Tucson, AZ

My parents through me out of the house after failing freshman year of college 43 years ago- a teen as an adult I had no idea what to do. Raped, pregnant they wouldn’t let me back. But as others say – the goverment can help but also the biggest help is good people – not just nonprofit charities – just people – friends to drive you to the hospital, a man who hires and trains you for a small job, neighbors to babysit…allows you to move on to a better life. So now I try to help others since I got into a good life – after many years.
— Karenna, Witherbee, NE


Nice sentiment, but don’t the thousands of men who USE prostitutes also share some blame? Would you hang out and play poker with a guy who cheats at cards? Why is it so easy to hang out with guys who use teenage girls for sex? Only men can change this horrific cultural phenomena by ostracizing men who think a few moments or evening with a prostitute is acceptable entertainment. Why don’t you write that column Mr. Kristoff? Are you willing to point out that the customer is a MAJOR abuser too? If men recognized that paying for sex is a morally depraved act and called each other on it, the pimps, cops, social workers, etc. would be out of a job.
— Sandy McIntire, Mount Hope, WV

In 2003 I went to Atlanta representing the Department of Justice to a meeting about the problem of juvenile prostitution. In a room were school officials, the police, child welfare representatives, a judge from the juvenile court and several other people from other agencies. All of these agencies could not figure out why children “disappeared” from the system. The schools could not track dropouts, the police laughed at the 15 year old on the street with her pimp leering over the door of the car, the child welfare people whined about the case loads and the judge passed stern judgement on the children who came before her court while the child welfare agency released the children into the tendure care of their pimps. I pointed out repeatedly to OJJDP and the people that the view was agency centered rather than child centered. I also pointed out that many european countries are now bar coding children to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. No, their systems are not perfect but they sure seem superior to the period “crises” which we seem very adept and rediscovering. See Every Child Matters in the United Kingdom. Last year we discovered 4 children who had been murdered in Washington DC and discovered in a freezer. That was the ultimate example of children falling through the cracks. We can track stolen cars but not missing children in those cracks.


Michael Wiatrowski, Ph.D.
Woodbridge, Virginia



Thank you for showing that forced child sex slavery happens not just across the globe but also across the street.

You wrote: “Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed).”

Sadly, prostitution here IS as brutal. In this country–in my own state and in yours–young girls ARE routinely kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured by brothel owners. And yes occasionally even killed. These are US citizens as well as internationals. This brutal treatment is not an exception or occasional rare case, but a regular part of child prostitution in the US. How else would the brothel owners control them?

My anti-trafficking work has taken me to 40+ countries including many of the ones you mentioned. My organization is a member of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and sadly we see the same brutal treatment that happens in other countries happening right in our backyard.

Thank you again for continuing to shine light on the darkness of child sex slavery. We appreciate your work very much.

Diana Scimone
Born to Fly International, Inc.
Stopping child sex trafficking…setting kids free to soar
— Diana Scimone, Orlando, FL

In trying to figure out how we can defeat sex trafficking, a starting point is to think like a brothel owner.
My guide to that has been Sok Khorn, an amiable middle-aged woman who is a longtime brothel owner here in the wild Cambodian town of Poipet. I met her five years ago when she sold me a teenager, Srey Mom, for $203 and then blithely wrote me a receipt confirming that the girl was now my property. At another brothel nearby, I purchased another imprisoned teenager for $150.


Astonished that in the 21st century I had bought two human beings, I took them back to their villages and worked with a local aid group to help them start small businesses. I’ve remained close to them over the years, but the results were mixed.
The second girl did wonderfully, learning hairdressing and marrying a terrific man. But Srey Mom, it turned out, was addicted to methamphetamine and fled back to the brothel world to feed her craving.
I just returned again to Ms. Khorn’s brothel to interview her, and found something remarkable. It had gone broke and closed, like many of the brothels in Poipet. One lesson is that the business model is more vulnerable than it looks. There are ways we can make enslaving girls more risky and less profitable, so that traffickers give up in disgust.
For years, Ms. Khorn had been grumbling to me about the brothel — the low margins, the seven-day schedule, difficult customers, grasping policemen and scorn from the community. There was also a personal toll, for her husband had sex with the girls, infuriating her, and the couple eventually divorced bitterly. Ms. Khorn was also troubled that her youngest daughter, now 13, was growing up surrounded by drunken, leering men.
Then in the last year, the brothel business became even more challenging amid rising pressure from aid groups, journalists and the United States State Department’s trafficking office. The office issued reports shaming Cambodian leaders and threatened sanctions if they did nothing.


Many of the brothels are owned by the police, which complicates matters, but eventually authorities in Cambodia were pressured enough that they ordered a partial crackdown.
“They didn’t tell me to close down exactly,” said another Poipet brothel owner whom I’ve also interviewed periodically. “But they said I should keep the front door closed.”
About half the brothels in Poipet seem to have gone out of business in the last couple of years. After Ms. Khorn’s brothel closed, her daughter-in-law took four of the prostitutes to staff a new brothel, but it’s doing poorly and she is thinking of starting a rice shop instead. “A store would be more profitable,” grumbled the daughter-in-law, Sav Channa.
“The police come almost every day, asking for $5,” she said. “Any time a policeman gets drunk, he comes and asks for money. … Sometimes I just close up and pretend that this isn’t a brothel. I say that we’re all sisters.”
Ms. Channa, who does not seem to be imprisoning anyone against her will, readily acknowledged that some other brothels in Poipet torture girls, enslave them and occasionally beat them to death. She complained that their cruelty gives them a competitive advantage.
But brutality has its own drawbacks as a business model, particularly during a crackdown, pimps say. Brothels that imprison and torture girls have to pay for 24-hour guards, and they lose business because they can’t allow customers to take girls out to hotel rooms. Moreover, the Cambodian government has begun prosecuting the most abusive traffickers.
“One brothel owner here was actually arrested,” complained another owner in Poipet, indignantly. “After that, I was so scared, I closed the brothel for a while.”
To be sure, a new brothel district has opened up on the edge of Poipet — in the guise of “karaoke lounges” employing teenage girls. One of the Mama-sans there offered that while she didn’t have a young virgin girl in stock, she could get me one.
Virgin sales are the profit center for many brothels in Asia (partly because they stitch girls up and resell them as virgins several times over), and thus these sales are their economic vulnerability as well. If we want to undermine sex trafficking, the best way is to pressure governments like Cambodia’s to organize sting operations and arrest both buyers and sellers of virgin girls. Cambodia has shown it is willing to take at least some action, and that is one that would strike at the heart of the business model.
Sexual slavery is like any other business: raise the operating costs, create a risk of jail, and the human traffickers will quite sensibly shift to some other trade. If the Obama administration treats 21st-century slavery as a top priority, we can push many of the traffickers to quit in disgust and switch to stealing motorcycles instead.

* By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF (NYT, January 11, 2009)

Word that convicted “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jean Palfrey committed suicide Thursday morning shocked Capitol Hill, where Palfrey’s most famous known client, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), was going about his day’s work.

Palfrey, 52, whose prosecutorial saga ballooned into a full-fledged political sex scandal, was found dead around 11 a.m. in a shed behind her mother’s mobile home in Tarpon Springs, Fla., according to police. Detectives say she was the victim of “an apparent suicide by hanging.”

Her demise stunned defense attorneys around town, who described Palfrey’s suicide as every defense lawyer’s worst fear.

Palfrey’s lawyer, Preston Burton said, “This is tragic news, and my heart goes out to her mother.”

Another D.C. defense attorney, Barry Boss, told the Sleuth, “The whole thing, from start to finish, had a real sense of tragedy for her, her employees and her customers. If this were Shakespeare or the opera, it would seem like a fitting final act.”

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, contending that her company was “a legal, high-end erotic fantasy service” with clients “from the more refined walks of life.” (Jay Mallin — Bloomberg News) The tragedy of how Palfrey wound up taking her own life in a trailer park was eerily foreshadowed in an interview she gave ABC News last year as she awaited trial on prostitution-related charges of racketeering and money laundering.

She vowed that she would never again return to prison. (She had already served time in the 1990s on other charges involving prostitution.) “I sure as heck am not going to be going to federal prison for one day, let alone, you know, four to eight years,” she said.

Palfrey faced up to 55 years in prison for her conviction on April 15 by a federal jury of running a prostitution service. She was free pending her July 24 sentencing.

Palfrey’s was one of the most widely dropped names around Washington for many months last year as the town’s chattering class — namely the media — contemplated a trial that had the potential to humiliate scores of important men at the highest echelons of politics. That never came to pass, though Palfrey did make a name for herself nationally when she provided ABC News with thousands of pages of her phone records last summer.

Though it had titillating potential and most of Washington waited with bated breath for a knockout sex scandal that would implicate high-level politicians, the biggest name on that particular set of phone records was Randall Tobias, the State Department’s administrator of foreign aid programs, who resigned as a result.

But it was a gumshoe reporter working for Hustler publisher Larry Flynt who nabbed the most high profile name of all on Palfrey’s client list: Senator Vitter, whose telephone number showed up six times on Palfrey’s escort service’s phone log between 1999 and 2001, when he was a House member.

Palfrey later posted her phone records on the Internet.

Vitter famously apologized last July for committing “a very serious sin” in his past, but he has so far avoided any political fallout for his involvement in the escort service. He luckily narrowly avoided having to testify last month at D.C. Madam’s trial.

Palfrey claimed all along that her service provided “erotic fantasy,” not actual sex. And she planned to rely on the testimony of her clients, including Vitter, to back up that claim, though ultimately her defense rested its case without calling any witnesses.

The senator’s office did not return a phone call and email seeking reaction to Palfrey’s suicide. Around the time that the story broke Thursday, Vitter was seen walking from the Capitol back to his office in the Senate Hart office building, where just Wednesday night, the Louisiana National Guard hosted a crawfish boil, which Vitter attended.

(Note: While Palfrey’s middle name routinely was spelled as “Jeane” in news accounts throughout her legal ordeal, police in Florida say the name on her California-issued driver’s license was Deborah Jean Palfrey.)

By Mary Ann Akers | May 1, 2008;

Reading between the sheets, the world of “Kristen” and Eliot Spitzer may seem relatively benign. She may have been abused as a child, and tangled with drugs and homelessness, but she was also a consenting adult who apparently kept half the cash that customers paid for her.

That’s a dangerously unrepresentative glimpse of prostitution in America. Those who work with street prostitutes say that what they see daily is pimps who control teenage girls with violence and threats — plus an emotional bond — and then keep every penny the girl is paid.

“Sometimes I meet a girl who says, ‘I have a really good pimp — he beats me only with an open hand,’ ” said Rachel Lloyd, a former prostitute who runs a program for underage prostitutes in New York City. “Many of the girls see the pimps as boyfriends, but violence is integral to everything that happens in the sex industry. That’s how you get punished for not bringing in your quota for that evening, or for looking your pimp in the eye.”

Bradley Myles, who works in Washington for an antitrafficking organization called Polaris Project, says it is astonishing how similar the business model is for pimping across the country. Pimps crush runaway girls with a mix of violence and affection, degradation and gifts, and then require absolute obedience to a rigid code: the girl cannot look the pimp in the eye, call him by his name, or keep any cash.

Every evening she must earn a quota of money before she can sleep. She may be required to tattoo the pimp’s name on her thigh. And in exchange he may make presents of clothing or jewelry.

It’s complicated: What keeps her isn’t just fear, but also often an emotional connection.

“When somebody wields power over you to kill you and doesn’t, you feel this bizarre thankfulness,” Mr. Myles said. “It’s trauma bonding.”

When a middle-class white girl ends up controlled like this — think of Elizabeth Smart, the Utah girl who was kidnapped in 2002 and apparently did not try to escape — then everybody is outraged at the way the kidnapper manipulated her. But when the girls are black, poor and prostituted, there is either indifference or an assumption that they are consenting to the abuse.

“It’s about race and class,” said Ms. Lloyd, who is bewildered when she sees Amber alerts for abducted children. Last year she worked with 250 teenage girls who had been prostituted, and not one of them ever merited an Amber alert.

“If we served 250 white girls from upstate middle-class homes, we’d be rolling in money,” she added, “and we’d be changing the law.”

Changing the law is on the agenda. The House of Representatives passed a landmark bill in December, by a vote of 405 to 2, that would make the federal authorities much more involved in cracking down on pimps and trafficking.

But the Justice Department is fighting the House bill, and Senator Joe Biden, who is chairman of a crucial subcommittee, has dawdled on it. A broad coalition of antitrafficking leaders from left and right sent the Justice Department a furious letter scolding it for being soft on pimps.

That may be the only letter in history signed by both Gary Bauer and Gloria Steinem, by executives of the National Organization for Women and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Of the 100,000 prostitution-related arrests each year, the great majority of them are of women and girls; pimps and johns are much less likely to be arrested.

All those girls will never get a tiny fraction of the attention of the Elizabeth Smarts or Natalee Holloways, who fill the cable television niche for a “missing blonde” story. So let’s not let “Kristen” displace the broader reality.

Sure, there are young women who voluntarily sell sex; some of them have posted lately on my blog, Reasonable people can disagree about whether the police should devote resources to such cases.

With prostitution as with narcotics, no legal model has worked perfectly. I’ve argued that the approach with the best record is the Swedish model — decriminalizing the sale of sex, while making it an offense to pimp or to buy sex.

But whatever one thinks of legalizing prostitution, let’s face reality: The big problem out there is the teenage girls who are battered by their pimps, who will have to meet their quotas tonight and every night, who are locked in car trunks or in basements, who have guns shoved in their mouths if they hint of quitting. If the Spitzer affair causes us to lose sight of that, then the biggest loser will be those innumerable girls, far more typical than “Kristen,” for whom selling sex isn’t a choice but a nightmare.

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF (Columnist New York Times, March 16, 2008)

 Biography of  Nicholas D. Kristof
Nicholas D. Kristof writes op-ed columns that appear twice each week in The New York Times. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, he previously was associate managing editor of The Times, responsible for the Sunday Times.

Mr. Kristof grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, Oregon. He graduated from Harvard College and then studied law at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship.

He later studied Arabic in Cairo and Chinese in Taipei. After working in France, he caught the travel bug and began backpacking around Africa and Asia, writing articles to cover his expenses. Mr. Kristof has lived on four continents, reported on six, and traveled to 120 countries, plus all 50 states, every Chinese province and every main Japanese island.

He’s also one of the very few Americans to be at least a two-time visitor to every member of the Axis of Evil. During his travels, he has had unpleasant experiences with wars, malaria, mobs carrying heads on pikes, and an African airplane crash.

After joining The New York Times in 1984, initially covering economics, he served as a Times correspondent in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. In 2000, he covered the presidential campaign and in particular Governor Bush, and he is the author of the chapter on Mr. Bush in the reference book “The Presidents.”

In 1990 Mr. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, also a Times journalist, won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of China’s Tiananmen Square democracy movement. They were the first married couple to win a Pulitzer for journalism.

Mr. Kristof won a second Pulitzer in 2006, for commentary for what the judges called “his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur and that gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world.”

He has also won other prizes including the George Polk Award, the Overseas Press Club award, the Michael Kelly award, the Online News Association award and the American Society of Newspaper Editors award. Mr. Kristof has taken a special interest in Web journalism and was the first blogger on The New York Times Web site.

In his column, Mr. Kristof was an early opponent of the Iraq war (see: The Day After, Sept. 24, 2002; The Stones of Baghdad, Oct. 4, 2002; and Revolving-Door Monsters, Oct. 11, 2002), and among the first to warn that we were losing ground to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. His columns have often focused on global health, poverty and gender issues in the developing world. In particular, since 2004 he has written dozens of columns about Darfur and visited the area eight times.

Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn are authors of “China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power” and “Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia.” Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn are the parents of Gregory, Geoffrey and Caroline. Mr. Kristof enjoys running, backpacking, and having his Chinese and Japanese corrected by his children.

Here’s a collection of comments in reaction to Nick’s post about prostitution that caught my attention.

I do believe prostitution is “market-driven” so it should best be approached as the Swedes are doing, by criminalizing the solicitation rather than the service provider. But I also want to add this with regard to Spitzer: Approximately half the adults of the world are women and we do not necessarily look on this activity as a bit of harmless fun. If you think it is harmless, look at Spitzers’ wife’s face.
— Posted by Trilby

I find your comment hypocritical that prostitution “…is very different from having an affair (which I don’t think newspapers should worry about, unless there’s some impact on official duties).”
Gee, and this from the star OpEd writer of the newspaper that ran a front page, above-the-fold story about John McCain and his unsubstantiated and factually incorrect relationship with a female lobbyist. Hmmmm…… seems to me you, and your employer, ought to scrutinize Democrats with as much vitriolic zeal as you do Republicans.
All in the name of “equal time”, I say.
C’mon Kristof. Own up to your and your employer’s double standard.
— Posted by Mikaela

Seems like we have a couple of issues:
1) The colossal egotism and hypocrisy of politicians who persecute others for the same sins they themselves are committing. They never seem to think they’ll get caught, and I suppose most of them don’t. Look at miscegenationist Strom Thurmond.
2) An affair between consenting adults is legal. Prostitution is not (aside from whether one thinks the law should be changed). Pres. Clinton had an affair, however tawdry. Gov. Spitzer committed a crime.
As a woman, I find the market for prostitution difficult to comprehend. Why does a man have to pay for sex, unless he is so repulsive that no woman would touch him otherwise? Pathetic.
— Posted by Martha Shelley

If an act is criminal because tangentially associated with other criminal acts, how many more “crimes” can we manufacture? So crack usage can justifiably be punished more severely than coke usage if it is more closely associated with theft and violence, even though theft and violence aren’t proved?
Whatever happens in Sweden should remain in Sweden.
— Posted by James Brotherton

My instinct is to say, legalize prostitution. If boxing–where the goal is to beat the heck out of someone while getting beaten in return–is legal, why not sex for money?
But, then again, I think there probably aren’t that many “arms length transactions” in this sphere. From investigations I’ve read on the topic, many of the sex workers in Nevada are coerced into working by boyfriends and the like.
— Posted by Scott

Some men really don’t get it. We’re having a hard enough time raising our daughters to have self esteem and to think of themselves as more than just bodies. By legalizing prostitution, another barrier to the commodification of persons falls away. It’s bad enough that stripping is the best way a young woman can make a decent amount of cash. Grow up, men. You’re not the ones being used like a commodity, an object. Go read a book and educate yourselves. And stop gorging at the trough of free-market baloney: it’s fermenting your souls.
— Posted by Angela

“Should prostitution indeed be illegal? Is it worse to be caught paying for sex than simply having an affair?”
This is a convoluted and messy question, especially because I’m biased by the assumption that having an affair is “simple” in comparison to buying the services of a prostitute. Whether or not prostitution becomes legal, what’s the difference? People have sex with other people who are not their spouse, and in the majority of cases it’s men cheating on their wives. Does it really matter how he’s doing it, who he’s doing it with, or whether it was legal, even if he’s a public figure? In a divorce, “simply having an affair” can be the determining factor in a serious and very legal dispute between him and his wife. In a sense, they’re both illegal and in my opinion, both reprehensible.
— Posted by Alexandra Snow

Thanks so much for bringing up the ‘Sweden solution’. The Spitzer debacle has exposed the ‘elephant’ in the U.S.: that one of the reasons that ‘johns’ aren’t being prosecuted in the U.S. is that the men in power are doing the same thing!
The sex slave trade in the U.S. is massive – there is more demand here than any other country. There are laws in every state against paying women for sex, but most of the time the men aren’t prosecuted. A case in point- 2 summers ago in a suburb of Baltimore, a ‘tanning salon’ bust netted enslaved Korean women, who were part of a trafficking ring up and down the East Coast. The ringleaders were arrested, and they got the ‘little black book’ with ‘customer’ contact info, but did nothing with it. These men were not just ‘johns’, they were rapists.
Any effort at stopping this sex slave trade has to start with the problem of demand, which is going completely unaddressed in the U.S. Now we can see clearly why.
This seems to be an opportune moment for our nation to address why our predominantly male lawmakers are not looking at both sides of the prostitution/ sex slave issue.
— Posted by Lucy Strausbaugh

I find it appalling to hear Mr. Kristof use the phrase “simply having an affair.” I don’t dispute the coercion and ‘various other illegal behavior’, and the world he has revealed in his reporting, especially from Cambodia, is truly sickening. But I think having an affair is far more damaging than engaging a prostitute — at least to the couple whose member is having the affair — unless the affair is as strings-free as an hour with a prostitute (in which case we call it ‘casual sex’, not an ‘affair’). An affair is usually romantic, meaning that the people in it are emotionally involved, and that is a direct threat to a marriage. You can ‘have sex’ with any number of people, but you can’t give your heart to more than one.
— Posted by Tim Kirk

The hypocrisy is not just that repeatedly shown by Eliot Spitzer, but that of all Americans. Prostitution, between consenting adults, should be legalized and covered by OSHA and other safety laws. The same for consensual adult drug use. We have a cultural obsession with acting one way and expecting everyone else to act differently. We are homo sapiens, not some form of supernatural being ruled by an obsessive and prudish god, with “normal” needs and desires and government should not impose some people’s moral beliefs on all. This is the same as a state sanctioning of one religion and abhorrent to the founding fathers. We should respect all people’s rights to be treated as they so desire to be treated, not as we desire them to be.
A preliminary study of low level prostitution in Chicago by Steven D. Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh found that street walkers earned about $20,000 per year, more than they could in “legal” jobs, and gave 3% of their sexual acts to police officers as forced bribes.
How is prostitution any different when it entails sexual activity than when a woman is forced, by economic and other constraints, to work in dangerous, health endangering, and low paying jobs? In a free market, with government protection of workers’ health and safety, the marketplace would demonstrate a slightly higher pay for sexual work and women should have that option available. It is discriminatory to deny them all options. The women who provided services for Spitzer and other high payers have that option available and are almost never prosecuted unless someone has a political agenda and they get caught up in it.
Get real Americans. Celebrate life.
— Posted by Jim Swanson

Why not legitimize the exchange of sex for money? Sex has always been an exchange.
Men who is are good lovers will never have to pay for sex because they fully satisfy womanly needs and desires. The sexual exchange is always mutually satisfying. The problem with most males is they don’t want to develop into men and lovers – or put in the effort it takes to stay men and lovers as they age – and, as a result, they’re stuck with making an offer in exchange for sex because their sexual exchanges are rarely satisfying.
Prostitution is the exchange for sex for money. If society legitimizes it, it can expand the taxable income base, which would pay for creating outreach programs, which could:
– encourage safe sex, which would result in reducing the risk of customers becoming infected with STDs and then going home and infecting their wives and children
– eliminate pimping, which would free up much-needed police officers as well as the courts for other pressing duties and matters
– reduce the risk of violence, which when it happens often goes unpunished
One final thought: if a man can hire a pro to help improve his golf why not let him hire a pro to help improve his sex?
— Posted by Carmen

Regarding Sweden, sex workers who work in that country have commented at international conferences that after they started arresting the johns, violence against the sex workers increased.
Most people who do sex work (which includes men as well as women) make a conscious decision to do that work. When it is performed by poor people who have migrated from poor countries to rich ones, for the most part they have made a conscious judgment that it is worth taking the risk of winding up with bad management because the financial rewards are so great. In many poor countries, the monthly checks these migrant sex workers send home keep their families housed and clothed. In some countries, they represent a significant part of the economy.
It is true that changing the laws in the Netherlands hasn’t stopped migrant sex work, but then anyone who thought that was going to be a major impact was pretty stupid. One of the reasons illegal prostitution still exists in the countries that have reformed the laws (i.e., the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand) is that the government failed to provide possibilities for immigrants to obtain work permits, so they can’t get jobs in the regulated brothels.
Changing the working conditions in prostitution is not easy. It requires a rationalization of the work, the development of appropriate occupational safety and health regulations, the granting of work permits to immigrants, and the support of projects run by sex workers to help those who want to change their occupation to do so.
Governor Spitzer’s problem was that he acted one way in his own life and in public supported the continuing hypocrisy represented by the laws against prostitution. Perhaps if he had worked with the sex workers’ rights movement in this country to make the changes sex workers want, he would not be in this predicament today.
As for Nicholas Kristof, you have no right to tell women what they should do with their bodies. Instead of following the hysteria of the so-called feminists who have blown up the “female slavery” panic as their foremothers did during the first part of the 20th Century, when the Mann Act was originally passed (with no reduction in prostitution), you should also work with sex workers to make the kinds of changes that are necessary to make prostitution a safe occupation.
— Posted by Priscilla Alexander

* By Naka Nathaniel (NYT,march12, 2008)

Back when I was teaching fiction writing, I used to pitch my students, especially the beginners, on complexity.

They seemed to think that readers would be attracted to their characters’ virtue and would recognize shared humanity in their strength and courage; I argued — perversely they thought — that unrelenting virtue is not just unrealistic but uninteresting.
Gatsby, I reminded them, is a damned fool who falls in love with a woman unworthy of his affection. Because he’s blind, he does everything wrong, and we sympathize because we, too, have been blind and done things wrong.

Granted, Huck Finn is an innocent, uncorrupted (as yet) by a depraved world, but he’s never more interesting than when he’s convinced of his own depravity. We like him right from the start, but when he says, “Okay, I’ll go to hell” — that’s when we fall in love.

For most people, mine is a losing argument, and one night recently, as I stayed up watching television coverage of Eliot Spitzer’s disgrace, I found myself losing it all over again as the media turned a complex drama into a simple story line: Now that he’s no longer their unsullied white knight, Spitzer must be a complete hypocrite. Later, I lay awake in the dark thinking about how a novel about Eliot Spitzer might go and what kind of novel it would be.

My fictional Eliot would be complex, would contain paradoxes. He would not be a hypocrite. My Eliot would believe with his whole heart in his crusades against the corrupt and the powerful and the privileged, even as he worked studiously to undermine his legacy. Fiction can accommodate such paradoxes, provided they’re explained.

But I don’t mean to jigger the facts; fictive Eliot will do exactly what the real Eliot has done, only my guy almost never imagines getting caught. And when he does occasionally consider the possibility, he trusts that there will be ample warning that disaster is imminent.

For the most part, things in his life have happened slowly, especially the good things, and he trusts that bad things will evolve similarly. He will swerve at the last moment. The possibility of a head-on collision, swift and devastating, simply never occurs to him.

Even worse, though he knows that the world doesn’t work this way, he convinces himself that if he’s caught, people will treat him fairly. Sure, he has shamed himself, but he’s done a lot of good things, too, and people will remember that. He has always employed a kind of moral arithmetic, and he’ll expect that same math to be applied to him — all his virtues set up on one side of the ledger, his one weakness on the other.

People will understand that he’s mostly good. By the time my Eliot realizes that he’s wrong about all this, it’s too late. The damage is done. He has betrayed his wife, his children, his best self, and it’s all his fault.

Okay, that’s my thumbnail fictional Eliot; a little thin, and maybe I like him too much. Not giving his nasty, righteous streak enough play. It’s possible I’m giving him more credit than God would, but then God has the advantage of knowing what Eliot and I are still trying to figure out. I’ll learn more as I write, but there are other characters to consider.

First, Eliot’s wife — and here I sense a mystery even deeper than the mystery of Eliot himself. Why does she stand there beside him at the podium when he confesses? Why do they all? I feel uniquely unqualified to look inside her heart, to ferret out her motives. I make a list of what I know (not much) and what I suspect (not much more) and wonder whether imagination will fill in all those blanks.

I’m relatively certain of one thing: It’s not this woman’s fault. I won’t portray her as frigid or otherwise complicit in what has transpired. She hasn’t driven Eliot to any of this. I don’t believe in perfection, but I’ve decided for the time being that she’s been a good wife, a good mother.

What I know about marriage is that identities over time tend to merge. Eliot’s wife was once her own person, but down the years she’s lost some of that individuality, surrendered it willingly, never suspecting she might have further use for it. If she’s not this man’s wife, then who is she? Worse, can she abandon her husband without implying that her daughters should do the same to their father? And what was that promise that she made? For better or for worse? Did she mean that or just say it? How could it be that she was able to imagine the better so vividly, the worse not at all? Was that his fault for leaving so few clues, or hers for ignoring the few there were? The facts of her situation are simple and clear. Why aren’t her emotions?
Why won’t they stand still so she can examine them?
And what of those daughters? This is the hardest part for my Eliot.

What really tears him apart is that when the news breaks, these girls are going to have to go to school. He sees them in his mind’s eye now and can think of little else. Sees them alone and isolated, all the other kids talking about them, growing silent when his girls walk into the room. This won’t go on forever, but to them it will seem like forever.

Eliot also fears that he’s done them long-term damage. Some of it can be repaired. They’re good, smart girls, and they won’t grow up hating all men. But their innocence has fled; they look at him now like a man wearing a partially removed disguise. Never again will they take anything on faith.

They will be cautious in the living of their lives, taking nothing at face value. They’ll brace for impact when there’s no reason. He could have spared them all this, yet managed not to.

The novel’s getting pretty dark, and that worries me. Time for a little comic relief. Real-life Eliot has few friends, we’re told, the natural result of what some people like to call his arrogance, though my Eliot has never thought of it in those terms until now. Arrogant? He’d simply tried to put criminals in jail where they belonged. Wasn’t that his job? Is that any reason he should be friendless now? So I’ll give my Eliot one friend, someone to help him put what he’s done into perspective.

I’ll give this friend some of my own cynical humor. Ah, what the hell, I’ll give him my name. Call him Rick. I can change that later with a keystroke.

Before everything begins to unravel, Eliot confides to Rick that he’s made a mess of things, betrayed everyone he loves, that he isn’t even sure who he is anymore. But Rick will tell him not to be melodramatic.

It’s true that he’s made mistakes, big ones, Rick explains, but they aren’t what Eliot thinks they are. Rick admits he’s outraged that Eliot has spent $80,000 on prostitutes, because it shouldn’t cost that much to get a little action in America.

It’s like one of those $500 Pentagon hammers. Downright wasteful. And why order a hammer from New Jersey and pay the shipping? There are perfectly good hammers in Washington — it’s a damned city of hammers, when you think about it.

Where on earth did Eliot get the idea that New Jersey hammers were superior? All he wanted to do was nail something, right?
Don’t joke, Eliot tells Rick. This isn’t funny; he could go to jail. But to Rick’s way of thinking, that’s the biggest joke of all. Your average CEO can claim millions in salary and stock options in the same year his company is going down the tubes, and it’s all perfectly legal.

You want to know what you’re really guilty of, Eliot? Cluelessness. You didn’t forget who you are, you forgot where you are. This is America, pal, where you can lead the nation into war on false pretenses and be rewarded with a second term in office, but where illicit sex is and has always been an impeachable offense. (Note to self: A little of this Rick character goes a long way.)

How will my Eliot’s story end? Do I wait for real-life events to unfold or make something up? What kind of story will it be? A tragedy? Maybe, but somehow I don’t think so.

My Eliot’s no Gatsby, and there’s no reason he should wind up floating face-down in the pool. What he’s really done is blown it. He’s had a great opportunity, and he’s blown it. There will be both private and public consequences.

He will be punished, and he will punish himself. He will survive. So will his family. People do. What is the basis for such breezy optimism? Well, for one, there’s historical precedent. Hillary Clinton wasn’t done in by her knucklehead husband.

I wouldn’t pretend to know what’s in her heart, but she’s clearly functioning. And Chelsea, God love her, seems to have weathered the effects of her old man’s late-onset adolescence.
Sure, there are other stories I could spin around the skeletal facts as we know them.

For instance, there’s a compelling story in which Eliot isn’t so much a man as a condition common to men, especially middle-aged men, none of whom seems able to keep it in his pants. Eliot just does what they all do.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence, I could make this story work, and it might be more satisfying to female readers, who could draw on personal experience to further enrich the tale.
There’s also a story in which Eliot isn’t even the main character.

Because how believable is it, really, that they came across him by chance on that wiretap? His many enemies are justly famous as the dirtiest of tricksters. Maybe I should be writing a thriller, but I dislike and distrust plot-driven narrative and have grown fond of my own messed-up, untidy Eliot, so American in both his ambition and the disgrace that seems to flow from it so naturally.

I might not know precisely why he’s done what he’s done, but he connects to my long-held conviction that people (in fiction, in life) aren’t meant to be saints, or to be treated like saints. That’s the hard lesson Hawthorne’s Reverend Dimmesdale learned from the pulpit.

For years now, my Eliot (himself no stranger to the pulpit) has been besieged in restaurants, on the street, everywhere, by people telling him to keep fighting the good fight because, Eliot, you’re our best hope in a world that’s as depraved as Huck Finn’s. Even his prostitutes agree — don’t they?

I cannot speak for the real Eliot, but some part of my Eliot has known all along that he’s no saint, that he’s not anybody’s best hope, not even his own. He knows this even as some other part of him believes what people are telling him because, of course, he wants to. This has been his true conflict all along, and finally, explosively, it has been resolved.

* By Richard Russo ;Sunday, March 16, 2008;
(Richard Russo’s most recent novel is “Bridge of Sighs.”)

The woman who investigators said Gov. Eliot Spitzer chose for a sexual tryst — a dalliance that sparked his tumble from the highest perch of power in New York State — has been identified in published reports as a 22-year-old New Jersey native with humble roots.

The woman, known only as “Kristen” until now, was legally named Ashley Youmans but now calls herself Ashley Alexandra Dupre, The New York Times reported.
Dupré, 22, a former resident of Belmar, N.J., lives in a Flatiron District apartment where a throng of media showed up last night.

Kristen, according to an investigation, met with Spitzer on Feb. 13 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington for sex, a meet-up arranged through the international call-girl outfit called the Emperor’s Club.

Spitzer, who was referred to by an FBI agent in an affidavit as Client 9, paid $4,300 for the session, one of many that investigators said he had with women employed by the prostitution ring that operated in several cities worldwide.

Spitzer, who announced his resignation yesterday, may have paid up to $80,000 for such services over time. The outfit ranked women by their physical assets and other traits, and charged as much as $5,500 per hour. Kristen was described in an affidavit as “an American, petite, very pretty brunette, 5 feet, 5 inches, and 105 pounds.”
Dupré describes herself on her MySpace page as a lover of music. The page is candid, reciting the disturbing details of a hard life.

“I am all about my music, and my music is all about me,” she writes. “It flows from what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen and how I feel. I live in New York and am on top of the world. Been here since 2004 and I love this city, I love my life here.

“But my path has not been easy. When I was 17, I left home. It was my decision and I’ve never looked back. Left my hometown. Left a broken family. Left abuse. Left an older brother who had already split. Left and learned what it was like to have everything, and lose it, again and again.”

The page also contains audio of one of Dupré’s own tracks, “What We Want,” sung in a seductive voice in which she coos, “I know what you want. You’ve got what I want.”
It continues: “Can you handle me, boy? Can you take my hand and carry me, boy?”

An attorney who represented Dupré before a grand jury looking into the case said: “We are not confirming or denying that she is Kristen.”

But the attorney, Don Buchwald, said the basic biographical story reported about Dupré’s life is accurate. He said Magistrate Michael H. Dolinger appointed him to represent Dupré.

When reached at the family’s Jackson, N.J., home, a man who identified himself as Dupré’s brother said: “Ashley is my sister, and I have no comment.”

A message left at her Manhattan apartment was not returned.

A woman who lives on the same floor of the high rise on West 25th Street said she was shocked about Dupré’s alleged role in the scandal. “I know she’s not leaving her apartment right now,” said the neighbor, who identified herself only as Alina.

Nick Hanson of South Huntington was surprised to find out that someone on his MySpace friends list was involved in the Spitzer saga.

“I really never met her or talked to her,” he said. “I just added her as a friend,” after she sent him an invitation. “It seemed like she was very interested in music.”

( March 13, 2008)
Staff writers Denise M. Bonilla, Eden Laikin, Tim Healy, Anthony M. DeStefano and Karla Schuster contributed to this story.