filed under Activism

Who’s the Pimp Now?

8:36AM ON 05/01/2009
BY Dave Segal

Last night the Judiciary Committee voted to criminalize prostitution. Prostitutes would be liable for fines of up to $1,000 and/or prison terms of up to a year.

(I understand that the circumstances are not completely gendered, but will use such terminology nonetheless, cuz that’s how the presumptions work on Smith Hill.)

So who’s the pimp now?

A woman, who up until passage will have been a legal prostitute, shall soon be subject to fines and/or time in prison. How is she most likely to pay said fines? — by turning another half-dozen tricks, in an economy that provides her with no alternative. She’ll sell her body, and we’ll recoup the rewards.

Should she fail in accruing income as such, if she doesn’t pay up, the state wields the cudgel, yanks the leash: Further dues, or physical coercion — up to a year in the can.

The new pimps? You and I.

Though, so we might sleep better, she’s offered a supposedly benevolent affirmative defense: Simply turn on her managers and/or captors and/or traffickers, and get out of jail free. Then see her retribution on the streets instead, either domestically… or in whatever land she hails from.

Indeed, we’ll have solved the prostitution problem: It’ll be out of sight, and out of our shortsighted minds.

16 Comments on “ Who’s the Pimp Now? ”

  1. It is quite easy to see that this bill isn’t ideal. I think, however, it is quite a leap to call the state the new pimps. You acknowledge, by mentioning captors and traffickers, that many women are not prostitutes by choice. It seems that your outrage is misplaced.
    I don’t pretend to be a politician or an expert in these matters. But it is disheartening, as a woman, to see that many people think that between this bill and letting prostitution remain legal and without consequences for those mangers/captors/traffikers, the latter is the better option. This bill is not ideal, but doing nothing may be worse. Talk about out of sight, out of mind.

  2. Beth Comery

    The present situation seems worse. Every so often a situation comes to light where women presenting themselves as masseuses or escorts (usually from South Korea it seems) are actually being kept as sex slaves. You write as if the current status of these women as ‘legal prostitutes’ is somehow working out for them. It’s not.
    I also do not understand what you mean by “the circumstances are not completely gendered”. What does that mean?

  3. The problem is that people do not seem to see a difference between “women being kidnapped and kept against their will” and “people independently and discreetly doing sex work of their own volition.” The bill was opposed by, among others, the National Organization for Women. If THEY don’t think it’s a good idea, who’s really going to benefit from this?

  4. I agree that given the choice between “this bill and letting prostitution remain legal and without consequences for those mangers/captors/traffikers” that the bill is probably the better option, but I don’t understand why that’s the choice that we’re forced to make. Human trafficking and kidnapping are illegal in and of themselves; it’s irrevelvant whether the victims are being forced into labor as sex workers, factory workers, or whatever. The state should already be focused on cracking down on those crimes.

    @Beth: by “the circumstances are not completely gendered”, I think that Dave meant that there is not an insignificant about of male prostitution in RI.

  5. I’d rather see a bill that officially legalizes the massage parlor sex industry and regulates it. That could lead to a better crackdown on human trafficking and sex slaves.

    This bill would likely drive the trafficking further underground, which could be worse for the victims.

  6. Prohibition of vice is routinely (automatically?) counterproductive. Prohibition fosters crime, legalization eliminates secrecy. Remember that the FIRST people to flee Cuba as the revolutionary forces approached Havana were not the sugar barons, but the pimps.

    Dave is spot-freaking-on about the fact that the pimp is the problem maker in this set up. And now that pimp might be us.

    BTW, “we the people” would also be the pimp in a legalized scenario.

  7. (Also, I’m pretty sure that the massage parlors could all be shut down if the Department of Health, Fire Department, or OSHA went for a (non-paying) visit.)

  8. I did some math, if we had the same rate of street-prostitution in Rhode Island’s urban areas that Fall River does (we’re socio-economically similar, Fall river is much smaller), we’re going to have to build a new women’s prison.

    I’ve -never- been solicited for sex in Rhode Island, and I’ve never seen a ‘hooker’ here. I -have- been solicited and seen hookers in Massachusetts, New York, and Georgia, all places where it’s illegal indoors and out. Statistically, RI has 80% less ’street prostitution’ than our neighbors, and it’s clearly because the demand is being satisfied by ‘women at work’, rather than being sorted out on the streets.

    For all the talk of trafficking, I didn’t see a -single- prosecution of trafficking last year in this state. Is there a genuine human trafficking -problem- here? I’m against human trafficking, but killing an industry that employs (at least) hundreds and brings in millions of dollars from out of state every year because there -might be- some other laws broken is foolish.

    Dave, you should propose a law to make Landscaping illegal, since so many landscapers are illegal immigrants, just as a way to highlight how foolish this law is.

  9. To answer the question ” Is there a genuine human trafficking -problem- here?” the answer is yes.

    On October 26, 2008, the Projo (not exactly the gold standard of journalism, I know) ran the following quote: “The word has gone out that Rhode Island is the place to come to to open your brothel,” said Donna M. Hughes, a University of Rhode Island professor who has studied international sex trafficking. “We are rapidly becoming the sex trafficking capital of the Northeast.”

    This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and while this bill may not be the one to do it, I think that the real foolishness is turning a blind eye to it or pretending that simply because prostitution is legal here, that all or most prostitutes are willing participants.

  10. When all you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but if you ask an ‘expert in human trafficking’ if there’s a human trafficking problem, she’s going to tell you that there is, just like a police officer will tell you that the best way to win the war on drugs is to arrest everyone.

    Show me the trafficking. Don’t show me someone who says there’s a problem, especially if they have a vested interest in the problem existing in the first place.

    Also, at what percent of ‘corruptitude’ (to coin a word) do we declare an entire industry invalid? What if we have 3,000 ‘working women’ and only ten trafficked sex-slaves? Is that enough to shut the whole industry down?

    Also, be there a problem or not, the answer is clearly -not- in outlawing consensual sex-for-money.

    The police are saying that they don’t have the authority to crack-down on all this suspected ‘trafficking’, but I think they’re just being lazy. You can count how many men are being simultaneously serviced and use that as a way to determine roughly how many workers are inside an establishment, then cross-reference that to the public-records of how many employees they claim and count how many women leave the office at the end of the day. That should be enough info to get a warrant for labor law violations.

    It -shouldn’t- be easy for police to come in and disrupt a business, that’s kind of the point of the Bill of Rights, no?

    Our neighbors are adopting progressive, socially-liberal policies. You can gamble in Connecticut, you can smoke dope in Massachusetts, and you can get a hand job for $60 in Rhode Island. Turning to puritan values when we’re down on our luck isn’t going to fix anything, it’s only going to make the local economy -much- worse.

  11. One thing is for sure, we need to make sure we have -numbers- on what the sex industry does for the economy, and -numbers- for what prohibition, enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration will cost.

    I’d say that if the state fines these women $1000 and throws them in the clink for six months, the state just spent $29,000 on a problem it didn’t solve.

    Also, based on my car-counts, the ’spa’ down the street from me was pulling-in about $750,000/year, and $225,000/year of that was from out-of-state, making it the most successful independent business in downtown Pawtucket.

    Now, even if there’s some malfeasance and all that money isn’t being accounted for and taxed (which it -would be- if we regulated the industry), that’s still money coming in from out-of-state and jobs being created here.

    The reason we have a ‘representative democracy’ instead of straight-up majority rule is that at some level, the economic benefits of this industry have to be weighed against the problems it can bring, and cool minds must prevail over the rash and often irrational views of the public-at-large.

    Here are the options, in best-to-worst order, from an economic and socially-liberal perspective:

    1. Legalize, regulate, and tax the industry the same way gambling or liquor sales are. The economy benefits, the state gets money from the taxes, and the free-will of the people is not impinged upon. Also, trafficking and abuse would be a non-issue if we properly regulated. There are no hookers on the street, there are no additional people in prison. This method ‘makes’ money, and ’saves’ money, from a government/economy perspective.

    2. The Status Quo… Legal and unregulated, the industry is a ‘black box’, we don’t even know what’s going on, we aren’t sure how much money is being generated, or if we’re getting proper tax income. The free-will of the people is not impinged, except in an unknown number of human trafficking and abuse cases that we don’t have statistics for. There are no hookers in the street, and there are no additional people in prison. This method doesn’t ‘cost’ money, but it does ’save’ money in enforcement and incarceration costs.

    3. Prohibition. The sex market goes completely untaxed, the out-of-state income dries-up, and the sex workers are unemployed. There are hookers in the street, there are pimps on the street. There are lots more people in jail. The state collects $1,000 per offense, which is a pittance compared to the cost of prosecution and incarceration. The free-will of the people is impinged upon. This method ‘costs’ money and ’spends’ money.

    I have to say, the hardest thing is trying to convince someone (like my mom) that keeping something -legal- is the best way to keep it -out- of your face. I’m no fan of sex-for-money, but I live in a neighborhood that I think would have a problem if there wasn’t a spa nearby, and I’m really worried that this law is just going to backfire on us.

  12. My final word on the subject, since this online back-and-forth isn’t good for anything besides raising my blood pressure, is I find it interesting what some people count as “reliable.” A respected academic’s informed opinion is worthless because she has a vested interest. A person’s estimated “car count”, however, is presented as worth consideration.

  13. I would suggest anyone who wants to change this law based on Human Trafficking should check out a recent blog from a woman who was on the Human Trafficking Coalition.

    http://kmareka.com/2009/04/30/big-anti-trafficking-tent/

    I don’t know how you expect to help women, everyone knows prostitution laws are only used to arrest women. In 2006 with only street prostitution being illegal, 106 women served on average 6 months in jail, and only 2 men did.

    By the way, I have been in many spas, know many women who work and many who manage spas. I have never seen anyone who would be considered anything other than women profiting off their bodies.

  14. The respected academic’s studies were done in areas where indoor prostitution is prohibited.

    I’m not saying that her opinion should be discounted, just that the issues she specializes in might have dramatically different outcomes in areas where the laws are different.

    Is trafficking a problem in Rhode Island? I don’t know, the state hasn’t made a single arrest for it yet. I suspect there -is- a problem, but that the vast majority of sex-for-money is happening in totally consensual situations here. I’m not willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    If the respected academic’s interests were solely in reducing trafficking, abuse, and upholding women’s rights, she would probably endorse regulating the industry, not adopting the failed laws of the cities she studied.

    Donna also had this to say to the ProJo on April 9th, 2009 (http://www.projo.com/news/content/legal_prostitution_04-19-09_7FE1RT4_v278.341b356.html): “you could have a 14-year-old in a brothel and if she says there’s no coercion, then it’s not a violation of the trafficking law,”

    Which is totally misleading and shows her willingness to bend the truth for her purposes. There are very strict laws here about age of consent and solicitation of minors:

    from http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE11/11-37/11-37-8.8.HTM :

    11-37-8.8 Indecent solicitation of a child. – (a) A person is guilty of indecent solicitation of a child if he or she knowingly solicits another person under eighteen (18) years of age or one whom he or she believes is a person under eighteen (18) years of age for the purpose of engaging in an act of prostitution or in any act in violation of chapter 9, 34, or 37 of this title.

    So there you go. Your respected academic either can’t be bothered to do her research before speaking to the press, or she has an agenda to push and she’s willing to bend the truth in order to accomplish it.

    Lauren, Donna lives out in the boonies in South Kingstown; to her, this is a moral issue that won’t really matter much to her life. I live in Pawtucket, near a lot of boarded-up buildings and desperate people. I intend to raise my family here. I don’t want pimps and prostitutes walking around my neighborhood because a bunch of suburbanites don’t like the idea of their husbands getting ‘happy endings’ in the city.

    And my informal ‘car count’ has been the -only- investigation I’ve seen to-date of how much the industry affects the local economy. I talked to the workers there when they were out on smoke breaks, they were my neighbors, and they were working hard to pay the bills. I know it’s a stretch, but for some women, this -is- the American dream. If you can show me another way for a young, pretty Korean woman can come here and make $70,000 a year with no formal education and very little command of the English language, maybe you should share it with the hundreds here who are about to lose their jobs over this.

  15. What prostitutes need is a good strong union.

  16. LOL. I just had a thought:

    “You could have a 14-year-old in a brothel and if she says there’s no coercion, then it’s not a violation of the trafficking law.”

    is a lot like saying:

    “Someone could come in here and shoot me, and you wouldn’t even be able to arrest him for shoplifting!”

    Thanks folks, I’ll be here all week.

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