It seems that a whole lot of people were shocked this week when news broke that the Philadelphia Police Department raided a Mummers clubhouse in South Philadelphia and arrested ten women for prostitution. Those who were less surprised at this information have spent some time either on Two Street, a destination not exactly known for clean living and family fun, or inside one of Philadelphia’s many private social clubs, where illegal behavior—whether bookmaking, drugs, or, yes, the occasional “G-String Night,” as the Italian-American club in my neighborhood calls it—is not exactly uncommon. At most clubs, it’s an unstated privilege of membership.
After the arrests, some of you out there wondered how desperate men must be to pay these particular women, most of whom appear rather, shall we say, weathered, for sex. Others asked why only the ladies of the night were arrested but not their johns. These are all good questions, but what I really want to know is, why did the PPD spend so much time going after this particular club?
According to police, who held a press conference and released mugshots of the accused to the press—as if this was a victory over some terrorist plot to release nerve gas on the Broad Street Line—the bust came after a six-week investigation of the club. Police say that the “wild sex parties,” as characterized by Fox news, had been going on for some time on the second Tuesday of each month.
Meanwhile, all over this city, there are longstanding houses of prostitution that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They advertise their services—usually under the guise of spa treatments—in local publications. Here’s a little tip for your crack investigative team, Commissioner Ramsey: the phrase “body shampoo” is sometimes used as sex industry speak for “prostitution,” especially when it appears in an ad next to a completely naked Asian woman sporting a come-hither look, as is the case with an advertisement in Wednesday’s Philadelphia Weekly for the Happiness Spa at 1812 Ludlow Street, less than 400 feet from Stephen Starr’s Continental Midtown.
There’s another so-called spa at 1819 Ranstead Street, about a two-minute walk from the Philly Mag offices, on a dead-end block that also houses a Midtown Diner and the barber shop where I get my hair cut. Once buzzed in at 1819 Ranstead, after they check you out via a security camera, you give $65 to the nice lady who answers the door. She may give you a beer as a line of Asian women parades before you. You pick your gal, go upstairs with her, get naked, and then, following a massage and, yes, an actual body shampoo, negotiate a “tip.” For sex. Shocking!
While the Mummers clubhouse is a private club that wasn’t taking out ads in the local paper for its monthly soiree, these brothels are selling sex out in the open, totally unregulated, and, apparently, with impunity. Are they paying taxes on all of that illegally earned income? Are the “workers” being tested for diseases? And, most importantly, with the many well-documented connections between brothels and human trafficking in the United States, are the women who sell their bodies at these places sex slaves or operating of their own free will?
Just some food for thought.