Prostitution in Rome: Washington Post goes for the wrong 'hook'

Oh, those blue-nosed Catholics. Opposing prostitution in Rome on vague "moral grounds."

The Catholic Church flickers, ghostlike, in and out of a story by the Washington Post on attempts to deal with prostitution in Rome. The story looks at the dilemma of limiting a trade that many people seem to want, yet can't seem to tolerate.

It's a decent issue for a serious indepth, but the writing is a curious mélange of serious and snickering. In the latter, the Post calls the controversy a "very Italian opera." It tells of hookers in "vertigo-inducing heels." And it leads with a clutch of clichés:

ROME — The Eternal City is colliding with the world’s oldest profession — and the sparks, as they say, are flying.
The ranks of streetwalkers have surged here in the heart of Catholicism, a swell that Rome’s officials are decrying as a stain on the dignity of the city’s citizens. But in a town of sinners as well as saints, outright bans on selling sex have failed before, leaving city authorities to put their faith in a new approach.

The new hook, if you will, is for the city to designate red-light districts, where the sex trade could be plied without police harassment. That would spare the rest of Rome the sight of streetwalkers -- not to mention flashers, used condoms and pantyhose wrappers. (Yep, those are all in this story.) But the measure would imply permission for the sex trade, something the Romans are still unwilling to give.

The Catholic Church is mentioned six times, yet the Post asks no Church leaders about the matter.  It says generally that the Church is "fighting it on moral grounds." And it quotes a priest who works with a ministry to prostitutes, who says the city plan would "have the state become the pimp." A basic Church position? No room for that in this 1,100-word piece.

Occasionally, we read some weird random sentence, like "Some here argue that not much has changed in 3,000 years." That would take us back to the Etruscans, the predecessors of the Latins who built the Roman Empire. And no, the article doesn't back that up.

And for some reason, the Post shows a lot of interest -- three of the 28 paragraphs -- in transvestite and transsexual hookers. They allegedly make up half of the streetwalkers in one Roman neighborhood. One of them warns of fierce competition if all "sex workers" are herded into one zone: "This is going to be a river of blood."

Mary Magdalene is a ghost in this story, too -- in the usual way she's misused in many mainstream media:

Some are also bristling at the gender characterizations implicit in a plan that would, in effect, segregate the unreformed Mary Magdalenes from the “respectable” women of Rome — mostly to the benefit of men. With prostitutes confined to uninhabited parts of town, husbands, boyfriends and other johns could enjoy greater anonymity.

Any thorough Bible student can tell you where it says Mary Magdalene was a hooker: nowhere. That notion comes from a sixth-century sermon by Pope Gregory the Great, who conflated her with the unnamed adulteress whom Jesus saved from stoning. But that's a flimsy premise for adding it to an alleged fact article -- almost as flimsy as calling prostitution "the world's oldest profession."

The Post paragraph doesn't even make sense. No one in the story says the red light districts would be in deserted parts of Rome. And johns can already avoid detection by going to neighborhoods where they don’t usually go. A red light district would make them more conspicuous, not less.

At least the article gets serious about one side of the sex trade:

Experts blame the increase on more criminal gangs funneling sex slaves into Rome from Eastern Europe and Africa, as well as the effect of tough economic times in a bevy of European nations, including Italy.

Yet it then shrugs off this horrendous trend, aside from that single quote from the priest who ministers to prostitutes. Then the article veers off into the joke about "vertigo-inducing heels."

The Post could have easily learned the Catholic stance toward sex trafficking, as in this document from the U.S. bishops. The teachings are rooted not in blue-nosed morals but in the dignity of women who, like men, are made in the image of God.

Or the newspaper could have looked in its own archives for Pope Francis' New Year address calling for a united global front against human trafficking. Not quite as funny, but more factual.

Please respect our Commenting Policy