She Was Dressed Like A…


OK, this one is a little weird. Utah has passed a law that makes it illegal to appear to be soliciting sex for pay through “lewd acts” such as exposing oneself or touching oneself.

Huh.

The point of the law is to allow cops to try and target underage prostitutes who have been forced into the sex trade. Admirable but I’m not sure how this law will really do that. Allegedly, the young prostitutes are trained to evade arrest by asking cops posing as johns in sting operations to touch themselves to prove they’re not cops and if the cop refuses, the prostitute ends the conversation before anything untoward occurs.  I gather that the law includes making requests like that as a “lewd act” and merely saying it would be grounds for arrest. However, I also gather than the underworld kingpins who operating prostitution rings of underage kids will figure out new ways to solicit without appearing to solicit. Because they’re criminal masterminds and figuring out how to evade arrest is what they do.

The consequence of this law will be that previously legal acts such as being a stripper will now potentially be illegal since the dancing and touching and getting naked that occurs in strip clubs can be construed as solicitation. And how far can this really go? Will dressing like a hooker be considered lewd enough to merit questioning by the cops? “No, officer. I’m not a hooker. I’m just dressed as a slutty nurse for a costume party. Let me show you the evite on my phone”. Will hitting on a guy at a bar cross the line? Pretending to pole dance at a bachelorette party? Wearing a short skirt?

And if wearing a short skirt ends up being considered lewd enough to be suspect in solicitation, does that turn the short skirt into a defense rapists can use in court? “Your honor, she was dressed like a hooker, under the laws of this state. I thought she was selling sex. I left a couple of $20s on the table on the way out.”

I don’t like this law because it targets the behavior of women. I’m not saying that I don’t think prostitution – especially underage prostitution – should be condoned when it’s already against the law. I’m just saying that targeting prostitutes by trying to define “hooker-ish” behavior is not the best way the way to go about upholding that law.

Prostitution is a demand-driven industry. There would be no prostitutes if there were no johns. But American legislators like to go after industries like prostitution by trying to reduce the supply of prostitutes. This is also how the go after abortion: they try to make the procedure inaccessible instead of trying to reduce demand for the procedure by implementing programs to reduce unwanted pregnancy. They do the same with illegal immigration by arresting illegal immigrants instead of levying penalties on the people who draw in illegal workers by giving them jobs. If every employer who hired undocumented workers got nailed for it, they’d stop doing it. If every woman had knowledge of contraception and access to preventive health services, unwanted pregnancies would drop and so would abortion. If johns stopped shelling out cold hard cash for sex with prostitutes, the prostitutes would no longer sell sex.

Prostitutes don’t go into prostitution because they think it’s legal. They don’t learn how to evade arrest because they think that they’re working within the bounds of the law. They don’t choose their line of work because it’s safe and pleasant with no repercussions. They choose it because they have run out of other choices or have been coerced int it. They evade arrest not to make a statement but to stay out of jail so they can continue working for the money or to avoid punishment by a pimp. They solicit customers not to draw them unwillingly into their web of sex and depravity. They do it because the customers are there and willing to pay.

For every prostitute who gets arrested for asking a cop to touch himself, another will take her (or his, but mostly her) place. Because there is still a john out there with cash in his pocket. You could clear the streets of prostitutes, strippers, clerks in sex toy shops, girls in sexy Halloween costumes, you name it and there would be a new crop of sex workers of all kinds to replace them because there would still be customers seeking prostitutes. And there would still be pimps to broker the trade.

There will also always be people who have reached a point where there is no other option but to sell sex. That is a societal failure until the day we make the sale of sex legal and regulate it to make it safe and non-abusive to any party involved. But we are not doing that. Instead it’s the profession of last resort and carries with it unspeakable risk.

If prostitution is to be illegal, then we need to address the demand for prostitution as well as those who supply it. Granted, it’s harder to target those who buy sex because they are less easily profiled. Johns don’t dress in slutty clothes and hang out on corners. It’s harder for a cop to pose as a hooker and try to draw in potential customers to be arrested than it is for a cop to pose as a john looking for a hooker.  Johns are predators, not prey. By nature, the predator is harder to catch.

I don’t have a failsafe answer for how to solve the problem but, as is my wont, I think social safety net programs, outreach to prostitutes to help them find alternatives to the sex trade, and better treatment of women and the poor would go a long way toward diverting potential prostitutes away from that path. If arrest is truly a first step toward that, as the Utah authorities suggest, then perhaps arrest is a positive outcome. But if arrest is just a stumbling block to getting back out on the street, then it’s only purpose is to spend law enforcement dollars poorly. And there have to be laws to go after pimps as well. Especially those who pimp out children. Actually, there should be a special brigade of mothers to take care of those people because only a mother could make a child-pimp hurt enough to approximate justice. I’ll be the first to sign up for that job.

The other half of the answer has to be the outcomes for johns. Zero tolerance laws. Mandatory sentencing. Jail time. Public perp walks complete with photographers. The consequences have to be dire enough to be a deterrent. Slaps on the wrist and fines and an uncomfortable ride home with one’s wife are not enough. Clearly they are not enough, as men (and women, but mostly men) hire prostitutes. It’s time to make them just as culpable in the criminal act of prostitution.  It’s time to drive down demand for retail sex. Only then will the supply dry up.

 

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8 comments for “She Was Dressed Like A…

  1. Amy
    May 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Amen sister.

  2. May 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Great take on this. The idea of defining “hookerish” behavior? Also, as much as society dislikes the idea of prostitution, I think you’re right about legalizing & regulating. The sex trade has been with human societies as long as there have been humans. It is not going away. The best we can hope for is to make it safe and, heaven help us that we need to say this, child-free.

  3. Casey
    May 26, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Excellent post. Our country has a long history of blaming the victim and our legislation is starting to feel more like bullying than anything else. Sweden passed a great law that makes it illegal to purchase sexual services, but does not criminalize the sale of sexual services. (Thus protecting the real victim while attacking the demand for services, which you very astutely recognized as the real problem in dealing with this issue.) And, it appears to be working! Here’s a link to a CNN article that focuses on this. It’s part of a project called “Ending Modern-Day Slavery,” maybe if more people thought of it in that way the focus would shift. In the meantime I’m staying as far away from Utah as possible. Fearing that I may have to adjust a bra strap, I just couldn’t handle it. And God forbid I have a couple of drinks and cozy up to my husband….

  4. May 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks Casey for more info – And Thanks for writing this well thought out post Mom In a Million.

  5. Peppermint Mama
    May 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Have you contacted Toronto Slutwalk? I’m sure they’d love your support, as they were formed to combat this very idea: That the women who are victimized shouldn’t have dressed like they dressed, or presented themselves like they “were asking for it”. This victim-blaming and sexual profiling is pervasive in our culture. We’ve been taught that it was Eve’s fault that Adam got kicked out of Eden. She was too sexual, too smart, too feminine, disobedient, bad. In Louisville, KY, strip clubs are soon to be a thing of the past. Just like the idea of “lewd acts”, there is no more nudity at strip clubs, no dirty talk, no touching, no drinking, no no no. Where will these men who need this type of (rather mild) release go next? They will find a prostitute who does these things illegally since the strippers can no longer do it legally.

  6. May 30, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    This is the part of your post that stands out the most for me: “Utah has passed a law that makes it illegal to appear to be soliciting sex for pay through “lewd acts” such as exposing oneself or touching oneself.”

    The problem with this whole scenario is that Utah is admittedly, predominantly a Mormon run state. A lot of towns and counties in Utah are “dry” and don’t allow porn to be viewed or sold in them, under the law. Whether or not they overlook polygamy still is open for debate, but its not a big secret that “illicit behavior” is not condoned in most of Utah. Whether that be drinking, soliciting sex, or renting a porn flick. So you have to wonder why they passed this law in the first place? I have heard SLC has some serious issues with prostitution and underage sex slaves, but if it’s going on in the rest of the state it’s very well covered up.

    What made me laugh most about all of this is my son went to a hockey tournament in SLC in May and guess who was there on tour? Lady Gaga! The stories the kids and their parents (we sent him with his coach/our friends because we couldn’t get away) came home with about the Gaga fans were absolutely insane. I would think pretty much everything about Lady Gaga would be in violation of this law. How did she escape arrest, let alone her fans?

    Seriously though, I can see this being a serious civil liberties issue. If a 14 year old is dressed like Snooki which unfortunately isn’t all of that uncommon in every state, is she automatically going to be arrested? I fully support the crack down on the underage sex market obviously as a parent, but who makes the call as to what is and isn’t questionable? As far as adult prostitution goes? I am Switzerland. If that’s what she WANTS to do, let her. Make them have serious check ups every 6 months, hand out condoms, and let them go. I love the series by JD Robb and if you’ve ever read any of those books, you know they legalized prostitution in them. They have to have a license, etc… I think Nora Roberts has the right idea. The only downside I see to legalized prostitution is we’re going to hear about a lot of marriages ending over the male in the relationship seeking out a legal prostitute and we may see a rise in domestic violence numbers as men who want to solicit sex and are already on the edge of violent and oppressive toward their wives, aren’t gonna love when she complains about their choices. I don’t think it’s without its downfalls for sure, but it’s going to happen no matter what and right now it’s extremely dangerous for everyone involved because it is an underground and the underground is awful damn seedy. Not sure that will change no matter what, but I’d like to stay in my bubble in which it would, please. 🙂

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