Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why do Women Become Prostitutes? Part I.

I suppose that most of you have heard Mackenzie Phillips' claim that she had a ten year sexual relationship with her father, beginning when she was 19. Her father, a musician with the Mamas and Papas, can't deny it because he's dead. Mackenzie Phillips has a long history of serious drug addiction and doesn't present particularly well. And the claim itself -- well, by now, we're used to hearing the stories of young children who've been made the victims of incest or preyed upon by daycare providers. We know how we're supposed to react to them. Mackenzie's claim, that as an adult she had an affair with her own father, is something else. People don't seem to know how to react to her. As far as I can tell, she's become a very, very public object of embarrassment. You can't help but look at the red haired, slightly ravaged looking woman, tossing her head, smiling ingratiatingly, and talking, talking, talking about how she spent her 20s sleeping with dad. At the same time, you don't want to look at a person like that any longer than you have to. She's probably sick, after all, and, given the incest, maybe a victim, but in a lot of ways she's just plain repulsive for having participated in her own degradation.

It's her family I find most interesting. Both her dad's ex wives have denounced her, even Michelle, with whom she was supposed to have had a close relationship. Neither of them mentioned the father's role in addicting Mackenzie to drugs before she reached her teens. Her youngest sister has unleashed a series of snide remarks, supposedly meant to be neutral, acknowledging Mackenzie's need to "come clean." Little Sister also sounded angry that Mackenzie had left her alone with the father who could have done the same things to her -- if he had done them to Mackenzie -- which probably he didn't. It was Mackenzie's other sister, Cheyenne came to Mackenzie's rescue, proclaiming her belief in Mackenzie and her love of her sister. Cheyenne's support consisted of the following: 1) a statement that she believed the affair happened, 2) repeated emphasis on the consensual nature of the affair, 3) a description of what an idyllic time she had with their father the few times he visited, 4) a lengthier discussion of how hard Mackenzie's revelation had been on Cheyenne's family, and, finally, 5) forgiveness for Mackenzie for having told her story. At no point did Cheyenne or anyone else express any interest in Mackenzie's claim that the "affair" began when her father raped her, that their sex frequently took place when Mackenzie was too stoned to know what was happening, or that her father had allowed one of his friends to rape her when she was a child. For this display of sympathy, Mackenzie gratefully and enthusiastically professed her love of Cheyenne.

Perhaps she was right to be grateful. Nobody at all came to Ellen's defense when she turned over evidence against her husband the rapist. We had a client whose uncle went to prison for the years he spent raping her while she was in elementary school. When he came out, the family welcomed him back with open arms. Decades later, when the woman's father died, a YANA staffer took her to his funeral. Nobody in the family would let her ride with them. When our women are battered, even by a stranger, they want to protect the man who attacked them, the way their mothers protected the men who attacked them as children. Very few of our women have ever denounced a family member who beat them or raped them, and of the ones who have, I can't think of any who got even as much support as Mackenzie got from Cheyenne.

Why do women become prostitutes? I don't have the answer, at least not all of it, but Mackenzie Phillips' family gave us all a nice, on-air demonstration of the culture that produced many of our clients. All the attention, all the concern is focused on maintaining the family just as it is. There just isn't any room left to worry about what's happening to the victim. The result sometimes seems to be a woman willing to participate in her own degradation. Long ago, I began to think of the women at YANA as the obedient daughters. Well into adulthood, they keep doing what they've been taught long ago.


  1. Would the right wing say this is a result of the rock and roll culture? How very sad to see your clients continue to be daughters if that is being obedient to the role models around them.

  2. A lot of people, perhaps most, see American prostitution as an economic issue. They think that women prostitute because they make "so much money." In Baltimore, at least, sexual acts can go as low as a few dollars. The average rate for intercourse is $20.00 Women stumbling up and down Wilkens Ave., drug addicted and traumatized, aren't able to demand more. Women do not prostitute because they make "so much money" doing so. McDonald's pays better.