Peculiar Sensibilities Concerning Prostitution

As with much else in Rhode Island, it could be that some of the decisive ambivalence about the continued permissibility of prostitution in the state would dissipate if people took a moment to understand what it actually means. The blog of a new Web site that URI Professor Donna Hughes and associate Melanie Shapiro have set up, Citizens Against Trafficking, presents a scene witnessed in a Middletown store:

A business owner has told Citizens Against Trafficking that late last year, an Asian woman fled a spa-brothel nearby and came to their shop to ask for assistance.
She burst into their store and excitedly tried to communicate. She could only speak a few words of English. She pointed to the brothel and used hand motions and the word “f***” to indicate that she was being forced to engage in sex acts.
When asked if she wanted to call the police, she said, “Me, no English. You.” When asked if she wanted them to call the police, she nodded her head to indicate yes.
She frightened and confused the shop owner by pointing to their little girl, then to the brothel, saying, “Baby. Bad. Bad.”
They asked her if she had any family or friends nearby. She said, “New York.”

Brothels, Rhode Islanders should note, will not restrict themselves to urban streets. According to Citizens Against Trafficking, the suburban store in which the above scene occurred has had enough and is relocating in another town (PDF):

After years of problems and the inability of the police to do anything about the brothel next door, POW Science is relocating to another part of the state. …
The customers of Lee Health Tuina Center are all men. The men try to enter the brothel inconspicuously. Eric calls them “cowardly” and says that they hide behind a wall if the door to the brothel is not opened immediately. They peek around the wall to make sure no one can see them before entering the brothel. Men used to park behind the wall between the brothel and POW Science until the Bulmers confronted the men and refused to let them park there or in front of their store. Sunday is the busiest day for the brothel, because the other
stores are closed.
The Bulmer’s suspicion that the Tuina Center was a brothel was confirmed when they read men’s descriptions of buying sex there on an Internet guide to prostitution. Another business owner in the strip mall emailed the Bulmers the men’s Internet writings describing prostitution and the prices for different sex acts they bought there.
Shortly after that, Eric found several hypodermic needles and syringes with blood in them on the ground in the parking lot in front of his business. Eric believes the needles were used by men before they entered the brothel. Eric filed a police report. …
On a number of occasions, the Bulmers have contacted the police to let them know what was going on. The police told them there was nothing they could do about it.

There’s an interesting dynamic on Aquidneck Island, I guess. In Portsmouth, Trisha Smith was driven from her strip mall for her eye-catching efforts to draw attention to the fact that it housed her lingerie and sex toy shop. In Middletown, an educational store is now being driven from its own strip mall because police can do nothing, various zoning and health inspectors claim to have no reason to act, and property owners Kevin and Vicky Tarsagian of Newport Properties don’t want to give up their slice of the lucrative sex trade.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Let’s be realistic, prostitution is probably Rhode Island’s only “renewable reseource”.
More to the point, although the story of the Asian woman is second/third hand, taken at its worst, no new law is required. There are amble laws to assist someone held against their will.
I commend to all further reading on the “White Slavery” mania.

David
David
11 years ago

Although current laws do prohibit human trafficking, they are difficult to enforce when prostitution is legal. It is difficult, if not impossible, to prove trafficking without the testimony of the victim. If the victim is illegal or may be intimidated by threats against her person or against family back in her home country, she will be very reluctant to testify. If, however, prostitution were outlawed, the brothels could be shut down much more easily and the traffickers would find it harder to operate in Rhode Island.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Having read David’s comment above, I am again moved to recommend study of the White Slavery mania. Everything alleged by David was alleged then (and never proved). The primary difference seems to be that victims of “Human Trafficking” don’t speak English and are Asian, the victims of “White Slavery” didn’t speak English and were European.

bill rappleye
11 years ago

we did a story based on this on NBC10 last night…

happy endings?
11 years ago

To say we need a prostitution law to help women who have been trafficked is just untrue. Most trafficking is for domestic or agriculture work, but we have not made picking grapes illegal to go after those human traffickers.
All of the debate surrounding the changes in the laws is focused on the women. This focus is understandable because in states where prostitution is illegal, statistics show that 90% of the arrests are of the sex worker, 5% of the Johns, and 5% pimp or trafficker. It seems counter-active if our desire is to reduce prostitution that we would focus on the supply. Maybe it is time to focus on the demand side?
In 1999, Sweden rewrote their prostitution laws, making it legal to sell sex but illegal to purchase sex. Essentially, Sweden considers prostitution a form of violence against women. The number of prostitutes in Sweden dropped 40% from 2,500 in 1998 to 1,500 in 2003. Gone too, for the most part, are the renowned Swedish brothels and massage parlors which proliferated during the last three decades of the twentieth century when prostitution in Sweden was legal, (Very similar to the situation in Rhode Island)
The success of Sweden’s law has prompted Norway and Iceland to adopt the same law this year, and many other European countries are sending representatives to Sweden to study this unique law. Maybe it is time for Rhode Island to look into this 10 year time tested and vetted solution.
Also has anyone asked how many members are in C.A.T. I have a feeling that there are 2, the 2 people who quit RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking when RICAHT would not support the prostitution bill.

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