50 Academics Oppose Prostitution Bill

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July 31, 2009



BY: Professors Ronald Weitzer & Elizabeth Anne Wood, with 50 signatories (listed below) from the academic community

Rhode Island is currently the only state in the U.S. without a statute expressly prohibiting prostitution. State law bans loitering in public places, which is used to arrest street prostitutes, but does not ban solicitation itself, which leaves the indoor trade untouched because no loitering is involved.

This may change soon. The state legislature recently passed a bill criminalizing prostitution, although the House and Senate versions differ and will require changes before the bill can be forwarded to the governor.

In the past few weeks, advocates of criminalizing prostitution have lobbied Rhode Island’s legislators and made frequent appearances in the media. Many of their assertions about prostitution are myths.

Research shows that there is a world of difference between those who work the streets and those who sell sex indoors (in massage parlors, brothels, for escort agencies, or are independent workers).

Regarding street prostitution, the problems often associated with it are best understood as outcomes of poverty, addiction, homelessness, and runaway youth – suggesting that the best way to deal with street prostitution is to tackle these precursors rather than simply arresting the sellers.

Compared to street workers, women and men who work indoors generally are much safer and less at risk of being assaulted, raped, or robbed. They also have lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, enter prostitution at an older age, have more education, and are less likely to be drug-dependent or have a history of childhood abuse. Indoor workers also tend to enjoy better working conditions, although this is naturally not the case everywhere.

Despite what some activists claim, most of those working indoors in the U.S. have not been trafficked against their will. We oppose coercive trafficking whether for sexual labor, agricultural labor, or any other type of work. But when trafficking is conflated with prostitution, as is so often done now, it confounds law enforcement’s ability to target their efforts to fighting human rights abuses in the trafficking sphere.

Many indoor workers made conscious decisions to enter the trade, and several studies also find that indoor workers have moderate-to-high job satisfaction and believe they provide a valuable service. One Australian study found that half of the call girls and brothel workers interviewed felt that their work was a “major source of satisfaction” in their lives, and more than two-thirds said they would “definitely choose this work” if they had it to do over again. (This study was conducted in the state of Queensland, where indoor prostitution has been decriminalized.) In other studies, a significant percentage of escorts report an increase in self-esteem after they began selling sex. These findings may surprise some people, because they are not the kinds of stories reported in the media, which usually focus instead on instances of abuse and exploitation.

This is not to romanticize indoor prostitution. Some indoor workers work under oppressive conditions or dislike their work for other reasons. We believe that worker safety should be a high priority in all industries. At the same time, there is plenty of evidence to challenge the myths that most prostitutes are coerced into the sex trade, experience frequent abuse, and want to be rescued. This syndrome is more characteristic of street workers, and is associated with the vulnerabilities of poverty, addiction and abuse. While these are issues that need to be addressed, it is important to point out that the vast majority of American sex providers work indoors.

Since street and indoor sex workers differ markedly in their working conditions, experiences and impact on the surrounding community, public policies should be cognizant of these differences rather than a monolithic, broad brush approach. Policy makers would also do well to listen to those doing the work; all too often, the views of the sex workers themselves are marginalized in public debates. Because street-based prostitution has negative impacts on neighbors, policies should address those impacts separately from indoor prostitution. Moreover, the opportunity to work indoors, in itself, helps to reduce the problems associated with street-based prostitution. Rhode Island’s current system of treating indoor and street prostitution differently is a step in the right direction. Criminalizing indoor sexual services is not the answer.

Signed by the following members of the academic community:

Ronald Weitzer, George Washington University

Elizabeth Wood, Nassau Community College – SUNY

Michael Goodyear, Dalhousie University, Canada

Barbara Brents, University of Nevada

Lisa Wade, Occidental College

Janet Lever, California State University, Los Angeles

Elaine Mossman, Victoria University, New Zealand

Susan Dewey, DePauw University

Christine Milrod, Institute for the Advanced Study of Sexuality

Mindy Bradley-Engen, University of Arkansas

Molly Dragiewicz, University of Ontario, Canada

Ann Lucas, San Jose State University

Frances Shaver, Concordia University

Ariel Eisenberg, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Juline Koken, National Development and Research Institutes, Public Health Solutions

Larry Ashley, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Barry Dank, California State University, Long Beach

Richard Lotspeich, Indiana State University

Tamara O’Doherty, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver Canada

Lauren Joseph, Stony Brook University

Crystal Jackson, University of Nevada

Gayle MacDonald, St. Thomas University

Lyle Hallowell, Nassau Community College

Daniel Sander, New York University

Gert Hekma, University of Amsterdam

John Betts, New York University

Wendy Chapkis, University of Southern Maine

Suzanne Jenkins, Keele University, UK

Benjamin Reed, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Anna Kontula, University of Tampere, Finland

Janell Tryon, New York University

Mindy Chateauvert, University of Maryland

Jessie Daniels, City University of New York – Hunter College

Rachel Hsiung, New York University

Gillian Abel, University of Otago, New Zealand

Deborah Brock, York University, Toronto

Elizabeth Nanas, Wayne State University

Charles Watson, Curtin University

Ilona Margiotta, New York University

Jennifer Manion, Connecticut College

Lyle Hallowell, Nassau Community College

Emily van der Meulen, York University, Toronto

Rebecca Chalker, Pace University

Gilbert Geis, University of California, Irvine

Rachael Stern, New York University

Lynn Comella, University of Nevada

Alessandro De Giorgi, San Jose State University

Martin Schwartz, Ohio University

William Chambliss, George Washington University

Kelley Moult, American University

11 thoughts on “50 Academics Oppose Prostitution Bill”

  1. I think the best way to begin regulation would be to require the workers to check-in annually with a non-profit ‘certifying authority’. The agency would interview them about their work experience and ask if they’ve been hurt/raped/abused, and also ask why they’re working, if they are interested in other jobs, education, etc. They would be told that as independent contractors, they are required to pay income tax, and be given a list of agencies that would be able to help them. They would have to sit through some basic STD-prevention training, and offered free STD testing. After they do this, they are issued an anonymous picture ID card that says “You have responsibilities and rights. If you are the victim of a crime, call 911. If you want help with anything else, call 800-number-of-the-nonprofit”.

    Police would be able to verify the validity of the cards via a barcode and the picture, but the number of the barcode would -never- connect to the name of the worker, even at the non-profit. If workers are found without the ID card, they’d be subject to arrest (maybe after a grace period? It’s a fair compromise, in my opinion).

    The cost of running the non-profit (which shouldn’t need more than two people) should probably come ‘voluntarily’ from the spas and independent workers. The spas have plenty of money to support this, and it would be a profitable investment for them, compared to shutting-down, going underground, or having to pay-off police and the mob.


    | | RI Indoor Work License
    | pic | ID: 123-456-789
    |___| Expires: 8/7/2010


    Reverse side:

    The holder of this card has both rights and responsibilities.
    You have the right to work in accordance with existing laws, to leave the premises of your work, and to seek police protection from physical abuse, violence, and extortion. Your employer is required to meet state and federal laws regarding worker safety.
    If you are the victim of a crime, call 911. If you want help for non-emergencies, call your the RI-SWOP office at 800-739-9675.

  2. How does one go about doing the necessary studies to determine the specification parameters for any such regulatory scheme? Certainly, you’d need some sort of range of ratios. I mean, it couldn’t be one-size-fits-all…

  3. OSHA approved sex might be boring, but I’d rather have OSHA involved than vice squads. At least OSHA has a proven record of saving lives while vice squads have a much darker outcome.

  4. Woah. That ‘MARC’ isn’t the same as this one, even though I do agree with him. I post as MANGEEK and MARC, mostly because I’m lazy and my home machine has the cookie set for ‘MARC. I’ll make sure to get out of this Marc’s way and use MANGEEK from now on.

  5. Tax the parlors, add regulations, mandatory health testing and safety guidelines. Only benefits us all this way.

    Agreed- do not read the conservatively owned and opporated ProJo article on this topic. Uninformed and ignorant.

  6. BTW- I will add that said sex workers are vulnerable to exploitation just as workers in in any industry. Is it any better to be put in an unsafe coal mine for low wages while your health is destroyed? Is it not as bad to work in a sweat shop or factory and be exploited? Driving an industry underground by making it illegal only makes the workers more vulnerable to exploitation with less recourse to help or support. The industry should be regulated like any other. That will help protect workers and increase tax revenues. It should be obvious by now to anyone that this trade will not go away by making it illegal.

  7. Warning: Don’t read the comments of the ProJo article about this unless you want to lose all faith in humanity. (I felt obligated to chime in, though I regretted it the second I hit the send button. So I don’t necessarily exclude myself from this.)

  8. There is nothing “wrong” with sex. I don’t think it should be illegal between consenting adults whether there is a financial consideration or not. Why should it be okay to give away but a crime to sell? I think it says something special about Rhode Island that we are the only state not to repress this behavior. It’s also ironic that the same people who want “less government interference in our lives” are the first one’s to vote for this kind of legislation. Let’s get government into health care and out of the bedroom.

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