July 25, 2009

If It Really Were About the Women...

Justin Katz

Something nags at the ear upon the reading of a recent op-ed coauthored by Rhode Island Representatives David Segal and Edith Ajello. Segal and Ajello claim to have opposed the House bill that would have made prostitution unequivocally illegal in the state on the following grounds:

Under the proposed legislation, the police would raid suspected brothels, and arrest women "for their own good." Some of the women arrested would be victims of trafficking, but most probably would not. A genuine trafficking victim detained under the prospective law would likely be traumatized, poor, of foreign origin, limited in English language skills, and with an over-worked public defender as her only guide to the legal system.

She would face an impossible dilemma: be prosecuted, or prove that she is a victim and help the police prosecute her traffickers. Even if competent to mount her defense and build a case against her handlers, she could reasonably choose to sit in prison instead.

If this were the true foundation of the objection to stronger prostitution laws, a straightforward compromise would tilt the law even more to the benefit of victimized women. The bill independently criminalizes each party to the act of prostitution: the hooker, the john, and the pimp (spa owner, whatever). Amending the bill to erase the part concerning the prostitute herself would give the trafficked woman even more leverage against the person or people who are forcing her to do as she's doing. It would be illegal to buy sex and illegal to profit from somebody else's sale thereof, but it would not be illegal to make the sale for one's self. The only exception on that last count would be, following Andrew's summary of the relevant laws from a few years back, the continued criminality of streetwalking.

The Segal and Ajello may not realize that they've done so, but they concede that prostitution is typically a profession of the downtrodden:

Where does this leave the remaining women, likely the large majority of prostitutes, who engage in sex work by choice, whether out of [1] economic hardship or because of [2] substance-abuse problems?

It oughtn't be controversial to suggest that any motivation for such a career beyond the two cited by the representatives amounts to an exception that proves the rule. Indeed, that is why it is in the interest of pimps and madams to perpetuate and exacerbate the unfortunate conditions of their "workers," and why it is unconscionable to beat back those who would close the legal loophole that permits prostitution when an easy amendment would address the stated reservations.

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Once again I commend a reading on "White Slavery". Here is a place to start:

This concerns the mania in Britain, but was similar when it reached this shore. It only "got legs" when they moved the focus from the "unsympathetic poor" to alledging that "aristocratic" young women were being "enslaved". I note that in the present the focus is on foreign wonen with poor, or no, English skills.

Here is a conclusion: "In itself, the white slavery panic probably accomplished very little. Despite its sound and fury, it is unlikely that the Criminal Law Amendment Bill which followed in the wake of public outcry actually diminished the traffic in women or ended the sexual exploitation of children. It is even less likely that the panic did anything to resolve class antagonism, redistribute wealth, provide meaningful employment opportunities for women, raise wages or improve labor relations, reorganize the personal lives of the urban poor, or ameliorate any of the social and economic problems which reformers saw as the root causes of prostitution. Through the frenzy of newspaper coverage and the drama of public demonstrations, the white slavery panic brought with it the appearance, but not the reality, of social change. When the tumult dissolved, the problem of prostitution and its causes remained."

When it reached these shores, despite repeated attempts, no victims of "white slavery" could be found. The overwhelming number of prostitutes chose that line of work.

I am perhaps to cynical, but I notice that all of the women quoted in newspaper articles have a very poor command of English. Many speak through translators, I wonder how many words in Thai defy translation? This makes me wonder how much of the "translation" is "supplied".

Please do not misunderstand me, I do not favor "human trafficking". But, having lived through the "500,000 missing children" mania, I have to wonder how much is "hidden agenda" to further some other objective.

In the "500,000 missing children" mania the hidden agenda was the sale of "Identi-kits". The Indenti-kit people got it inserted in the Congressional Record, and constantly fed it to an unquestioning media. Pretty soon, everyone believed it. Until it simply "disappeared", sort of like "Acid Rain".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at July 25, 2009 7:41 PM

Justin, I have been a long-time reader of Anchor Rising. I fully support your efforts to reduce the size of the state, out of control spending, corruption, and intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Which is precisely why these isolated pet "moral" issues of yours and Matt Allen's bother me so much, they are such transparent hypocrisy and they undermine all of the good that you do here. How do you determine what private consensual conduct should be regulated by the state and what private consensual conduct should not be? And why should you be the one who decides these "moral" issues for everyone else, banning any conduct which you don't think a righteous person should engage in? I submit to you that the most positive philosophical and practical change you could make for yourself would be to drop these moral crusades against victimless crimes. If somebody isn't harming anyone else, and a transaction is consensual by all parties (human trafficking/slavery/abuse aside, we already have laws against that) then the state should not have the right to intervene. A victimless crime is no crime at all, and the state certainly does not need an excuse to grow itself, spend money, and regulate its citizens further, I think we would all agree on that. The kindest thing you can do for someone is stop trying to save them from themselves. We, as people, all have the God-given right to do as we wish with ourselves as long as we do not harm others in the process. Any coercion that infringes upon that right, whether it is by the state or some private action, is an abomination.

Posted by: Dan at July 26, 2009 10:20 AM

"Amending the bill to erase the part concerning the prostitute herself"


Dan, whatever one's opinion may be on the issue of prostitution, the point is that the legislature is using an easily resolved objection to justify their refusal to close this loophole. By doing so, they look either dense or weasly. Wouldn't it be more honest of them to say, "No, we believe prostitution should continue to be legal in Rhode Island"?

Posted by: Monique at July 26, 2009 11:02 AM

"Victimless Crime" souds very modern and forward thinking, perhaps it is. Unfortunately it flies in the face of "crime" as understood in Anglo-Saxon (or English speaking) law.

A "Crime" is a "Crime" not because of the victim, you will note that there is no provision in criminal law for compensation to the victim. That is entirely a civil matter.

In our system an activity becomes a crime when it is an "offense to the peace and dignity of the state". In theory "the state" is the party offended, and is the "victim". The fact there was another "victim" is simply evidence. So, as long as the state is offended, there is no such thing as "victimless crime".

Take for example "environmental crimes", such as building on wetlands. It could be said that it is "victimless" because actual harm to any particular person is so remote that no particular victim could be identified. To argue that the "victim" is everyone, well, that is "the state" isn't it? If we argue that there is no "particular victim", and therefore "victimless" then "environmental crime" fails as a "crime" under that definition.

If you think about it, why is "exhibitionism" a crime, and a "nude beach" is not. It is because the state has determined that one is an "offense to the peace and dignity" and the other is not. One could ask, if someone exhibits themselves to a crowd and no one is offended, is this "victimless" and therefore not a crime. Under the "victimless" theory, that should be true. Personally, I would not rely on it as a defense.

I will pass on a decision whether this is the best system, but it is the one we have.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at July 26, 2009 11:08 AM

Monique, yes, I agree, honesty is the best policy. Unfortunately, for political reasons, honesty is the last resort of many local politicians.

Warrington, there is no doubt in my mind that banning prostitution is constitutional in this country. I simply do not believe that it is a wise or moral policy because I support maximization of individual liberty and choice as long as no other people are being harmed. As for what constitutes significant harm, I suppose that is a matter of common sense upon which people will disagree.

Posted by: Dan at July 26, 2009 7:15 PM

Dan, I hope I was not misunderstood. I regard myself as a Libertarian, I was just pointing out how the system works and that an identifiable "victim" is not necessary to a crime. Most people think of criminal law as "vengence" for the victim, in fact it is not. So, "Victimless" fails as a defense, or reason.

If prostitution ever became a constitutional issue, I shudder to think of the precedents that would bear on it. Take Roe v. Wade, a woman's body is her own to do with as she pleases. So, why can't she sell it? Why can't she inject drugs into it? Personally, I think prostitution is illegal only because it "always has been". Maybe that is reason in itself to have another look at it. As I undertand it, most of the laws making illegal date from an era of incurable syphilis and a desire to "clean up the streets" (it is difficult for most Americans to get a grip on how dangerous the streets were in the 1800's. Have you ever noticed those large headed canes in antique shops, do you think Americans were feeble. Or, the three "armories" in Central Park or central Boston. People wanted some place to flee when the "rabble in the streets" rose.) Sort of like "slum clearance" in the 60's. If you levelled the slums, you got rid of the problem. No one seemed to realize that they would simply move. Poor people have to live someplace, prostitutes have to eat.

I have always that if we prosecuted the "johns", prostitution would become legal very quickly.

So long as drugs and prostitution are illegal, they are in the hands of criminals. The inmates are running the asylum. Drugs create "crime" in an effort to obtain the money to purchase them. I am less clear on prostitution, as I understand it, it chiefly produces funds for other criminal enterprizes.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at July 26, 2009 11:23 PM

Interesting, Warrington. I had never thought about it quite in that way before, although the conclusion is the same. I have a legal background myself, but that usually involves knowing what the law "is" and has little to do with what it "should be."

As a fellow libertarian, I find myself agreeing with most of what is posted here on Anchor Rising regarding smaller government in Rhode Island. I suppose it is precisely because I agree with so much of it that makes it particularly painful to read the content I strongly disagree with here and find hypocritical, usually an arbitrary imposition of morality upon everyone else in the areas of sex, drugs and whatnot. So much of what is posted over at RIFuture is abhorrent from a libertarian perspective, mainly the idea that bigger government is benevolent and the solution to all of our problems (as opposed to the cause and a dehumanizing one at that), but I have to agree with them in the few areas where they take a stance against victimless crimes of this nature. One can argue that prostitutes victimize themselves, but that makes little sense and is an anti-individual liberty standpoint. One could also argue that pimps and the like victimize prostitutes, but there are already laws against physical coercion and prohibitions paradoxically often lead to the worst criminal acts and externalities imaginable as you have pointed out, and was seen in the alcohol prohibition and the insane war on drugs that our government is currently waging without success.

It is just so bizarre for me to hear Matt Allen or somebody on this blog championing private property rights and small government in one area and then arguing for a state-level ban on consensual sex for payment in the next, a drastic increase in the size and scope of government and curtailing of individual liberty in the name of morality. I want to throw support behind the ideas advanced by the writers here, but every time one of these conservative pet issues comes up I have to cringe at the inconsistency and arbitrariness of it all. I think I would prefer to have Mr. Katz govern me than Mr. Crowley all things considered, but this authoritarian streak of his scares me. This particular issue doesn't really affect me one way or the other, since I don't make use of the services in question, but I fear which of my other victimless personal activities he will decide is to my own detriment next and seek a ban on my private consensual behavior in the name of societal good. Today it's smoking marijuana and sex for money, tomorrow maybe The Sopranos or Grand Theft Auto will be banned because of the culture of violence they supposedly create.

Posted by: Dan at July 27, 2009 12:08 AM

Dan, all good points.

A few things to ponder when "making laws" in a fever while responding to "public demand".

I have no personal experience with this, so it is just an "understanding". The severe penalties for "kidnapping" and "three strikes" laws seem to have had unintended consequences. It seems that the penalties are so great, they have increased the chances of murder. A sensible criminal, looking at life in jail, does not leave living witnesses.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at July 27, 2009 8:55 AM

Perhaps you ought to suggest to Rep Giannini, Prof Hughes and the rest that they accept said amendments. They're driving the ship on this one. It's naive of you to refer to any substantive amendment as 'easy.'

Posted by: Steve at July 31, 2009 7:26 AM
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