Teacher Punished For Revealing Her Sex Work Past

In the wake of the Craigslist “adult services” crackdown earlier this month, we’ve seen a renewed focus, not on prostitution per se but on sex workers, the people who (many claim) used Craigslist to work autonomously, without the influence of coercive middlemen.  One of the women who spoke out about what used to be called the “erotic services” section of Craigslist was Melissa Petro, a Bronx elementary school teacher who spent a few months during grad school as an amateur sex worker.  After writing candidly about her experiences in an article published earlier this summer, Petro has been reassigned to administrative duties, in a move that is clearly linked to discomfort with her sexual past.

Petro, who has been teaching for three years with apparent success, defended Craigslist’s “adult services” in a piece for the Huffington Post a few weeks ago, writing, “The simple fact is that people do have sex for money — many different kinds of people for many different reasons, people as varied as those looking to buy concert tickets, sell a collectible or adopt a pet — and these people will continue to.” 

Her path, she writes, was simple: “bored and curious, and sexually uninhibited,” she ventured into amateur sex work on Craigslist and left it a few months later after discovering that she found it “physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting.”  This was after working for several months as a stripper in Mexico, which evolved into ethnographic research about sex work in Europe.

Her ability to think clearly and honestly about the experience is admirable, and her candor is nothing short of brave, especially considering the reactions that both pieces have received.  Parents, predictably, are upset. “I don’t want nobody that used to do that to be around my kid,” said one woman, whose son is in third grade.  “People like that should not be allowed to be anywhere near children.”  Other parents claimed concern over Petro’s ability to be a good role model.

In her earlier piece, Petro intelligently articulates the knotty issue at hand: “It is not sex work that society fears is dangerous, but sex workers in and of themselves…It would be better, I suspect, if I were ashamed.”

But the fact is that she’s not ashamed, nor should she be.  The openness and reflectiveness with which she tackles her past illustrates the fundamental truth, which is that no one is their job, and regardless of one’s personal stance on sex work, the people who participate are not fundamentally polluted by the exchange of sex for money.  And if deep-seated social anxieties about sex workers cost Petro her job, it’s just as wrong as any other kind of discrimination.

Photo from Flickr.


Samantha T.
Samantha Trosky5 years ago

Ooops sorry! I tried to post and it did not go up them both came up at the same time.

Samantha T.
Samantha Trosky5 years ago

She should have written the artice with a DIFFERENT name as many authors do. She should have known that America is a bunch of prudes and many are hypocrites! We love sex and love to shame it. Sad.

Samantha T.
Samantha Trosky5 years ago

She SHOULD have written the artice under a different name as many authors do. She should have known America is a bunch of prudes. Her past is her past and it should not matter, but it does.

Lika S.
Lika S.5 years ago

Well, not to be funny in anyway, but this DOES put a new twist on the song "Hot for Teacher"...


C H6 years ago

The greatest lesson we can learn from our teachers is to not make their mistakes again. That is if the teacher is teaching good morals ..... can the parents truly feel comfortable with that knowledge about her, and have her presence amongst the kids? A challenge for sure. I say, so long as she dresses decent and teaches good morals. Everyone has a past, and everyone is a sinner in their own ways.

Jane R.
Jane R.6 years ago

I don't see why her past "job" would make her unfit as a elementary school teacher. I do think she should have kept it to herself though. Maybe she doesn't make enough money as a teacher & the News Paper offered her big buck for the article. Better to write about "sex work" than to acutally do it.

Jane R.
Jane R.6 years ago

Allan Y. She did not bring it up with the children. Read closer. She wrote an article for a newspaper.

Allan Y.
.6 years ago

There is no place for this kind of discussion in the classroom - period. Offer your service to organizations for people who are trying to crawl out of this lifestyle. Did she bring this up to children for it's shock value?

Clayton B.
Clayton B.6 years ago

As immoral as prostitution might be perceived by most people, this teacher was merely stating her opinion about her experiences with it. It wasn’t like she was having a discussion about it with her students. Unfortunately, teachers fall under greater scrutiny because they are expected to be role models to young people. Her error was in not predicting the potential fallout that would arise as a result.

Clay Boggess

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

If SHE had not brought it up no one would have known.
Parents and teachers felt it was inappropriate for her to mention this in a open forum. Had she kept her mouth shut thee likely would not have been any problem.