Sex cases' reality is too little, too much

The Baltimore Sun

OK, I've had enough.

Read the criminal complaint (hint: skip to page 26 for the goods on Client 9).

Tried to come up with my own tabloid headline (failed, unless you count: "Silly habit, tricks are for Spitz").

Flipped through the Emperors Club VIP catalog of offerings (sample: Marina, award-winning ballerina turned pianist who plays "the best of Bach" turned career woman who "advances via her precision with numbers").

Listened to the song by Kristen AKA Ashley, call girl AKA aspiring singer, on her MySpace page (advice: Don't give up your night job).

But now, New York's "luv guv" scandal has just about run its course for me -- jumped the shark, gone from engrossing to just gross, hilarious to banal in record time, thanks to the Internet and the refresh button.

Maybe it was inevitable, as any spectacle, whether it's Brit or Spitz, cycles through and eventually the sideshow fades and you realize the harsh reality of it all -- as in Eliot Spitzer's case, a horribly betrayed family and a shattered political career.

Or maybe it was hearing of another prostitution case in Maryland, unfolding at the same time but in a much less riotous way. By one of those twists of the calendar, on the day -- Monday -- that Client 9, Kristen, $4,300 sex, Room 871 and all the other deliciously awful details of Spitzer's downfall were entering the lexicon, a pay-for-sex case in Maryland was also heading toward resolution.

In court documents, this prostitute is known as C.H.H. Surely, she never saw the inside of a room as posh as the ones at the Mayflower, or had her picture and diamond-rating posted on a Web site for the perusal of a pampered clientele. Her going rate topped out at $30 for 15 minutes -- which might explain why a typical workday included 25 or more customers.

And, saddest of all, C.H.H. was 14 years old when, as the document puts it, "she began her employment."

On Monday, Javier Miguel Ramirez, 35, of Hyattsville pleaded guilty to sex trafficking for transporting C.H.H. to customers in Maryland and Virginia. He will be sentenced in June. Part of the reason federal authorities became involved in her case, said James A. Dinkins, who heads the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Baltimore, is that crossing of state lines -- a violation of the once again famous Mann Act that may also be leveled against Spitzer since his paid-for partner traveled from New York to Washington for their Feb. 13 assignation at the Mayflower.

Without the scandalous trappings of the Spitzer case, though, the conviction of C.H.H.'s pimp drew little public notice --The Sun ran five paragraphs on its Web site; last year, The Washington Post mentioned Ramirez' arrest in a story about human trafficking. Maryland's U.S. attorney, Rod J. Rosenstein, said the lack of attention can only keep such crimes further hidden.

"There aren't many cases prosecuted because we're not getting the reports," Rosenstein said. Often, because the victims are young or illegal -- or both, as in the case of C.H.H. -- they're unable to or fearful of going to authorities, he said, but they shouldn't be because they will be rescued regardless of their immigrant status. Human trafficking is more common than you might think -- Dinkins said ICE arrested 164 people for the offense last year, winning 91 convictions.

C.H.H.'s case may be particularly horrifying and, no doubt, hardly the typical for prostitution case -- but then, I suspect neither is Kristen's. Or, rather Ashley Alexandra Dupre, Kristen's actual name, or at least the one she's uses for the singing career she hoped to achieve by moving to New York.

Whatever her name, she seems familiar, the latest emissary from the supposedly glamorous world of high-priced call girls. You've seen her before, whether she's calling herself the Mayflower Madam (for the WASP-bearing ship, not the hotel), or in the movies, in the guise of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

I go back and forth on the question of whether prostitution should be legalized, and whether it is a victimless crime. It's a C.H.H. versus Kristen thing. With the latter, it seems so much clearer: Man with too much money and not enough sense wants to toss $80,000 at a bunch of hookers and screw up his entire life? Go for it, guy.

Even if it is hardly a victimless crime -- I can't get the haunted face of his wife, hauled out for not one but two public spectacles, out of my head -- could you ever come up with enough laws to prevent jerks from behaving like jerks? Is Kristen asking to be rescued? No, and no. At this level, it seems a marketplace thing -- the supply meeting the demand, willingly on both ends, when someone with that kind of pocket change wants to buy into whatever fantasy the Emperors Club is selling.

And it seems indeed to be a total fantasy. Each Emperor Club lady, its Web site promises is "a gorgeous woman of kindred caliber," whatever that means. The page for "Kristen" that has been circulating describes her as an international swimsuit model but -- quelle surprise -- she turns out to be a 22-year-old wannabe singer from the Jersey shore, a self-proclaimed survivor of a broken home and abuse.

Not quite C.H.H., but hardly the fantasy that "Kristen" was trying for either.

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