New York Teacher Left Unemployed After Writing Column About Prior Work As Sex Worker

We have followed a disturbing trend of teachers, and other public employees, who have been fired for activities in their private lives, including jobs previously held in the entertainment or sex industries. Now, an elementary teacher in the Bronx, Melissa Petro, has lost her job because she wrote a column in the Huffington Post on her brief stint as a sex worker. Dubbed the “Hooker Teacher,” Petro was shown the door at the demand of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In the column, Petro objected to the move to block people from using Craigs List for sexual services and added this bombshell: “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” The column by Petro caused a firestorm of controversy from a cover story in the New York Post to an array of blog and print stories. Now, in a Salon article, Petro details how the label as the “Hooker teacher” has barred her from getting another job despite an excellent record that includes two master’s degrees, five years’ experience in nonprofit work and three years as a teacher.

The story raises the question of why a teacher cannot write about such experiences in her private life and advocate for similarly situated people. She is not saying that she is currently a prostitute. I also doubt that elementary students are going to be reading the article and most are unlikely to know of or understand the controversy. My concern is that this growing list of discarded teachers and employees creates a chilling effect on the free speech and association of citizens who are not given any concrete guideline as to what is considered unacceptable viewpoints or speech. The result is that teachers may over-compensate and avoid any speech or associations that could be challenged by any parent. I realize there must be some ability for a school to deal with extreme cases but I am unsure of what standard applies to give notice to teachers. It also seems to me that any controversy now caused by a teacher’s writings or statements in his or her private life can be used as a basis for termination.

We have previously seen teachers (Here, England, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), here, here, students (here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a prior career in the adult entertainment industry (here).

I have only read a few quotes for Petro’s writings but the objections appear to be her admission that she was once a sex worker and her failure to denounce such work by others (and supporting their use of Craigs List). Should that be the basis for forcing a teacher out of her job? What do you think?

Source: AOL

42 thoughts on “New York Teacher Left Unemployed After Writing Column About Prior Work As Sex Worker”

  1. Had Ms. Petro admitted to being a sex worker in a Nevada brothel, I’d object to her being fired. And I personally believe prostitution should be legalized, though subject to zoning restrictions (as in the Netherlands). But prostitution is a crime in New York, and it is quite stupid to admit to a crime in writing (within the Statute of Limitations, anyway). Let’s not forget New York Governor Elliott Spitzer lost his job over patronizing a prostitute, so there’s no hypocrisy here. This incident lies outside the zone of protected speech we should be overly concerned about. There’s a bright-line rule for teachers: if you don’t want to get fired, don’t admit to having committed a crime. Perfectly all right to say the law should be changed; that’s protected speech. But announcing you’ve broken the law – that can get you in trouble.

  2. The public’s incredible fear of sex or anyone who admits to having had sex (except, apparently, Newt Gingrich) seems unbounded. And it’s particularly interesting, considering that except for sex, none of us would be here.

  3. There is an assumption that having a history as a sex worker is an indication of bad moral character. Since the person here was an elementary school teacher, it is not reasonable that she was planning to hire herself out to students, nor is there evidence that she had plans to pimp them out as child-prostitutes.

    Just on the basis of the article, I would draw the following conclusion about her moral character: she was motivated enough to decide that sex work didn’t reflect the kind of person she truly wanted to be and to find a line of work that was a better reflection of her personal values. Since she defended sex work, we can presume she doesn’t think sex work is enough of a social harm to merit illegality. Well, this isn’t an obviously untenable position. But more to the point, it is unlikely that she would be corrupting her students with this sort of argument (maybe if she were a high-school teacher).

  4. “Give the kid a break and hire her back.” -mespo

    Yes. And what Lottakatz said.

  5. Blouise, LOL, Craigslist is a sales/services site- if you have it to sell you post it and others can see your listing and contact you to buy it. The folks that post there sell and service everything. Everything.

    Angieslist is a rating site for work/services performed. If I wanted plumbing work done I would plug in my address and review the reviews/ratings of plumbers in my area. Or, I would plug in the name and address of the people I was thinking about having do the job and see if they had any reviews and weather the reviews were good or bad.

    I have never heard of an Angieslist/Craigslist Adult Services tie-in. But actually, that’s not a bad idea. 😉

  6. Gene,

    To tell you the truth, I don’t know what any of them are and now I’m scared to look. 😉

  7. Actually, I’m with Mal33. Demonizing someone for their choice (or the misfortune of having been compelled to be) a sex worker is not appropriate. It’s a business with a large consumer base, and if it were legal and properly regulated there would be much less victimization of women. It’s like drugs in that regard, that it is illegal keeps it under the control of vicious people.

  8. Blouise,

    If you’re good (or bad) enough at it, I think you can be on both Craigslist and Angieslist.

    (I know. I’m a troublemaker.)

  9. One can use Craigslist for sex? Oh well, perverts are everywhere.

    Sorry about that … I think I have Craigslist confused with Angieslist, Emilyslist ……

  10. What is interesting is the assumption that working as a sex worker is wrong or immoral, as if she has something seedy in her past to be forgiven or punished.

    In other contexts, such as women marrying into money for their beauty and sexual prowess, or even having sex in exchange for dinner, sex for money or goods or services is widely accepted. In fact, the traditional family is partly based on financial security in exchange for domestic and sexual services. Why isn’t that considered immoral?

    Treating someone badly for being, or having been, a sex worker is immoral and often hypocritical.

    1. mal33,

      Are you trying to get one, two or more comments from a few on here that would view this statement as extremely condemnation on women who still suffer…… not all women have it as made as you claim…. some still have to work at it….. then again…. some as you suggest are very bitter….. The same ones that blame the male world…. still stick up for Pelosi that lost the House for the Democrats….. somethings sre better left unsaid….. I hear a train wreck for you soon…. somewhere…you will be deballed…..

  11. Those that can’t do- teach. ? It’s easy to screw people over if you have first demonized hem in the society. I’ve heard that old canard for a couple of generations and it is always grating. Maybe it wouldn’t be so easy or the Teabagger thugs in office like Walker to destroy teachers and the school system if it weren’t that such a pervasive lie and insult wasn’t common. It’s long past the time to retire that attitude, it invites abuse.

  12. That teacher quote above by Dennis is the correct one. I think it was written by RinTin Tin back in the 60s.

  13. Talking Dog, my father – a teacher until the advent of the computer age – used to say, “Those who can – Do; Those who can’t – Teach; those who can’t teach – Coach; and those who can’t teach or coach – become Administrators. ( He only met bad coaches during his short tenure. )

  14. I707,

    The law of unintended consequences or was it….She could have very well have been the head mistress while being the headmistress…. it is all in the enunciation….of head and mistress…..

  15. AY,
    “about the head mistress and one of the major donors….”
    I wonder if you meant headmistress or was she in fact head mistress.
    Just as I suggest using major donor and also majordonor as two slightly different concepts.

    Hire her back, YES to head a group to promote study of living examples of our bill or rights. A much needed supplement in our schools

  16. Talking Dog,

    I hope you realize that not all are afflicted with dotage, even some jocks.
    Very small joke. Spoken by a candidate by reason of age.

  17. Rich

    “She should have used a pseudonym”

    Yup, and what’s his name shouldn’t have written “Walden Pond”, where he calls for the FULL COMMITTMENT of each and every…
    Which few did then and fewer perhaps now. Many opposed the Mexican war then, but few would do anything; only waiting for others to solve the problem, whereupon they could utter mild approval.

    Seems this lady is a person whom we should all emulate, putting our asses where our mouths are, althoúgh some dont’t even come that far.
    She did, she put Freedom of speech to use. Tell me your latest exercise.

    Where we would be if we did? Don’t know, but we’d feel much better for it, and as some say: “They can’t fire us all”.

    Here what you say as a spokesperson is on the record; your private views are yours to express. Your sins or crimes do not pursue you through life, although they might make you eliminated for teaching, etc..
    Nor are your sexual/gender choices discussed, even perjoratively by critics. But it’s long from a paradise. No bragging, just facts.

  18. She looks like a sweet person to me. Apparently she is permitted no past and her current perfromance is irrelevant. Teachers must be marble pillars you know. Why not just use the scarlet letter? But as Hawthorne also said in The House of Seven Gables, “Life is made up of marble and mud.” Give the kid a break and hire her back.

  19. Wasn’t there some issue a few years ago at one of the girls prep schools in Dallas…about the head mistress and one of the major donors….I think I recall that the mistress was allowed to use the NYC apt for services rendered….and one of the maids told the wife and it kinda got turned into a wide open scandal…..that was quickly hushed….No Linda Tripp in Texas at the time….It was was kinda of a messy divorce and…the head mistress exited the school rather abruptly for family reasons….but with a hefty leaving bonus….

    Maybe I am confusing this with one of those Texas Romance Novels…..But….I don’t think so….I hear they maybe even another messy Texas Divorce going on now…But whose talking…..

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