NEW YORK – April 22, 2009- (Business Wire) Intelligence Squared U.S., the Oxford-style debate series sponsored by The Rosenkranz Foundation, announced the results of its fourth debate of the Spring 2009 season, "It’s Wrong to Pay for Sex." Though there were compelling and passionate arguments on both sides of the issue, and the team in favor of the proposition was able to move a significant portion of the crowd to their side, in the end the audience was almost evenly split on this long-debated issue. At the conclusion of the evening’s arguments, 45% of the audience voted for the proposition, 46% were against it and another 9% remained undecided.
This result was actually a huge victory for the team arguing that it is indeed wrong to pay for sex. Led by legendary feminist Catharine A. MacKinnon and prostitution researcher Melissa Farley, this group moved 25% of the audience to their point of view. In the pre-debate vote, 20% of the audience at The Rockefeller University’s Caspary Auditorium voted for the proposition; 50% were against it and 30% were undecided.
Robert Rosenkranz, the founder of Intelligence Squared U.S. introduced the evening’s proposition by focusing the audience and the panelists on the language of the motion, pointing to some of the complications regarding this issue that has been long-debated, not just in the United States, but around the world. Mr. Rosenkranz noted that "the notion of paying for sex can encompass such an incredibly broad range of ideas; from patrons of child prostitutes in Thai brothels, to rich Wall Streeters who support their girlfriends in graduate school. So there’s such a huge range of meanings here, in the language of the resolution."
Sydney Barrows, the modern American "Mayflower Madame," who published a book of the same name, argued against the motion noting that "Freud once asked the question, what do women want? And I would argue that what women want is their own money."… "First of all, who’s really taking advantage of who? I would argue that it is the women taking advantage of the men’s need for us. After all, who ends up with the money? We do. Who’s the one who sets the price? We do. They're the ones who shell out because they want what we have. And if they don’t want to pay it, then they don’t get it."
Author Wendy Shalit, speaking with the team in favor of the proposition, disagreed with this assessment. She said, "…Sex is a good thing, but we don’t have to take advantage of the most vulnerable in our society when we choose our sexual partners. The devaluing of women and children’s innocence that happens in a society that makes sex into a commodity, to validate that, and to declare that paying for sex is perfectly fine, is to say something about society’s relationship to women and especially girls that I think would be detrimental."
Speaking for the motion were Ms. MacKinnon, the feminist and University of Michigan Law professor; Ms. Farley, a clinical psychologist and anti-prostitution researcher and activist; and Ms. Shalit, author of Girls Gone Mild and other books.
Joining Ms. Barrows speaking against the motion were Tyler Cowen, author and economics professor at George Mason University; and Lionel Tiger, author and the Charles Darwin professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University who coined the phrase "male bonding."
John Donvan, correspondent for ABC News Nightline, moderated.
A full transcript of the debate will be available at http://intelligencesquaredus.org/Event.aspx?Event=41
Key comments from this debate included:
"Prostitution is not a choice because the precise conditions that make a choice are absent; for example, equality with buyers, and physical safety, and real alternatives."… "It’s wrong to set aside a special class of women, those who are the most vulnerable among us, for men’s sexual use. What’s wrong with paying for sex is it’s the business of sexual exploitation." — Melissa Farley
"…All I want to protect here, is the notion that sex is not a disease, that sexual interaction is not necessarily an expletive, exploitative phenomenon, that it has its own legitimacy, its own agenda, and, it will and has continued, in much the same way and a sensible society will try to make it better"– Lionel Tiger
"Sex, when it’s right, like friendship, is its own reward, it’s mutual, it’s equal in its diversity. You can't buy the real thing. In prostitution, women have sex with men they would never otherwise have sex with. The money thus acts as a form of force, not as a measure of consent. It acts like physical force does in rape." – Catharine MacKinnon
"In a way you can think of prostitution as a bit like, dare I say, banking. As we know here in New York, banking is very frequently badly regulated. And you find in many countries, believe it or not right here in Manhattan, you find examples of abuses, fraud, exploitation in banking. But again, the correct attitude or answer is not to say that all banking is wrong." – Tyler Cowen