This week UK politician Keith Vaz was outed by a tabloid newspaper for paying two men for sex, and offering to pay for their drugs and take some as well. The paper had met the escorts in advance and encouraged them to film the meeting, and gave them advice on how to do it, obviously in return for the tapes (and in exchange for a financial reward no doubt). It was entrapment pure and simple, although the paper denies that on some legal technicalities. A few days later Vaz resigned amid the usual media carnage.
My initial reaction was of sadness. The man has a wife and kids who will now have to go through hell understanding what he did and why. I just felt sad for him and his family. Their lives have been upended because an individual ‘journalist’ wanted to make a name for himself. I really don’t understand how some people sleep at night.
Glancing at the various articles about this on the web and from the news sources, I was actually encouraged by the amount of articles that took the stance that what a politician does in their private lives should remain private (after all, paying for sex is not actually a criminal offence in the UK so he broke no laws).
On the other hand though, there are the usual suspects exclaiming how shameful this is – “shame MP”… “sex shame politician”… etc. I thought that was an unnecessarily cruel (if predictable) portrayal, utterly lacking in empathy for another human being’s wellbeing, and propagates a judgemental and unsympathetic approach to the topic of private sexual activity. What on earth about what Vaz did was shameful? He had sex with sex workers… so what? Is that a shameful activity? As an addict, I obviously know too well how the feelings of shame can rule one’s sense of self-esteem and motivation, and much of the dialogue around recovery revolves around the abolishing of this sense of shame. It is therefore a pity that media outlets continue to throw this phrase around with no sense of understanding of, or care about, what it really means.
Then, regardless of opinion about his actions, there’s the topic of conflict of interest. By engaging in prostitution, is Vaz able to maintain his political position in charge of a committee who were conducting a review of prostitution and drug laws? Most people are saying that his position was untenable and he was right to step down. But his actions were legal… so so what if he has a bias? Everyone has a bias, and all that can be asked is that when representing a company or public body, they make their decisions publicly to be accounted for. We surely do not know the bias of all public officials who are responsible for law-making, and I’m sure plenty out there have done far worse than Vaz in their private lives. If a politician cycled to work instead of driving, should he be prevented from being involved in any decisions regarding transport because of his ‘bias’? Of course not.
For the sake of a thought experiment, let’s assume he was biased and shouldn’t remain in his job on that basis. Think then, what do we know about addiction? What if he was suffering from a compulsive sexual habit – we know full well that our acting out as addicts often runs completely contrary to our values. We know this but we still do it. When we make decisions with a clear mind, we are true to what we believe; it is only when under the control of the addiction that our values go out of the window. So what if Vaz was struggling like us; would we expect his decisions as a politician be influenced by his private behaviour? Probably the opposite! Not only would I expect him to make decisions according to his true values, unaffected by his private affairs, but it is more than possible that his convictions against his own actions would be even stronger, as he would have the ability to ‘fight’ his addiction through legislation. When of a clear mind, would he not actually try and make his private acting out more difficult, not easier? I know I’ve gone to great lengths, when of clear mind, to make acting out harder for myself.
Of course, we have no idea about the context of Vaz’s indiscretion. Does he have a sexual addiction? Is he struggling with psychological issues that he has found escape from in sex? Is he just a gay man who hasn’t yet found the courage to tell his wife? Who knows – the above is not to impose my own interpretation on him, but more as a thought experiment to apply what we know about addiction to how we treat people whose actions touch on this realm of sexual activity that so many of us struggle with and sympathise with.
I hope Keith finds the right path forward, and I wish his family strength and fortitude as they unravel what will no doubt be a complicated and painful story for them all.