'Hooker Teacher' Forced To Resign, Now Can't Find Work

Melissa Petro has spent much of her young life writing about the plight of sex workers: The stigma and shame, their treatment as victims or villains. Now Petro has been trampled by the forces she was trying to fight. After writing about her own experience as a sex worker, Petro was forced to resign from her teaching post. With two master's degrees, five years' experience in nonprofit work and three years as a teacher, as well as a litany of published writings, Petro is skipping meals. No one will give her a job.

In a Salon feature, Petro details the catastrophic fallout from a Huffington Post op-ed she wrote back in the fall of 2010. She was criticizing Craigslist's censorship of its "erotic services" section, and because she had made a point of battling the shame of sex work, she confessed that for a handful of months she had sold her own services on the site.

Search Job Openings

In Partnership With

The media swarmed. She was the "Hooker Teacher" on a New York Post cover, and "a reason to end tenure." She was a "disgrace," and in the words of a blogger for women's site, The Frisky, Petro was "disgusting" for her "media-savvy plan to get publicity for her upcoming memoir."

Petro began stripping when she was 19, on her semester abroad in Mexico. From a working class home, and the first of her family to attend college, Petro had a string of grueling low-wage jobs. She entered the sex industry for the same reason as hundreds of thousands of American women: the money.

She says that she has never considered herself a victim, though. In her HuffPost column, Petro calls herself one of the "free thinking, entrepreneurial human beings with choices and responsibilities" who sold sex through Craigslist. Ultimately, she found her experiences "physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting," and quit trading sex for money on her 27th birthday.

After receiving a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction, she was selected for the highly competitive New York City Teaching Fellow program, which brings "high-quality, dedicated individuals" to struggling classrooms. Petro had been teaching art and creative writing at an elementary school in the Bronx for three years, when she became the Hooker Teacher.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for her removal from the classroom, and she was removed, immediately. Petro was soon formally charged with conduct unbecoming a professional. She was fired from her two after-school jobs, and the Department of Education threatened that if she didn't agree to resign, it would contest her unemployment. Petro left the job that she says she loved.

Petro wishes her story could have raised issues like the legality of prostitution and the constitutionality of her speech. Instead, she describes herself as being treated as a monster, vanquished, now left to hand out resumes, and scrounge desperately for cash -- the same bleak circumstances that lead so many women to sex work in the first place.

"I was being idealistic," she writes about that HuffPost op-ed. "I was being provocative. I was naive. I picked a fight that I thought I could win -- and I was wrong."



Next: Your Last Job Ended Miserably, Can You Be Honest About Why You Left?



Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now



Stories from Schools.com


Claire Gordon

Staff Writer

Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.

Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at claire.gordon@teamaol.com. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.

Search Jobs

In Partnership With
Keywords:
Location:

Search Articles

Top Companies Hiring

July 20 - July 27

Looking for work? See what companies added new openings this week.

×

Check out our new Map Search

Locate your next job using the new AOL Jobs Map Search!

Pin down your next great opportunity today.