When I sat and thought about what was going on, I couldn’t say that this girl was entirely mistaken. Sure, her method of lying to caseworkers certainly wasn’t entirely honest but her goal of making an organization accountable was certainly something that I could support.
Yeah, I said it.
True, I write these articles on behalf of a Planned Parenthood affiliate and I initially found myself incensed by what was occurring, but I realized that I was just being defensive and protective of an organization that with which I had come to align myself.
One of the problems with all of this is that Lila’s videos are designed to provoke powerful emotions from people on both sides of the fence and having a strong feeling about an issue is one thing, but acting from that same place only leads to brash behavior.
The reality is, however, that these situations often require a measure of tact. It’s easy for us to sit back and judge this scenario with a clear-cut mentality when we see it played out on YouTube but anyone who has been in a room with a patient (especially a teenage one) knows that things are never this easy. I certainly do not purport to be a counselor but I have had enough experience to know that situations between a professional and a client need to be handled with extreme care, thought, and discretion. How do you serve the greater good when a 13-year-old tells you that she had sex with a 31-year-old? I imagine that the focus of the clinician at that point immediately revolved around the girl whether viewers realized it or not: Was she raped? What is her thought process in wanting to abort the baby? Is a violation of her trust outweighed by my duty to report a crime? How would the reporting of this particular situation affect the willingness of future girls to come forth? To me, the situation depicted in the videos is nothing more than this: the actions don’t always follow the letter of the law but might very well abide by its spirit.
If you’ve seen Lila’s videos and immediately react, take a second and think about what you’ve learned from watching television. On medical dramas, we are routinely bombarded by examples of doctors doing things that are illegal, immoral, or unethical in order to accomplish a goal. Sometimes, efforts to subvert presiding laws cause chaos because the character needs to learn a lesson. Other times, however, things work out because these actions are in the best interest of a patient. We have seen examples of a Chief of Surgery coercing a comatose patient’s wife to pull the plug so that six other individuals could get a kidney on Grey’s Anatomy; Private Practice has had doctors cross boundaries in an attempt to do what they thought was best, and every medical drama in the history of television has had a doctor become too involved in his work due to a personal situation.
How do you know when to uphold the law and when to declare the rule unjust? In the end, it’s a judgment call.
For example, Private Practice just featured a teacher sleeping with her student. When doctors discovered this transgression, they experienced conflict over whether they should report the teacher to the police: Arguments were made that statutory rape was a crime and should always be reported; other doctors mentioned that the relationship was consensual and heard a rejoinder that minors can’t give consent. But, doctors ultimately came to question if the act of reporting would do any good for either party.
The answer? Not so much.
Without question, this whole situation represents a complicated dilemma. Recall a time when you helped a friend cover up a mistake and you might understand the mindset of the Planned Parenthood employees. Thinking about the videos again in this light, perhaps what occurred in these videos wasn’t right but I’m not entirely sure it was wrong.
When I talk to female friends of a certain age about great cinematic romances, I will often hear Pretty Woman come up in the conversation. Let me start off by saying that I enjoy the movie but that I also have some questions about it. Perhaps it’s just my cynical nature, but I just don’t buy the whole “rich dude falls in love with a prostitute” thing. I get why the movie might be appealing: a downtrodden girl gets the opportunity to escape her life (and cramped apartment), swept up in the arms of a client and transported into a life of the finer things. Who doesn’t love being rescued? Who doesn’t like believing that True Love can conquer all? Or, at least transcend the sociocultural taboos of Beverly Hills? For me, part of the allure of the movie stems from the fact that it probably wouldn’t happen in “real” life—there’s simply too much of a stigma associated with prostitutes.
I haven’t thought of this movie in a while, but an ending scene of a recent Private Practice episode made me think about prostitutes. I have to say that I don’t really have an objection to the whole idea, although I certainly wouldn’t ever tell someone to prostitute himself or herself. I’m not going to try to convince you that prostitution is okay, or that you should like it, but there are some things to consider.
What kinds of things do we sell ourselves for? We sell our skills, sell our bodies, sell our souls, and sell ourselves short. And, since we’re selling, how do we know how much we’re worth? We market what we can do in a boardroom so why is it so different when we market what we can do in a bedroom? Is it prostitution if you trade sex for favors? Can we whore ourselves out for things other than money? Do we trade sex for love? Or romance? Or attention? At its core, how does the idea that you’re willing to make a fool of yourself, or break a bone, or shave your head, differentiate you from someone who’s willing to pose naked, from someone who’s willing to have sex? If you distill it down, and money is not involved, how is the whole process different from bartering? And, why is it morally dissimilar? How do the expectations of buying dinner in exchange for the possibility of sex differ? I’m not going to call any of my friends out but some of them have slipped between the sheets for a lot less than a good meal (and they know who they are).
A recent episode of one of my favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother, also talked about reasons why you would have sex. I don’t disagree with anything on the list, but how is having sex to reinforce good behavior not whoring yourself out? You are having sex in exchange for something that you want.
The classic deal, of course, is that women are interested in money/status and men are interested in beauty (and everybody’s afraid of rejection, although men more so). So if we’re naturally trading sex for money on some level, what the big deal with it all? If you are willing to sleep with, and marry, someone who you don’t love in exchange for a life of comfort, how is that not a form of prostitution? Although the example of this scenario that readily comes to mind involves rich/straight White people, you see this same kind of relationship in other subcultures with, for example, a trend of old White men going after young Latin males.
For me, there is nothing inherently good or bad about this whole process—it is what it is. So, what is it to you?
Around me, plasma televisions glowed with images of champions and triumph, but all I could see was you. In front of me sat someone who was desperately trying to be normal—whatever that means these days—but whose heart was probably beating as quickly as it ever had. In front of me sat someone who I’d known for years but maybe never really knew at all. In front of me sat someone who had recently learned that he had HIV.
Months have passed since you first told me, and I have to admit that I haven’t thought much about your life until this week. While watching some of my favorite television shows, I came across the season premiere for Private Practice. Normally, I would describe the storylines as metaphorical anvils for the main characters but something about this viewing was different. On the screen in front of me was a teenager struggling with the decision to have sex, not knowing that he was HIV positive. Of course, because this was television, the teen engaged in intercourse with his girlfriend only to find out about his status after the deed was done.
All of a sudden, I was forced to yet again confront a young person with HIV. I had read the stats, but the spread of HIV among American youth was something that I still wanted to avoid thinking about. I did not want to consider that teenagers were dealing with the responsibilities of sex and its occasional consequences. However, somewhat ironically, in this respect I was an adult who still had some growing up to do.
Although there are times that I wish that the trend wasn’t happening, it’s increasingly apparent to me that teens are maturing at an earlier age. Young people are becoming more sophisticated about media, clothes, college, and, of course, sex. It seems as though individuals are now faced with choices that I never had to deal with in high school and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve done my part to equip teenagers with the tools that they need in order to make the right choices for them.
Restless in my bed, unable to sleep, I kept coming back to the television show and to you.
I couldn’t say this to your face at the time because you needed a friend more than you needed a lecture, but I was mad at you for contracting the disease. Sure, it was a rash judgment on my part, and your situation certainly wasn’t your fault, but I could not help but be upset that this happened to you. Why weren’t you more careful? Why didn’t you know better? Why? I was angry because I was heartbroken and scared; you had the rest of your life to live with this extra burden to bear. In my head, I knew that things would be fine and that this would most likely turn into nothing extraordinary, but I couldn’t get over the thought that, in some way, this was preventable.
I wish that I could go back in time and tell you things that you already knew: use a condom every time, talk to your partner about your sexual history, be mindful of how your judgment might be impaired, learn how to get out of risky situations. Most of all, I hate that I didn’t tell you how important safe sex is to me; it might not have made a difference but what if it had? I can’t save everyone, but I might have been able to save you. I am sorry.