'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.

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."



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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.

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Stacey K.

So the message NY is sending is that you are not allowed to strive to better yourself and accomplish worthy goals in your life if when younger you have behaved in a way general society has deemed immoral or offensive? That you are a bad person for life undeserving of respect for what you have gone on to accomplish and the person you have worked so hard to become in today's world? And all you pedestal mounting Christian's who have NEVER sinned have the right to judge her? WOW!!!

Oh and god forbid somebody actually be HONEST and take responsibility for their choices in an effort to help other's? And for that this woman should be denied any and all opportunity to fulfill her dreams and goals she has worked so hard for.

If I had a child I would have NO problem with her as a teacher, I would rather have somebody who lives in the real world, who owns and accepts their life choices and has overcome hurdles and worked their ass off to better themselves teach my child because that is the kind of person I would want any child of mine to grow up to be as well.

December 05 2012 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rchfamily

This is a brave and honest woman. Great qualities.

November 29 2012 at 6:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rchfamily's comment
frank

Bloomberg wants to be the"king of nannie states" first the oversized soda drinks,now a person who has risen above a questionable job. I'll bet Giuliani would not have had her fired,only Bloomberg would do such a stupid and heartless thing.

November 29 2012 at 9:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BLONDIE & GRUMPY

It must be nice to sit atop the Ivory Tower Pedestal that Mayor Bloomberg sits looking down at all of us peons; but, how about "Sexual harassment controversies" that surround his honor, eh... It must be refreshing to call for the firing of some "Hooker Teacher" with two Master's Degrees who loves her work; all of New York and the Administration should stand up to this "Bully" and tell him "NO"!!!

July 23 2012 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Holly Hogland

This is so sad and absolutely something that should never happen in this country. She did something as a young person to earn extra money, however awful it may seem, NOT during her time as a professional. I am sure there are a lot of people out there that have done things they aren't proud of before becoming a teacher, or any other professional for that matter. A DUI? A crack addiction? Petty theft? And the list goes on. Where do you draw the line? What gives the mayor the right to dismiss her from her job based on something she is no longer doing? This story is just infuriating. I agree with Gunner. Who does Michael Bloomberg think he is? Our education system is bad enough without kicking someone out of it that appears to actually care about their job. I think this breaks several laws and is completely against what America stands for, and I hope someone gets sued for their ignorance. There aren't many times I would call for that, but this is ridiculously unfair. It's a shame, if she had said nothing, she'd still have her job. What happened to free speech? Good luck, Melissa.

April 28 2012 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gunner

I agree with this woman on the issue of free speech. If people knew the crap that King Bloomberg pulled in order to be re-elected as mayor of NY and held him to the same level of standards he held that teacher, he'd have been fired, thrown in jail and ran out of NYC. What she did was wrong but how he dealt with it is absolutely pathetic and typical of an egomaniac jerk off.

February 21 2012 at 11:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Diny

I have not read the article she wrote and am a little unclear did she write in favor of making prostitutiion leagel or was she against it.

February 19 2012 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ben

90 PERCENT of the women on this planet sell it for something. Be it dinner or a movie or something else. Sex has a price tag attached to it. When's the last time any guy just walked up to a strange woman, asked for sex and got it for free ? This woman was railroaded right out the door by people who have done far worse things to people other than just screw them.

February 18 2012 at 5:40 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
mohawke69

how many top officials have used the services of ladies of the night, many when caught are NOT forced to resign,it all comes down to, its not what you do its what you get caught doing and with whom you have Favour or leverage

February 18 2012 at 4:08 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Chris Parker

If I had to live off prostitution it live homeless, what would u do? I would become a prostitute, even if I am male. It gets to a point when it's about survival, not morals.

February 18 2012 at 9:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Chris Parker

These ladies r both right. Homelessness is the one thing that gets many people, female or male, into this business anyway. Why should it be her fault then. If you were in her circumstances then u would do the same thing. Even Mayor Bloomberg looks like a donkey on crack with this! What has America come to?

February 18 2012 at 9:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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