We’ve argued (for a while) for closing the loophole in Rhode Island law that enables indoor prostitution. It’s an issue upon which conservatives, independents and some progressives have found common ground. For instance, Democratic Rep. Joanne Giannini and URI Women’s Studies professor Donna Hughes are just two of several progressives who have kept the pressure on the General Assembly to close this loophole and get tougher on the related practice of human trafficking. Currently, the legislative effort is stalled in the Rhode Island Senate, though there are promises of movement.
Yet, not all progressives agree with closing the loophole. Some continue to oppose making indoor prostitution illegal, basically arguing that current efforts to close the loophole, if successful, will only further victimize those who have turned to prostitution. Though I don’t agree with him on the issue of legalizing prostitution, Brian Hull has probably set forth the most cogent argument and, like other progressives, seeks to delineate between sex-trafficking and prostitution. (I do agree with Hull on some things, particularly when it comes to rehabilitating prostitutes. For instance, there has to be a better way to reduce recidivism than the fine-them-back-the-streets approach).
More recently, Hull has defended the practice of indoor prostitution (“Criminalizing Prostitution Will Be Very Bad for RI“), stating that:
…by criminalizing prostitution, the state sacrifices people’s personal freedom to engage in consensual commercial sex work in order to ‘protect’ a small number of exploited sex workers who could and should be protected using other mechanisms, but aren’t.
This argument is akin to that used by pro-abortion advocates: let’s make
abortion prostitution, safe, legal and rare. But this only works if we accept the premise that prostitution should be legal because, we are to further assume, it’s a consensual commercial transaction between consenting adults and, for the most part, that will be the rule (not the exception) if it is legalized. The majority of Rhode Islanders–and the vast majority of people in the other 49 states–simply do not accept that premise. We can’t escape the inherent seediness of someone selling their body for money. So, though they have tried, Hull and other progressives simply haven’t been able to convince people that prostitution can be sanitized as something that can be made manageable and victimless.
But some pro-prostitution progressives will go much farther than advocating with the pen (or pixel). Over the last week, employees of the progressive organization ACORN in three offices (first Baltimore, then Washington, D.C. and New York) encouraged the setting up of bordello’s–“indoor prostitution” businesses–and even lent guidance on how to avoid paying taxes, etc. Worse yet, they offered advice on how to engage in the illegal sex-trafficking of minors from places like El Salvador to the United States. It seems that, at least to these ACORN offices, prostitution and sex-trafficking are linked. And are to be encouraged.
Marc-Abortion is murder,except to save the life of the mother.
Prostitution,while not an occupation that people should aspire to,is hardly murder.
Joe, I agree. The only equivalency I was making was between the rhetorical tactics.
Selling someones body or providing an income for their family? Is it being involved in one of the oldest professions in civilization or an example of moral bankruptcy in the modern world? Government has no role, let citizens dictate to themselves their own beliefs and values. Why should the markets be free if we do not have the freedom to accept/determine our own conception of morality? Do we ban guns for reckless murders, the sale of prescription/otc drugs after overdoses, do we stop selling cigarettes/alcohol due to their effects on our own bodies? Why must the ability to buy sex at our willing be compared to murdering fetuses? How is that a fair and honest comparison?
I am politically very conservative, further, my 13th chromosome is shaped like an elephant.
Still, if we attempt to criminalize protitution we are ignoring the lessons of history. “Criminalization” will not make it go away. History tells us that there will always be a demand. Even simply glossing recent history has shown that “criminalizing” certain activities only aids the criminal element. “Prohibition” gave us organized crime, or at least aided it. “Criminalization” of drugs has given the criminal element another “economic stimulus”. More important, neither “Prohibition”, nor the “War on Drugs” accomplishjed their goals. If anything, they brought law enforcement into disrepute.
Ciminalization of prostitution will do nothinhg but return control to criminals. While it is not a good analogy, nor meant as one, I think of “Gun Control” laws that make criminals of honest citizens and seem to do nothing about gun crimes.
I would like to see prostitution go away. But, that is not going to happen and criminalizing it will not have that effect.
Isn’t it interesting that this same RI Assembly has mentioned the possibility of decriminalizing marijuana possession but criminalizing prostitution.
If the trafficking is the major concern, then what the state needs is for these “massage parlors” and “private modeling studios” to stop hiding behind that and just come out and say exactly what they are. Why is that so hard? It’s perfectly legal. Just set up shop right down on Allens Ave, take out ads in the Projo and NY Post and Boston Herald looking for women interested in making a ton of money. Women will fly from all over the country for the job to interview. To do legally what they’re doing now with many risks.
This establishment could take out proper advertising, pay taxes correctly, offer health screenings, even offer periodic health and other department inspections. What’s the problem?
Isn’t this like blaming the gun for murder? If prostitutes are the reason for human trafficking, then we should put the gun on trial and put it in jail when it kills someone.
If I’m a computer programmer and someone else writes a computer virus or hacks into someone else’s computer system, should we ban all computer programmers?
What’s better, having these women work in these establishments or be stay at home moms with little ones running around and be sent to go play when mommy has that occasional “visitor” in the middle of the day.
Marc, I think you will agree that prostitution occurs in every state. Just because it is illegal doesn’t mean it will stop. With that said, if it’s legal inside and illegal outside, why would people risk arrest by conducting business outdoors? The current law is the best way to get it off the streets and behind closed doors. If Giannini’s bill passes, it will just push prostitution outdoors again.
You also state that “the majority of Rhode Islanders” are opposed to the current law. I’m really not so sure about that. From what I see, many people see consensual activity between adults, which occurs behind closed doors, as something that isn’t their business. I think supporters of Giannini’s bill recognize this also. That’s why they confuse the debate and attempt to make prostitution synonymous with human trafficking.
More of the blatant hypocrisy that is going to ultimately collapse the so-called “conservative” movement in the United States from within.
“We are for small government. Get government out of our lives! Smash the bureaucracy! Personal Responsibility! Reduce the spending! Reduce the cost of government!”
“Oh, except for the following issues: prostitution, illegal immigration, drug war, military spending, abortion, homeland security, foreign interventionism, in which we are for HUGE government.”
I think even the average 10-year-old would be capable of seeing the arbitrariness and inconsistency of it all. Well, good for independents and libertarians, I suppose.
Keep fighting that moral crusade!
Your assessment of the average 10-year-old’s powers of perception may be correct, Dan, but as the student ages, he or she should begin to delve into complexities that necessarily arise (generating a deeper consistency underlying a superficial inconsistency) beyond the pages of pre-teen chapter books.
What to do, for example, when minor, bold-lined government encroachment, now, prevents inevitable deep and broad government encroachment later? (Just a rhetorical question.)
Keep striving. You’ll get there.
You write as if Rhode Island would be the first state in the union to make prostitution illegal. As a matter of logic, that conceptual error pretty well nullifies your subsequent points. Note, especially, Patrick’s subsequent point, apparently on your side, that explicitly and permanently legalizing prostitution could make Rhode Island a hub for the industry.
Is that the sort of society in which you would like to live? Or do you not believe that rights of self-government extend to a defense against an economic structure catering to depraved losers?
I say fine: Leave the prostitutes alone. Target the pimps and madames, whose incentive is inevitably to keep their “workers” in dire circumstances. Target the johns who seek to take advantage of the women’s dire circumstances. Perhaps it would be adequate disincentive just to post the men’s pictures online (even without names). If we’re going to let them define our state, we should at least know what depraved losers look like.
Isn’t that what the “progressives” over at RIFuture always argue? That government interventionism into the market and some redistribution of wealth is necessary to provide a “safety net” and an absolute floor from which people can then make meaningful choices for themselves, and that doing this prevents even more drastic corrective action with regard to externalities down the line?
The moment you give up on these utterly useless and philosophically inconsistent moral crusades against drug use and prostitution is the moment I will gladly join you in alliance against big government encroachment into our lives. Until then, Anchor Rising and RIFuture are simply the two-headed authoritarian hydra that is slowly but surely restricting our liberties and spending our state into oblivion.
I think you misstate the typical argument on the Left. The concept of an “absolute floor” is foreign to them; if, instead, it were a priority, they could present a description of what every person needs, and we could set about determining agreement and disagreement on the particulars and on the means of providing it. It may be that, somewhere deep within the assumptions of their ideology, progressives merely take the minimum to be higher than currently exists, but if so, that basis has been so thoroughly covered over with impulses to take in order to give that the impulse has become the principle. I, on the other hand, explicitly believe in the construction of as small and disengaged government as possible, in conjunction with as much right to determine the regime under which one lives as possible. Contrary to your assumptions, I believe that a regime of legalized prostitution requires a larger government, for reasons of regulation, repercussions, and revenue, than a regime that bans prostitution in a considered way. I also do not wish to live in a society in which depraved losers take advantage of deprived women (or deprived men, for that matter) in such a way as to further cheapen a theologically, socially, and biologically profound act. (Don’t oversimplify that view; there are multiple components at play in it.) The state, in my view, is the appropriate level of government at which to assert that preference. As for your parting comment, I’ll say that a lot of people like to construct a nice, simple, binary vision of RIFuture and Anchor Rising so that they may place themselves somewhere in the middle, as if above simple-minded extremism. They are actually putting themselves above deep thought in an act of puerile vanity, and I’ll confess that they increasingly… Read more »
If we believe that the woman or prostitute is the victim, then why would we arrest her?
That is what does not make any sense.
Surely there are women in RI tonight getting beaten by their husbands, should we round up all married women and arrest them so we can find out if any of them are victims of domestic violence?
What is unfortunate is our State is in such disrepair and needs help on so many issues, it is sad to see that this manufactured issue is one that is taking up so much of its time. Why should we change this law and but another million in our budget to put women in prison when we can’t even pay our state workers???
Justin, I have no problem with people having “extreme” political views per se, as long as they are principled and nonviolent. In fact, I would advocate some degree of extremism as an antidote to the complacency that has allowed government to infect and control nearly every aspect of our lives for us. I am not advocating for a middle way. I myself would undoubtedly be considered fringe with regard my libertarian/voluntaryist political views. What I would like is for you to simply abandon these misguided moral crusades which clearly turn so many away from your larger and more important message of smaller government and individual liberty. If you doubt the negative effect it is having, simply look at the comments you have been getting from people who normally support you. I personally find the idea of setting up government task forces, departments, and bureaucracies to investigate, round up, and incarcerate otherwise peaceful people based solely upon the circumstances under which they choose to have sex or ingest certain plants to ludicrous, evil, and counterproductive. If you are truly advocating for such a system because you are afraid of the externalities of certain “unwholesome” behaviors, I am bewildered as to what positive impact you think throwing these people in a cell for years of their lives will have. Associating with violent criminals behind bars, being unable to earn an income for one’s family, and being essentially unemployable for the rest of one’s life is far more detrimental to society than any of the purely hypothetical negative effects the prohibited activities themselves could ever cause, not to mention the outrageous taxpayer cost of housing and feeding such people. This cause is not a winner. I sincerely hope that you will come around on it, because the small-government message you convey is so… Read more »
“Note, especially, Patrick’s subsequent point, apparently on your side, that explicitly and permanently legalizing prostitution could make Rhode Island a hub for the industry.”
Yeah, what’s wrong with that? It’s not like RI has any other industry working for it. Why do trafficking and depravity have to be worked into the argument? What’s wrong with a financial transaction between two consenting adults. Check out the HBO series “Cathouse” on how a legal brothel can work. If we’re concerned that a woman may internally feel required to work that profession even if not physically forced into it, then that’s a different level of help and that’s advocating against free will and personal choices. If some woman wants to pay her way through school this way, or someone else uses his or her talents to maybe earn a down payment on a house, then why not? If depravity is what we’re really worried about, then where is all the uproar about strip clubs? Why aren’t we trying to outlaw those?
“In fact, I would advocate some degree of extremism as an antidote to the complacency that has allowed government to infect and control nearly every aspect of our lives for us.”
“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
“If depravity is what we’re really worried about, then where is all the uproar about strip clubs? Why aren’t we trying to outlaw those?”
Patrick, PLEASE don’t give them any ideas! 🙂
Personally, I have no stake in prostitution or drugs. I engage in neither. But what scares me, and apparently you and other readers as well, is what will be on the chopping block next when the authoritarian moralists succeed in going after the easiest targets. The entertainment we watch, the food we eat, the sex we have…do we really think if we give them the power to ban one kind of victimless, consensual activity that they are going to relinquish that power when it comes to other aspects of our lives? Should we just take their word on that?
For those of you who believe that prostitutes are women in deprived circumstance, let me share a little with you.
I have had the opportunity to talk with a number of call girls and prostitutes (“talk” is as far as it went).
While I would not describe them as slovenly, they are certainly lazy. For the most part, they turn a trick and then do nothing for a couple of days. When the money runs out, they turn another trick. And so on. These are not $20.00 “encounters”.
My impression of streetwalkers is that they are attempting to support a habit. I was once directed by the Projo to a web site for fans of street walkers, I believe they called themselves “whore mongers”. It was full of comments on, and comparison of, local street walkers in Providence. Most comments were along the lines of “I got Christine today, her teeth aren’t green from cocaine yet”. Can’t remember the name of that site.
I suppose you could say street walkers are the Wal-Marts of prostitution. On the other hand, prostitution may be Rhode Island’s only “renewable resource”.
Just so I’m clear as to what I can expect under the AR regime, if my girlfriend agrees to finally do “that thing” I’ve really wanted to try in the bedroom in exchange for a nice meal out at her favorite fancy restaurant, will she be violently hauled off and sent to prison, will I, will both of us, or will this simply be a case where the police should exercise their “discretion” with a technically illegal act (since we know that the police never, ever arrest people who piss them off for bogus marijuana or disorderly conduct charges, etc.)?
Again: You are attempting to make of my arguments something they are not. All of you are clearly not addressing the argument that I’m presenting. Perhaps I’ll attempt clarification elsewhere.
Let me say, for the moment, that I’m not in this to gather readers for the sake of gathering readers. I’m in it to explain my opinions and advocate for what I believe to be right. Bottom line. If you’re such a zealot that you cannot stomach my opinions on social matters coexisting with my opinions about smaller government, then I’m not the writer for you. Look elsewhere; I’ll be fine.
But please be assured of my sincerity that you’re not addressing my point. You’re addressing a simplified version of a theocrat. For your own benefit, you should consider pausing and rereading the above with an openness to finding your error.
Your argument is equivalent to saying that we shouldn’t have laws against stealing, because once they’ve been passed, the cops will go wild busting anyone who accidentally picks up an object that doesn’t belong to them.
It’s the kind of argument that convinces people that libertarianism is a fringe ideology, unworkable in any real group of people, which is too bad, because American government at all levels could benefit from a real injection of libertarian ideas right now.
That is just silly. I knew about mens rea even before I went to law school.
The act I described would technically be illegal under prostitution laws, but you rely upon the “oh, well, police would simply look the other way there…” argument left over from the marijuana prohibition, which never happens in reality. The act you describe is not illegal and gives the police no discretion there. That is the distinction.
No, police do have discretion in my example. They have no way of knowing what’s in the mind of an individual, if he or she is telling the truth when they say they picked something up accidentally, so every time it happens, they are within their power to run them through the legal system. That’s the kind of totalitarian world that laws against stealing will lead us to.
Andrew, there is a difference between having a broad and intrusive law like prostitution law which actually makes certain activities that shouldn’t rationally be prohibited illegal and a narrow law like theft for which enforcement requires a certain amount of investigation to confirm the elements. That’s not the same thing as discretion within the law, i.e. we are not relying on selective enforcement in your example. For all these moralistic crimes, by contrast, we necessarily rely upon selective enforcement if we also subscribe to small-government principles. Such reliance is always misplaced, of course, as we have seen with the drug war, prostitution laws in other states, and the like.
Can you name even one area of activity that government has been granted authority over in which it has NOT grown itself beyond all reason? And yet you want us to believe that if we make all of X illegal, the police will, out of benevolence, only choose to enforce it against the worst 5% of those who engage in X? I can tell you from experience (on the enforcement side) that in reality, that never happens, and it just becomes one more oppressive tool of an overbearing government.
“Just so I’m clear as to what I can expect under the AR regime, if my girlfriend agrees to finally do “that thing” I’ve really wanted to try in the bedroom in exchange for a nice meal out at her favorite fancy restaurant, will she be violently hauled off and sent to prison, will I, will both of us,”
I am sure you mean this to sound preposterous, but you forget that only a generation ago there was no exception for married people from being charged with “unnatural acts”, or “crimes against nature”. Fellatio in your home could get you arrested, although I admit I never heard of it.
That’s true, Warrington. Fellatio, as well as prohibitions against sodomy and other sexual acts.
I’m just not comfortable with this “legal theory” I keep hearing brought up by conservatives that the best way to conduct law enforcement is to give police and prosecutors absolute control and discretion over an entire subset of the population engaging in a broad, victimless activity and then simply entrust them to only use that power against a small percentage of that subset. We hear the same thing brought up with regard to keeping pot illegal. In reality this NEVER happens. You simply cannot trust government officials to use broad sweeping power in a responsible manner, especially not the police. And then you get precisely the agencies, bureaucracies, task forces, abusive public unions/pensions, etc. that AR claims to be against.
I don’t want to get into a speeding ticket discussion because it’s off-topic, but I received a $100 ticket in Rhode Island a couple of weeks ago for going 34 mph on a 25mph, clear, open, commercial, uncongested two-lane road in good weather conditions. Nobody in their right mind could possibly claim that this activity in itself was dangerous. But all of sudden the discretion the police are *supposed* to be exercising with such broad enforcement power disappears and it turns into “the law is the law.” I’m just thankful it was a civil offense and not an offense like drugs or prostitution that they would have the power to lock me in a cell for years of my life and ruin my future employment over, as AR seems to generally advocate.
Some of your arguments don’t apply any less to laws against theft or assault than they do to laws against prostitution, i.e. first we made stealing illegal, then we had to create a police force to investigate what’s stealing and what’s not, created a bureaucracy to manage them, gave them all pensions, and now, by your slippery slope argument, it’s only a matter of time before taking home a few pencils from the company supply closet for personal use is going to land you in jail, and we’re on our way to becoming Pol Pot’s Cambodia.
But even if we put aside the stealing example, as you do make a valid point that if nobody involved in a “theft” makes a complaint (no matter how petty), then no investigation is launched, I have a different question about your prostitution example:
If you pay for the meal, then your girlfriend decides later that night she doesn’t want to do your special thang, do you think you should be able to take her to court to get your money back?
Some of your arguments don’t apply any less to laws against theft or assault than they do to laws against prostitution, i.e. first we made stealing illegal, then we had to create a police force to investigate what’s stealing and what’s not, create a bureaucracy to manage them and gave them all pensions and now, by your slippery slope argument, it’s only a matter of time before taking home a few pencils from the company supply closet for personal use is going to land you in jail, and we’re on our way to becoming Pol Pot’s Cambodia.
But even if we put aside the stealing example, as you make a valid point that if nobody involved in a “theft” makes a complaint (no matter how petty), then no investigation will be launched, I have a different question about your why prostitution must be legal example:
If you pay for the meal, then your girlfriend decides later that night she doesn’t want to do your special thang, do you think you should have the right to take her to court to get your money back?
Andrew, I understand that this isn’t the primary point you were trying to make, but first I would just like to say that there is a fundamental difference between theft and assault and prostitution and drugs. The difference is that the first two involve a clear victim, somebody who has been harmed by another person, which is clear justification for the state intervening, punishing the offender, and making the victim whole if possible. The last two have no clear victim (it is impossible to meaningfully victimize oneself) and are authoritarian moral decrees with arbitrary punishments and damages. In other words, the difference is malum in se versus malum prohibitum. On to your central point, I do believe that in theft cases a complaining witness or victim is generally required to press charges before the state will pursue a case. When we start talking about companies and employees, the situation gets more complicated, but suffice it to say that most companies either don’t particularly care if employees take some de minimus supplies here and there or have methods of dealing with it themselves and prefer to do that. With regard to assault, the state does bring some really ridiculous charges against people, even when the victim does not want to go forward, which results in either jury nullification, or somebody getting a slap on the wrists via a big waste of everybody’s time and money. You are right that we should be encouraging less of that, not more. With drugs and prostitution, since there is no victim, the state is positioned as the sole arbiter of justice, and since there are no real damages, the state has to “create” damages out of nowhere. We need not wonder if the police will actually arrest people for low level offenses, because we already… Read more »
“If you pay for the meal, then your girlfriend decides later that night she doesn’t want to do your special thang, do you think you should have the right to take her to court to get your money back?”
Well, that would presumably be a contracts issue. Maybe small claims. 🙂
Seriously? Would you want the courts to be able to jump in based on just a verbal agreement, or would it have to be written? If verbal is good enough, how about a case where the guy says she indicated to me this was a money-for-sex trade, and the woman says I agreed to nothing of the sort; bringing the government into this area of life isn’t going to make government any smaller.
First off, if Donna Hughes is a ‘progressive’, why did she donate money to Bush and McCain, but not anyone else? She’s well-known to be a right-wing fringe feminist, definitely not a progressive. She even just advocated for preventing a sole-proprietorship sex education center for adults to be shuttered. Criminalizing indoor sex-work will have the perverse effect of -raising- our crime rate, which will have moderate detrimental effects on land values and the marketability of the state. It will also add greatly to the population at the ACI, and probably necessitate the construction of another women’s ward. Rhode Island is -the most expensive state to house female inmates-, each female inmate here costs about $60,000 annually. The sex trade in Rhode Island is horribly under-studied, but my estimates are that it accounts for about $100M in business annually, some of that going to commercial real-estate, hotels, and motels. Sex work legally employs about 1,000 people (including support and management staff). Many of the people working these jobs are otherwise unskilled, and would otherwise rely on the social safety-net. Lets do an experiment! Everyone put your non-mouse hand up! Keep your hand up if you think it’s OK to have a bigger government, higher taxes, and less business, as long as it’s for ‘moral’ reasons. …OK, not many of you. Still some hands up though. Keep them there, there are more questions. Keep your hand up if you would rather see 700 more Rhode Islanders on welfare, 30 more empty urban commercial spaces, and twice as many prostitutes out on the streets. …OK, fewer, but still a few holdouts. What if there was significant scientific research that showed that indoor sex workers (even in an illegal context) are an order of magnitude safer, more likely to use condoms, and make more… Read more »
Also, I just got around to reading the tail-end of the comments. Justin, you believe that regulation would be more expensive than criminalization?
I could set up a non-profit with one employee that could conduct the interviews, run the ID/Registration machine, and interface with the public about possible ‘illegal indoor prostitution’ sites (which would require police intervention). My guess is that the program would cost about $100,000 annually to run ($75K for the worker plus benefits, $25K for everything else). Putting -two- prostitutes in prison would cost more than that! With the cost so low, we could charge legal prostitutes to register and make the system self-sustaining.
My plan helps keep the economy running and people off welfare, yours ends these people’s potential careers with a scarred record. My plan pays for itself, yours costs millions in taxpayer dollars.
Oh, no you don’t. How about those prostitutes who don’t follow your law? Who’s going to hunt them down and prosecute them? If you can make free citizen reports the investigatory method, then I can do the same with prostitution itself. I just saved the state $100,000.
And that’s before we delve into the fact that you’re expecting a state government that has drowned its people in minute regulations to leave prostitution as a libertarian ideal. Sorry, pal. Regulation of prostitution means licensing, testing, workplace inspection, and more.
And to boot, all you do is create a legal subset, leaving those who will not, cannot, or do not want to live within the rules to go elsewhere.
You expect that the police would be any less corrupt than an organization like RENEW staffed by people interested in the health and safety of the workers?
Using the police to determine the viability of an AMP is like using a hammer to do your dishes. In areas that criminalize, there are plenty of AMPs, they just take more money from the workers (who are -not- independent contractors like they are here) and use the proceeds to pay off mafia and police. In areas that criminalize, about 5% of sex acts performed by prostitutes are done as ‘freebies’ to enforcement officers to prevent arrest. Criminalizing consensual prostitution to end it only leads to corruption and rape-by-police.
I don’t advocate for strict Nevada-style regulation, only a simple scheme run by a non-profit that could provide some modicum of oversight and support.
You say that our state has a bad record of regulating business. I say that our state has a bad record of law enforcement abuse of power. Maybe the answer is to have a non-state entity do the social work needed to ensure that women aren’t being abused, and let the existing police handle those who violate our existing laws (the ones against pimping, pecuniary gain from commercial sex, rape, child abuse, trafficking, etc.).
By what standard is Donna Hughes “progressive”? She’s a regular writer for National Review and FrontPage, for godsakes. Apparently, some people have gotten the idea from the more conservative wing of feminism, of which Hughes is an exemplar, that opposing porn and prostitution inherently makes one “progressive”. Not true, and actually, often quite the opposite.