The Bachelor Wasn’t Ready To Tackle Sex Work

Photo: Courtesy of ABC
The Bachelor 2021 has a fundamental mile-wide mean streak. You can see it in the “mob mentality,” to quote Katie Thurston in “Week 4,” that ultimately informed cast black sheep Sarah Trott, “The rest of your living situation here will be horrible.” You can definitely see it in Victoria Larson’s calculated (and successful) efforts to eliminate Marylynn Sienna
It is no surprise, then, that the darkness bubbled over when The Bachelor season 25 added in a delicate topic that is rarely given its due diligence in off-camera reality, let alone the heightened potboiler of a fierce romantic game show: Sex work. Over Monday’s night’s “Week 4,” newbie contestant Brittany Galvin becomes the the victim of a rumor that she is an escort in her city of Chicago (she is not). 
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The result of the storyline is an infuriating and dangerous two hours of television marked by ruthless slut-shaming. While sex work desperately needs to be normalized on something as ubiquitous as network television, The Bachelor proved it is not the place for this conversation. 
Sex work is real work. It is also a massively stigmatized and penalized profession. Criminalized sex work — which is currently the legal policy for every state in America save for a few Las Vegas counties — reportedly increases the threat of physical or sexual violence for sex workers 300%. An Indiana Mechanic was fired from her job just last year when management found out about her OnlyFans account; she was sexually harassed by co-workers before the firing. Coronavirus has left sex workers more financially vulnerable than ever. In pop culture, sex workers are often the victims of horrific violent crimes, which suggests to the populace at large what kind of fate sex workers “deserve.” Even the policies of “decriminalization” and “legalization” — which may sound identical to the uneducated — are constant sources of conversation and debate.
If a modern television show wants to talk about sex work — including escorts — these are the kinds of facts such a narrative requires. Otherwise, it is only increasing the magnitude of harm for a community already besieged by centuries of discriminatory abuse.  
The Bachelor does not treat its Brittany escort “rumor” with such a thoughtful lens. Instead, chatty mean girl Anna Redman — another woman from Chicago — starts the rumor mill in a fit of jealousy. Bachelor producers add five women into the cast during the “Week 4” rose ceremony and Anna is displeased. First, in a confessional, Anna claims Brittany is “sketchy.” In the next immediate scene, Anna tells Pieper James  that Brittany “fucking sucks.” Then, during the group date, Anna goes out of her way to hurt Brittany by hiding her acorn during an obstacle course challenge. “So that's good,” Anna says proudly about her actions. 
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Anna is purposefully mistreating Brittany precisely because, as she tells season villain Victoria during the group date, she believes Brittany is an escort. According to Anna, unnamed and unverified “people” have sent her “messages” telling her that Brittany is “entertaining men for money” and “may be an escort.” While a connection to sex work should’t be an “accusation” — it’s a job, just like Anna’s copywriting  career — it currently is something that can blow up a person’s life. Ask the 23-year-old New York paramedic and OnlyFans content creator who was doxxed in December 2020 due to an intentionally reckless New York Post story. Anna is aware of possible fallout from her story. As she says when she is displeased with Brittany’s (very normal) group date cocktail party actions, “I almost want to be like, ‘Yo girl I know some dirt on you.’” This “dirt” is a weapon. 
To make matters worse, Anna is committing such a damaging act over hearsay. Anna never says she herself has witnessed Brittany perform sex work. In fact, Anna admits she has never met Brittany before The Bachelor
Still, Anna ensures that The Bachelor will air her damaging gossip campaign on national television at the end of the group date. After Bachelor Matt James leaves the room, Anna confronts Brittany in front of a handful of other contestants, saying, “I actually was getting messages from people in Chicago … that you’re an escort.” Now this is no longer a matter between Anna, her villainous partner Victoria, and an unwitting Brittany. Instead, the entire cast of women has been brought into the so-called “drama” (this situation is actually far more dangerous than traditional reality TV silliness). Anna “apologizes” for sharing such an allegation while also forcing Brittany to answer it. Anna has backed Brittany into a corner and guarantees the word “escort” will follow her for the rest of her life, no matter her answer.  
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For the record: Brittany is not an escort. She denies the rumor during the group date, clearly on the brink of tears. The next day, she admits to “wanting to cry” over suffering such a public ambush by someone who knows nothing about her. Fellow new contestant Ryan Claytor encapsulates why Brittany is rightly so emotional, saying in a confessional, “Moving forward, Brittany is going to have to carry that with her and defend it. She shouldn’t be put in that situation.” 
Katie also recognizes the long lasting effects of Anna’s hurtful gossiping and tries to help Brittany. She ends the episode informing Matt that “pretty bad rumors” in the house could “literally could ruin lives.” Again, this dire sentiment should not be the case around sex work, but in our prejudiced world, Katie’s words are true. 
Matt vows to get to the bottom of the “bullying” in the house at the end of the episode. But, in a show where contestants call each other “slores” and “the dumbest hos” for fun — as Victoria and Anna do without any criticism from the series in “Week 4” — it’s unlikely The Bachelor will fix it slut shaming, anti-sex work problems by next Monday.

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