Pornography, Peep Shows, and the Decline of Morality

By Goodman, Wes | USA TODAY, March 1994 | Go to article overview
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Pornography, Peep Shows, and the Decline of Morality

Goodman, Wes, USA TODAY

Yvonne Haulsey made her living in New York City's biggest and flashiest porn palace, performing one-on-one peep shows in the private fantasy booths at Show World Center at 42nd St. and Eighth Ave. On March 24, 1991, she was stabbed to death in a rear room of Show World Center.

The 21-year-old lay dead, dressed in her skimpy work clothes, for several hours before her body was discovered, while her co-workers continued to lure customers into their booths for a peep. Critics point to Haulsey as evidence that the porn industry feeds sexual deviants and degrades women.

Whatever the critics say, thousands of dollars are spent on pornography every day, and the neon lights of 42nd St. continue flashing, 24 hours a day, advertising sex shows and drawing customers.

The sex shops in the Times Square area that have live peep shows also sell a variety of sex items such as magazines and toys. In addition to X-rated movie theaters and video stores, porn magazine shops, and topless bars, drug dealers and prostitutes ply their trades along the streets.

Show World Center is a four-story monument to New York's thriving retail sex industry. On display in the lobby's window is a clipping from The New York Times describing the center as "the McDonald's of sex." Inside, men stroll through a room lined with movie peep booths that look like confessionals. Hidden speakers blast Madonna's voice: "Let your body move to the music." Customers are hit by the smell of strong disinfectant, used throughout the shop to clean the floors in the booths.

The booths have doors that lock from inside. In each is a bench seat, a coin box on the wall, and a television screen. Movies are kept running by dropping tokens, purchased for 25 cents each, in the coin boxes.

At each end of Show World Center are staircases leading to the live peep show performers. The women are dressed in miniskirts, bikini underwear, laced halter tops, and skimpy bras. The walls also are lined with booths here, but the tokens are $1 each, and five are needed to peep at a live woman. Giving her a $10 tip beforehand ensures an active performance.

The men browse, checking out each of the women: white, black, Hispanic, Asian. A customer picks one and goes inside her booth, closing the door behind him. She enters her side of the booth and closes her door. He drops his tokens in a coin machine on the wall. A black curtain that covers the glass wall between them rises, and they stare at each other.

Babs, who performed in Show World Center, graphically describes what happens next: "Customers wotdd put in $5 for [the curtain] to rise for about a minute or a minute and a half. They usually stayed in there an average of five or six minutes. Most of them come in their business suits after work. They'd just stand there and [masturbate]. I had maybe one or two that didn't. There was a phone and we would talk. There was a glass there separating you. I just took my clothes off. That's pretty much it."

The Attorney General's Commission on Pornography said in its 1986 report that peep shows are the biggest moneymaking portion of the porn industry, with annual nationwide net profits projected at 2,000,000,000. According to William P. Kelly, a former FBI agent who investigated porn and now serves as a consultant on obscenity for various law enforcement and advocacy groups, "The biggest single income of any of it is the 25-cent coin or the token dropped in the peep show machine in the back of the dirty book stores."

A victimiess crime?

Ginger put herself through New York University performing in the peeps and maintains that the shows are innocuous fun. "It's a safe, harmless way to have some erotica in one's fife. It is certainly victimless and should be accepted in society."

Betty Wein of Morality in Media disagrees. The New York-based agency works to stop the spread of pornography through the enforcement of anti-obscenity laws.

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