If It Really Were About the Women…
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  economic hardship or because of  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.