June 25, 2009

The Image of a Bad Place

Justin Katz

University of Rhode Island Women's Studies Professor Donna Hughes is pessimistic about the likelihood that Rhode Island will decline to correct its permission of prostitution:

AFTER MY EXPERIENCE at the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, I believe Rhode Island is headed for a human rights disaster and nationwide political embarrassment. It is becoming apparent that the Senate is not going to pass a much-needed prostitution bill. Rhode Island will continue to have an expanding number of spa-brothels, prostitution of minors in clubs, and no law that will enable the police to stop it. ...

The end of the General Assembly session is near. From my observation, I believe the Senate is going to let another year go by without a prostitution law. This will be a tragedy for victims caught in the sex industry, a black eye for Rhode Island’s reputation, and a victory for the pimps.

Between those two paragraphs — the first and the last of the article — Professor Hughes describes the (ahem) colorful atmosphere of the Judiciary hearing as well as some of the political circumstances of the times. The scene blends with various other news items in the state to evoke a common image in American movies and books of the Place Gone Wrong. I'm thinking of Pottersville, from It's a Wondeful Life, and (for those of my generation) Biff Tannen's remake of Hill Valley in Back to the Future 2 — the archetype of a place governed by the wrong people, succumbing to the wrong impulses, bereft of goodness and soul.

Matching up the particulars of that cliché, it's difficult not to find Rhode Island to be well on its way. Prostitution. Gambling. General corruption.

You know, maybe it just needs to be said in order to give others permission to believe it: Sometimes that which has been known to be bad is, indeed, bad.

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Apparently the General Assembly has taken a little too literally the observation that we're going from a manufacturing economy to a "service" economy.

Just add this to the list of "national embarrassments" tied to Rhode Island ... the roads of which always seem to lead back to the General Assembly.

Posted by: Tom W at June 25, 2009 7:43 PM

Justin-if you think this law will end prostitution in RI,then maybe you believe banning handguns will prevent gun crimes.
There already are two Federal trafficking laws in effect -8USC1328 relating to importation of aliens for immoral purposes,and the Mann Act,which covers sex trafficking relating to anyone,citizen or alien.
There is also a state sex trafficking law on the books for a few years now.No prosecutions that I know of though.
What really bothers me about Prof.Hughes'and Rep Giannini's law is that the police will get to spend their time locking up women working from home-filling up the ACI at more expense,and throwing their kids into foster care.Yet more expense.
This is time the police could spend locking up burglars,gangbangers,dopers,and actual sex offenders.
No,I haven't gone liberal,just practical.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 25, 2009 10:15 PM


Wouldn't it be easy if a law actually ended the activity that it makes illegal? And yet still we enact them.

So we're calling it "working from home" now? Just a day with a short commute? The high-end hooker on Wisteria Lane?

Bull. Prostitution is a racket of woman-abuse, bound up with drugs and, for the most part, preying on women trapped in a scam and luring men to easy perversion that objectifies others. It's fertile ground for abortion or for children born under terrible circumstances.

Laws can be crafted to ease the consequences for those who are caught up in the life. Law enforcers can, should, and must prioritize, with emphasis on violent and organized criminals.

But sometimes that which has been known to be bad is, indeed, bad.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 25, 2009 11:08 PM

I have seen prostitution first hand for many years-while I was assigned with Providence PD I often worked "decoy"operations where female cops were approached by "johns' and I was often assigned to be picked up by hookers because they didn't know me as they did the local guys.
I was involved in investigations of alien prostitution in Chicago involving both females and transvestites.
It was a pretty good "education",so no,I'm not under any illusions.
The trouble is,the laws are totally ineffective.
I had the experience of arresting the same shemale hookers numerous times ,deporting them and having them come back like homing pigeons.I sent some away for re-entry and they STILL came back after serving their sentences and being deported again.
I have no answers,but neither do Prof.Hughes and Rep.Giannini,who wants nothing to do with stopping the human trafficking of laborers.Prof.Hughes tried to tell me the difference between smuggling and trafficking on another blog.I spent some years in the INS Anti-Smuggling Unit in Chicago and also worked a major case here in 1985 on a gang that brought in about 10,000 people in a 12 year period.It made national news and resulted in 11 indictments.And Prof.Hughes was going to educate me on human trafficking?What a joke.I promise never to play expert on women's studies.
I'm not endorsing prostitution-I just don't think it can be eradicated.Kind of like prohibition did little about alcohol consumption.
I have a dim view of laws that criminalize the social behavior of adults interacting with other adults or engaging in behavior harmful to themselves.I don't believe in the nanny state.I'm sure you really don't either.
I don't blame you for hoping there is an easy fix,but hoping doesn't make it so.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 26, 2009 12:13 AM

That scene struck me as funny and out of place. At the Statehouse, the whores usually wear Brooks Brothers.

Posted by: rhody at June 26, 2009 10:40 AM

The whores still wear Brooks Brothers and still run the place.
The sex workers have more class.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 26, 2009 12:48 PM

We often disagree, but here we meet. Thanks for your "I have seen prostitution first hand for many years" post. Well said.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 26, 2009 1:43 PM


I'd challenge the notion that drinking held the same place prior to abolition on the national stage that prostitution holds on the Rhode Island stage. Abolition makes for a useful allegory in many cases, but I don't think it applies in this one.

I'm not looking for an easy fix. I just see nothing but disadvantage to having prostitution be known as legal in Rhode Island.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 29, 2009 2:51 PM
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