SmackDown: Should a Former Prostitute Be Allowed to Teach in Public School?

Filed under: In The News, Opinions, Sex


The oldest profession is also one of the most controversial. Illustration by Christopher Healy


Being an Ex-Hooker Isn't the Same as Being an Ex-Accountant

by Jessica Samakow

"So tell me something unique about you that isn't on your resume," inquires an elementary school principal.

"Oh, I used to be a prostitute," the prospective teacher replies.

"Perfect! You're hired!"

In what bizarre world would this conversation ever take place, you ask? Answer: The Bronx.

Okay, so maybe elementary school art teacher Melissa Petro's interview didn't exactly include the dialogue above. But it may as well have. According to the New York Post, Petro posted an essay this month claiming she also had been a prostitute.

Using her real name and picture, Petro writes, "From October 2006 to January 2007 I accepted money in exchange for sexual services I provided to men I met online in what was then called the "erotic services" section of Craigslist.org" in the Huffington Post.

Petro goes on to explain how her lack of pimp usage somehow made her Craigslist experience safe and convenient. And she claims that her chosen channel of prostitution made her "no more a 'professional' than a person renting a room on the same site" because these people, of course, are not necessarily professional real estate brokers. Somehow, I don't see the correlation. Any way you slice it, a prostitute is a prostitute. I am not quite sure what separates a "professional prostitute" from an "amateur" one.

The self-proclaimed "non-pro" writes in the Huffington Post, "I found the lifestyle physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting, and so I made a decision to desist some months after I'd gotten started, exiting the industry just as freely as I'd entered."

Her next move? Becoming an art teacher at an elementary school in the Bronx. While her decision to exit the industry may deserve a pat on the back, I believe that Petro's past should deem her unqualified to be a teacher at an elementary school.

To my knowledge, at the very least, teachers must not have a criminal record if they are to be considered for jobs. So, Petro may have a clear record because she was never formally charged with prostitution. The fact of the matter is, however, that prostitution is illegal. Whether she has run into trouble with the law or not, accepting money for sexual acts is against the law. If Petro had admitted online that she used to rob banks, she likely would not be able to keep her job. We would hope not, at least. Why is this any different?

In today's ever-growing cyber world, published information is impossible to hide. Petro admits that she has not even tried to be cautious about disguising her past on the web. She is aware that her colleagues are "googling" her and that this could be a potential threat to her job. And if your colleagues are "googling you," you better believe that your students are as well.

The students may be young, but they've grown up with Google as their encyclopedia and are undoubtedly curious to find out what their teachers are up to outside of school. In high school, I found a CD that my Spanish teacher's husband, a Jewish cantor, released. Last year, I found a college professor's blog about her adventure to Taiwan. Embarrassing as my Google habit might be, I know that I am not alone.

There is a good chance that Petro's students are too young to even know what a prostitute is. So upon their findings, variations of, "Mommy, what's a prostitute? Can I be one?" probably will follow. It is no wonder that parents are outraged by the exposure of Petro's past and do not want her teaching their kids.

Some might argue that there is a shortage of teachers in less fortunate neighborhoods and that finding them is a difficult task. This may be true, but I hardly think that the "adult services" section on Craigslist is the best place to start looking.

Key Word with Former Prostitute is 'Former'

by Tom Henderson

"Go your way," Jesus tells the adulterous woman everyone else wants to stone to death. "Sin no more."

Read John 8:1-11 carefully. Nowhere does Jesus add, "But don't even think of trying to be an art teacher, ya little tramp!"

That's because Christianity is based on forgiveness and redemption. So is our secular justice system. Except in the most extreme cases, we don't execute people or lock them up forever. We hope they reform and go on to become contributing members of society.

That is our fondest wish -- as a society, anyway. As individuals, we are a little too eager to cast the first stone.

More than a few people are itching to chuck a few rocks at Melissa Petro. She is very open about the fact that she was a prostitute for a few months before becoming an art teacher in New York City. She told her story on the Huffington Post, even using her real name and photo.

And I admire her for that.

Mealy-mouthed people who squirm, lie and generally refuse to take personal responsibility by not putting their names and faces to their actions, opinions and pasts disgust me a lot more than sex workers. And it seems, at times, that the mealy-mouthed are inheriting the earth.

The Internet allows people to spout whatever bile they want without putting their names on it. Long have I yearned for someone to come clean about something before being confronted with the incontrovertible evidence.

Some scummy scandal-monger probably would have exposed Petro as a former prostitute eventually. That she would tell the tale herself -- candidly, bluntly and without feeling the need for a melodramatic mea culpa? I find that extremely refreshing.

No, I would not want her standing in front of a classroom and telling my child about the last time some guy paid her $300 for fellatio. Similarly, I would hope his algebra teacher would refrain from telling him how her husband likes to play barnyard in the bedroom.

Parents at PS 70, where Petro teaches, have reacted predictably.

"I don't want nobody that used to do that to be around my kid," one of them tells the New York Post. "People like that should not be allowed to be anywhere near children."

That seems to be the general consensus. "She's not a good role model," another mother tells the newspaper. "I do not want my daughters to find out about this, and I do not want my daughters to be around that kind of person."

Not a good role model? This is a woman who has a masters of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction and is, by all accounts, a respected teacher. She also happens to be a former prostitute. The key word here is "former." She changed her life, and has the courage not to lie about her past.

She is exactly the kind of role model I want for my teenage son.

His peers often refer to sex workers -- and women in general -- as "whores." There are video games where players murder prostitutes, but that's OK because they're not real people. And they're prostitutes. Boys grow up learning to dehumanize prostitutes while also learning that being sexually promiscuous themselves makes them "studs."

I want my son to learn that prostitutes are real people, worthy of respect and capable of growth and change. You don't have to accept what they do as a profession to respect who they are as fellow human beings.

Would I want him to learn these lessons in art class? Not necessarily.

I seriously doubt the subject ever comes up with Petro's students. Very few kids probably read the Huffington Post and, if they do, more power to them. They could probably handle a serious and mature discussion about the situation.

Sadly, the same can't be said of the many of their parents. Many of us still have a lot of growing up to do.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.