October 28, 2009

A Fantasy of Practicality

Justin Katz

Comments Joe Bernstein to a post on prostitution:

If everyone can just stop the morality arguments for two minutes, and think of the practical results,something should be apparent.

I like less wasteful government spending. I think most people on this blog would agree.

Incarcerating women who engage in off-street prostitution is very expensive.It takes prison space that could be better used for dangerous individuals.The state will,in many cases,be put on the hook financially to support the children of incarcerated women.

If you're conservative,this doesn't make a lot of sense for a "crime" that is non violent in nature, and please spare me the crap about spreading STD's. STD's are mainly spread by ordinary people being careless.Most prostitutes who aren't servicing drive up traffic on the street take precautions.

This is very similar to the ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.The prison is jammed with long term inmates who don't pose a great danger to the general public.Drug dealer one never made a living for a minute without hordes of willing customers.If anyone here could've spent the nine years in narcotics enforcement that I did,they'd likely reach the same conclusion.

Meanwhile,sexual predators including pedophiles,manage to get released in too little time.THOSE are the people I'm willing to see my tax dollars spent on to keep locked down until they're too old to function.

I'm not here on earth to preach to anyone else about what sin they commit by engaging in a behavior that is looked down upon by a lot of people.I'm way too burdened by my own shortcomings for that.

My attitude is that the government should spend money and time on tracking down and neutralizing those people who commit violent offenses and serious property crime.

By the way,my previous comments on drug offenders related to people on the lower end of the spectrum.Major traffickers are indeed dangerous to society,prticularly when they resort to frequent violence to achieve their ends.

The first thing to note is that the post to which Joe appended his comment did not make a moral argument, but a practical one — namely, that Rhode Island's approval of prostitution on practical grounds will not create a firewall at our border making the business fundamentally different here than it is everywhere else. There's a tendency in modern discourse to disregard the practical points of those who also promote morality, as if the former must be post facto scampering to layer an illusion of a considered opinion. The paradoxical effect can be the assumption that the immoral must be practical.

Whatever the case, because he did not address it, my argument applies as well to Joe's comment: Making prostitution explicitly legal in Rhode Island will not cleanse the sex industry of its objectionable — and publicly expensive — elements. Rather, it will make Rhode Island a hub, a home base, for an industry that is illicit everywhere else and therefore habitually corrupt. A business that is built on bribes and political corruption in every other state will not resemble a mom and pop grocer just because it exists five minutes from a border between legality and illegality.

Moreover, sexual license at this degree, and of this degree of uniqueness, tends to lump together. People with sexual dysfunctions — especially in the extreme, like sexual predators — will have a natural affinity for a state in which prostitution is legal. Especially when another of that state's iniquitous "loopholes" allows them to remain anonymous for longer than they should be able. It's no mere coincidence, I'd suggest, that Rhode Island happens to be home to both policies.

Perhaps we should coin the term "fallacy of practicality" — or perhaps "fantasy" would be better. The notion that the sorts of people who are willing to engage in child sexual slavery will find Rhode Island's acceptance of prostitution to be a hindrance rather than a boon is ludicrous. Our state, for example, was not included in a federal sting that is rescuing children from such a condition because slavery is legal, here. If anything, plucking an illegal version of an activity from the midst of a legal industry will require more extensive investigation.

That's not to mention the additional costs that our being a beacon for the nation's seedier elements will entail. Some of the costs will be in direct public safety, some in social spending, and then there will be the intangible cost to families and their children. Frankly, for all families' willingness to endure the slings and arrows of Rhode Island's misfortunes, the sex industry's setting up shop in Little Rhody could be the final message that our little coastal playground for the rich and the corrupt is not intended to be a family friendly location. As the economy improves everywhere else but here, the growth of the sex trade in the state will certainly be added to my "why we should leave" list.

Prostitution can be made illegal without requiring that all women caught selling their bodies be thrown in prison. Unfortunately, the people who might put pressure on forthcoming legislation to mitigate that aspect are so enamored of the idea that they could take a principled stand despite moral reservations that they're requiring the decision to be legal versus illegal. Rhode Islanders who are practical, moral, or both should support the "illegal" option and then advocate for compassion and thrift in the application of the law.

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Justin-you want morality legislation that is meaningful and won't burden us with additional costs?
Let's change the age of consent from 16 to 18.
Right now a 60 year old chickenhawk can cruise Allens Avenue for a 16 or 17 year old boy LEGALLY.How f**ked up is that?But no,you can pat yourself on the back for making some 40 year old Korean "massage provider"into a criminal.
Eliminating abortion except to save the mother's life would also be good morality legislation.Murder of an innocent is prety immoral.But unfortunately,that is a fantasy for sure with baby killers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg squatting in our nation's highest court.
Prostitution(indoors) is being made explicitly illegal-it already was legal,so I wasn't advocating for legalizing it,bcause that would make no sense.
I don't think the libertarian argument can apply to streetwalking because that adversely affects neighborhoods and the residents there and therefore is a very harmful practice which should never be legalized.Even in places like Amsterdam where prostitution and brothels are completely legal,streewalking is still a crime.
Sexual predators seem to like Florida a lot.Prostitution is illegal in Florida.
I recall Biascayne Boulevard back around 1980 when I was assigned to Miami on detail-when we drove into the office to pick up assignments we had to go quite a few miles along that road.At 7:30 AM the prostitutes were out in force basically wearing their underwear right in front of the low rent motels they used for business.It was all illegal as hell,but there it was.
If anyone here tends toward fantasy world,Justin,it might be you.
I don't question your motivation-you like the idea of having a clean,decent society.Well,society has always had its seedier side and always will.
Putting this bus
iness of indoor prostitution underground will make things worse.The idea that it can be eliminated is nonsense.
Want to tell me we can eradicate the drug problem next?You'll get laaughed out of the room.
That is just the way things are.No value judgment needed from me.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 28, 2009 8:50 AM

This post is based around three false assumptions:

1. Making prostitution illegal will reduce the number of prostitutes in Rhode Island. There is zero evidence to support this and it ignores the well-known and often counterproductive effects of prohibitions (see also: Drug War).

2. Keeping prostitution legal will attract certain undesirable types of people to the state, including sexual predators. There is zero evidence to support this. Why hasn't it happened so far? Prostitution has been legal here for decades. There is also evidence that when people who are sexually frustrated or deviant can engage in sexual behavior in a controlled and legal way like pornography or sex for money, they are less likely to "snap" and turn violent, hence why the instances of these crimes have decreased with the widespread availability of the internet. Another unintended consequence of prohibitions on peaceful but unpopular human behavior.

3. Legal prostitution is intimately related to child slavery and human trafficking. Again, zero evidence to support this. By this logic, all guns, legal and illegal, are intimately related to crime and should be banned since criminals sometimes use illegal guns.

Why do we have to go through these mental acrobatics to justify violently coercing people into modifying their otherwise nonviolent and consensual behavior? Why is it so difficult for conservatives to come up with legitimate arguments against keeping prostitution legal? Ah yes, because there aren't any.

Let the ad hominem and appeals to popularity ("an industry that is illicit everywhere else") commence! I'm looking at you, Matt Allen.

Posted by: Dan at October 28, 2009 8:57 AM

"I don't think the libertarian argument can apply to streetwalking because that adversely affects neighborhoods and the residents there and therefore is a very harmful practice which should never be legalized."

The activity itself isn't harmful, just some of the externalities of it, like the rise of gangs and pimps fighting each other for control of an artificially-created black market, which is, of course, a result of the prohibition itself.

You know what would happen to society if drugs were legalized tomorrow? Jack squat, the same thing that prostitution being legal in Rhode Island has done to our state over the past few decades. Most people who live in the state don't even know it's legal here, so how bad of a problem could it be? It's a manufactured issue for the authoritarian moralists to terrorize people with and perpetuate the reach of the police state, nothing more. Eventually we'll be talking about making the immoral and socially destructive practices of pornography or masturbation illegal, because people who feel the compulsive need to lord over the private lives of others are never, ever satisfied. History and the growth of government in our own country since the founding are testaments to that sad fact.

Posted by: Dan at October 28, 2009 9:07 AM

Dan-sexual predators are not affected in any way by whether indoor prostitution is legal.You see that clearly,but some people can't.
Sexual predators arent't looking to BUY anything.Their motivation is TAKING.Virtually every rape victim also has something material stolen from them.That doesn't happen by chance.
Sexual predators are driven by a compulsion to terrorize and dominate a victim.They are the kind of people who rape prostitutes.Yes,prostitutes can be raped.We had a case back in the 80's where four El Salvadoran illegals abducted and gang raped a prostitute from Elmwood Avenue and took her to East Providence where they were going to kill her,but she escaped and made it to a nearby house where the police were called and the individuals arrested and charged.That is how sexual predators operate.If Justin thinks this law will have any impact on them.he is sadly mistaken.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 28, 2009 9:13 AM


I agree with you that making prostitution illegal will not keep sexual predators away. Theoretically, it could actually make the problem worse since prostitutes who are raped or abused by them would be very unlikely to come forward.

I also agree that what you are saying is true for many types of rapists. I only disagree in that there are some types of people who aren't really "rapists" or "gang bangers" by nature, they are sexually frustrated and confused individuals. If these people are prohibited from looking at videos of their fetishes or being able to have sex for money, they will eventually drive themselves mad and snap and do something absolutely crazy to a child or maybe a woman on the street. It might not be rape per se, maybe just exposing themself or something of that nature, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the availability of internet porn specifically has cut down on these incidents because those people don't get as frustrated anymore, having that release available.

Look at the guy who shot up that health club a few months ago. I read his blog after it happened - the man was sexually frustrated and had trouble relating to women, so he drove himself mad and turned to violence. He hadn't had sex in 20 years and this fact became an obsession with him. Maybe if he had been able to legally have sex for money a few times a month with a girl he liked then it would have helped him with those problems. Maybe it wouldn't have, but it does make a certain amount of sense and now we'll never know.

Posted by: Dan at October 28, 2009 9:54 AM

Justin, I disagree. Imagine that you're a brothel owner operating legally in RI... You're operating within the strict confines of the law that prevent you from making money on a per-act basis, you can't deal with anyone under 18 years old, and you're rolling in money from the 'door fees' (not the private trades that happen after customers are past the door). That's how the places in RI operate now.

Tomorrow, you will be operating outside the law. Seeing as how you're now a criminal, you have no disincentive to start doing the 'other things' that happen in states that criminalize. Want to make more money? Just start taking a 'cut' from the workers, the penalty is the same. Want to let the more prurient johns take more liberties with the women? Now that's a possibility. Need to keep those women in-line now that they're being abused? Just start feeding them drugs. Need more workers, but can no longer just hire them? You'll have to smuggle them in.

While you think that people doing 'immoral' things opens their possibilities to do more immoral things, I think that doing 'illegal' things actually does make one more likely to skirt the law.

I don't feel that we were 'left out' of the child trafficking investigation, maybe we just don't have any child trafficking going on here. Now that the law is changing, we'll see the businesses here (many run by former sex workers) slowly replaced by branches of larger crime syndicates that have the resources and influence to keep law enforcement at bay.

Posted by: mangeek at October 28, 2009 10:08 AM

I just have this feeling in my gut that our elected officials are casting winks at each other meaning: We'll pass this thing to save face.

I also suspect the emphasis on the Asian massage parlors is a way to distract attention from, and protect strip club owners/donors.

If we see any enforcement at all, I'm sure it will be at the expense of the least "connected". But we won't be able to call THAT racism.

Posted by: George at October 28, 2009 10:35 AM

The idea that legalizing prostitution will create sexual amusement parks where everyone is happy and all business is legitimate is progressive/libertine fantasy. Here's one item, with data showing a different outcome from the legalization idealization, from an international study referenced in a blog post I linked to last year...

In 2003, the Scottish government, looking to revamp its own prostitution laws, did a massive report on different policies around the world, and discovered that legalization-plus-regulation comes with its own set of problems.

The study found that, as you'd expect, legalization often led to a dramatic expansion of the sex industry: In Australia, brothels proliferated to the point where they overwhelmed the state's ability to regulate them, and became mired in organized crime and corruption. In many countries, child prostitution and the trafficking of foreign women also increased dramatically. More importantly, surveys found that many sex workers still felt coerced and unsafe even after decriminalization.
...and another about Nevada, via a link from the links above...
Behind the facade of a regulated industry, brothel prostitutes in Nevada are captive in conditions analogous to slavery. Women often are procured for the brothels from other areas by pimps who dump them at the house in order to collect the referral fee. Women report working in shifts commonly as long as 12 hours, even when ill, menstruating or pregnant, with no right to refuse a customer who has requested them or to refuse the sexual act for which he has paid. The dozen or so prostitutes I interviewed said they are expected to pay the brothel room and board and a percentage of their earnings -- sometimes up to 50 percent. They also must pay for mandatory extras such as medical exams, assigned clothing and fines incurred for breaking house rules. And, contrary to the common claim that the brothel will protect women from the dangerous, crazy clients on the streets, rapes and assaults by customers are covered up by the management.
Plenty of links from the first post show that treating human sexuality in terms of a transaction doesn't work well under any legal regime. Many of those in the pro-prostitution crowd actually halfway understand this idea -- that's why they see the sense in making pimping illegal. Now, if they'd only finish the thought...

Posted by: Andrew at October 28, 2009 12:27 PM

I've been planning this response all morning, but Andrew's comment nicely supplements. Dan, you miss on all three points:

1. I'm not so much concerned about reducing prostitution as I am about ensuring its dramatic expansion.

2. Andrew's evidence aside, there is no precedent for a state making the sex trade legal border to border, especially not in an urban/suburban setting, such as the Northeast. You also ignore the fact that until a year or two ago, even the prostitutes in Rhode Island thought it was illegal. In the years since then, everybody's sort of been watching, expecting it to be made illegal. Things change dramatically if we go the other way, or if no law passes soon.

3. Guns are legal across the country, and explicitly protected in the Constitution. I'm out of time on my lunch break, but I don't see how you can object to the idea that it's easier to hide illegal behavior under an umbrella of related legal behavior. At the very least, you'd have to address my specific point, which was that there would be a greater cost associated with searching out the illegal amidst the legal.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 28, 2009 12:36 PM

"In Australia, brothels proliferated to the point where they overwhelmed the state's ability to regulate them, and became mired in organized crime and corruption."

So stop regulating them. None of the libertarians here should dispute that regulation can create just as bad of a black market as a prohibition.

Posted by: Dan at October 28, 2009 7:11 PM

I have chosen my own compromise in a way of looking at this issue, and it is the compromise that is found in the Swedish law. The Swedish way they approach prostitution is to view it as a crime against women. The purchasing of sex is a crime, but the selling of it is not.
I know men that go to the spa. My father is a golfer, and on his way back from a golf trip in June he mentioned to someone who he golfs with that I was going on the John DiPitro show about this topic. This man, an acquaintance of my father, admitted he frequented the spas. Here is a man, over sixty, a widower who believes that because he is single with no commitments, his kids are grown and out of the house, he feels that this is the best way to satisy his needs. This man is a John, I am not fighting on his behalf, but I can see his point of view. I don’t know how many of the men who go to the spa are like him, but this guy is not a criminal or a sex offender. I do not agree with the way he satisfies his needs, but is it really anyone’s business?
I do not defend the men who go to the spas but I do know that the spas serve a purpose. Even in Rep. Giannini's testimony last night, prostitution will never go away. Even where it is criminal, it exists. Mesa Arizona, where prostitution is illegal, has 140 spas. It will always exist because it provides an outlet for a basic human need. As has been clearly presented in well-documented research, making it completely illegal will only move it underground and make it more dangerous. Some men will even resort to violence to have their needs met. I have encountered and observed men in these establishments who do not respect women at all. Men who I can only label as "creepy", These men might resort to criminal activity if that’s what it takes, so taking away the ability of those men to satisfy their needs just instigating trouble. As a woman I would feel much safer knowing that the guy walking next to me on the street has a safe and discreet way to fulfill his urges.
I have followed the news reports, and I read the comments and see the polls. The projo has had three polls, and on each poll the general public has voted against criminalizing prostitution in an overwhelming majority. The results on a channel 10 poll were the same. From the comments I read, citizens of RI do not have a problem with two consenting adults engaging in prostitution in private, so long as related crimes such as human trafficking and drug use do not occur alongside. The public is overwhelmingly against this new law and favor either the status quo or some sort of regulation.
Please don't think I am anti-Gianinni because I am not. I don’t think JoAnne Giannini had bad intentions with this law, and she truly believes she is helping the women, but the outcome will be a negative impact on society as a whole and even more specifically the women who chose to do this work.
This bill is a glaring example of politics over people.
Last night I did not hear from one person who is completely thrilled with this law passing. Laura Pisatauro from Day One ask for you to go focus on the demand side. The reality is, the only way the police will go after the demand side is if they are not allowed to go after the supply side. The supply side is an easy target. Rep Driver asked that the penalties be removed and replaced by education and counseling. Rep Rice who is for the bill testified last night that she didn't disagree with many of the points people made last night, but at this late date we need to pass the bill and maybe amend it next year. Are we really in a hurry to put women to prison? Why not have this bill go into effect 1 year or even 60 days after passage?
I know that a lot of legislators who will vote in favor this bill probably really do not support it, but there is enormous political pressure to criminalize.
This entire process has been hijacked by Donna Hughes, who does not hesitate to use personal attacks, intimidation, and demonization to further her radical agenda. Senator Jabour, although I was against his bill in June, I commend him on the fact that we were not going to put women in prison Jabour were attacked viciously by Hughes in many editorials that ran all over New England, vilifying him when all he tried to do was close the loophole but not on the backs of these women.
I testified against this bill last night, and as you know I was before you in June with women from the spa. In June I managed to talk the Projo photographer out of taking pictures because, as you can understand that they are going to ones who will be targeted, and many have children like Jul testified before you in June. The women do not want to be photographed, so Donna Hughes was at last night’s hearing with her camera figuring on the slim chance I could talk a journalist out of taking a picture again, she would take one. I have no doubt in my mind that Hughes would have taken pictures of these women and tried to destroy them. At this point it is hard to judge who Hughes hates more men or women. Living life with such hatred and contempt for human beings can only be described as sad.
I know these women, they do not deserve to be the object anyone’s hatred. They deserve compassion. I have met numerous women over the course of the last few years. Some of the women I spoke to were arrested in the past even though there was no law. They were treated horribly, and if this is how these women have been treated when there was no law, it is impossible for you to tell me that these women won’t be treated worst when there is one.
This is not a fun job. This is not a career these women got into because they thought it was going to be cool, and lets not be confused by the propaganda, these women are not girls, they are all over 30. This is a job they do to make money. One women at Sunday’s meeting said to me “This is my not my choice but it is my choice, I don’t have a family, I have no support, I don’t have education, or any other options. I do this because I need money and this is the only way I know how. If I have a choice, in my next life I am going to come back white or even black, just not Asian because we get picked on”
Rhode Island had the chance to deal with this issue in a compassionate way, it is unfortunate that this issue has become so politicized, now we will be rushed into a human and civil rights disaster.

Posted by: Tara at October 28, 2009 7:47 PM

Two things, maybe the man that Tara describes above would become a sex offender if he didn't have his outlet at the spa.

Second, what's the difference between a prostitute and a man going out to a bar, meeting a woman, he buys her drinks all night, maybe they go get some food after, which he pays for and then after all that, they hop in the sack together, for "free". She got the free drinks and food all night, he gets his booty call. There really isn't much of a difference, as the man spent a bunch of money and got what he wanted. The woman got her needs taken care of. I know quite a few women who go out to bars with $5 and expect to drink all night, a little flirting here, a little dancing there and the drinks just pile up.

As for strip clubs, I've always said that they're a waste of time, just because of the poor return on investment. Why spend hundreds of dollars and get no payoff at the end, while the other option is to go spend a fraction of the cost and get the end result that the strippers just hint at.

Posted by: Patrick at October 28, 2009 9:48 PM

Patrick, I hear stories in the cafeteria at work all the time from young guys. In some strip clubs nowadays there isn't even an attempt at discretion. You're offered the "specials" as promptly as at a restaurant, and they're negotiable.

Jim Taricani did a special report on it within the past year.

Like George said, rampant indoor prostitution in Strip Clubs is not as well know because the politicians are putting all the focus on massage parlors. Probably because the politicians are more likely to be connected with the owners of the strip clubs.

Look who is Chafee's campaign manager.

I agree with you and Tara that these women are probably doing a service by keeping some creeps from stalking our wives and daughters.

Posted by: Ronald at October 29, 2009 9:40 AM

The idea that passing this law will stop the an increase in numbers of massage parlors isn't really valid. The industry will continue to grow, although it will be forced underground.
Mesa, AZ has had prostitution laws in effect as the numbers of their massage parlors increased to 140. The only way to really go after this industry is strict zoning laws.
Once again the GA pushed through legislation that will just cost us a ton of money. We are in a hole and we let them just keep digging.

Posted by: Tara at October 29, 2009 12:49 PM

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