And… It’s Over.

The Senate voted 36-2 in favor of the anti-prostitution bill tonight. As soon as the governor signs it–which he will, soon– it’s official: trading sex for money indoors is over. Immediately. This, despite the fact that the bill (and its harsh penalties) saw opposition from both the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Day One, the sexual assault and trauma resource center. Everyone, from Representative Amy Rice of Middletown to Providence Senator Paul Jabour, admitted openly that the bill was flawed. But their eagerness to pass something, anything, was so strong that they just steamrolled ahead, anyway.

What will that accomplish? Well, for one thing it will criminalize the work of women in about thirty small businesses in the state. These are women who may not have much training in other fields, who have previously committed no crime, and who are being thrust into a job market with, at best, about 13% unemployment. (Though I haven’t actually seen this addressed, something tells me they won’t qualify for unemployment, either.)

The law will also force a bunch of landlords to suddenly find new tenants, because they too will be responsible for any illegal activity that takes place in their buildings. That means more vacant properties, since it’s not like the real estate market is exactly booming.

It means that prostitutes will probably go back out on the street; with no safe indoor locations to advertise, they’ll be out on previously safe corners that had slowly become free of prostitutes over the past few decades.

It means that a lot of women will go to jail. The penalty for prostitution is up to six months or a minimum $500 fine for a first offense, and it escalates from there. At worst, that’s many thousands of dollars to keep non-violent females in prison; at best, it’s asking an unemployed prostitute for at least $500. Which she will get, logically, by further prostituting herself on the street.

There is no doubt here: without safe, clean places for prostitutes to work, there will be more violent crime, more rapes, and higher rates of STDs. Rhode Island’s HIV rate is currently half the national average; is it likely to stay that way?

And, though the bill on paper targets prostitutes, johns and pimps equally, who will be arrested? Historically there’s little equality. According to a study by the Family Life Center (PDF), 182 women in Providence County went to jail for street prostitution in 2008, with over half of them spending over three months in prison. How many pimps and johns went to jail? Zero. Not one.

I’m sure that all but nine representatives* and all but two senators* will be sleeping well tonight, safe in the knowledge that they have rid Rhode Island of our appalling Asian spa problem. It must be very nice for them.

[*Tomorrow I will be writing letters of thanks to Senators Rhoda Perry and Charles Levesque, as well as Representatives Ajello, Driver, Ferri, Fierro, Handy, Petrarca, Segal, Walsh, and Williams. I’m glad that some of our elected officials were more worried about passing dangerous legislation than they were about looking good during the next election.]

13 thoughts on “And… It’s Over.”

  1. If I may add, your arguments for legalizing prostitution are ludicrous. Murder is illegal, and people still kill people. Is the solution to that to make murder legal? I don’t think so.

  2. So Tom, you and your wife are happily married yet you both occasionally enjoy having sex with others? And you think i’m repressed because I think that is immoral and disgusting? I thought the very idea of “marriage” was to take one as a husband or wife while forsaking all others. How many marriages have ended because of this foolishness that you profess? If I ever cheated on my wife to be, she would castrate me, and I wouldn’t blame her one bit. Do your grown kids know about your marital infidelities? May God have mercy on your whole family.

  3. If you go to google and do a search with any US city and the word “escorts”, you’ll get a long list of providers that work in that city. It does not matter that it’s illegal, people still want sex and women are willing to offer the service. Illegalizing prostitution does not prevent the activity. It *does* result in non-violent women going to jail. It *does* make the activity less safe for the women. It *does* open up an opportunity for illegal trafficking. It is completely counter productive.

  4. Rob, please take your outdated religious morals and keep them to yourself. You have the right to live your life in a repressed fashion, but I’d like you to refrain from trying to impose that foolishness on me.

    I’ve been married for 40 years, have grown children, and I’m quite happy and still in love with my wife. Sex is a form of recreation for us that we both enjoy together and occasionally with others. If you’re too closed minded to realize that you can deeply love someone but still enjoy sex with other people then I feel sorry for you.

  5. Yes, I am proud to say that I’m a Catholic. You can’t outlaw fornication any more than you can outlaw sex between married men and women. However, my point is that we are divorcing sex from true love and commitment. We need to emphasize, especially to the young people that sex is NOT a form of recreation. It is the coming together of a man and woman in the act of consummation and/or procreation. Taking sex lightly has desensitized society to the point where “anything goes” and that is a road that is hard to turn back from.

  6. Annie Messier

    I’m disappointed in the majority of our legislators (including my own cowardly state senator and representative, who not only aren’t among the legislators named in this post but also ignored the passionate letters my husband and I sent them on this issue) for giving in to the “Oh no! How embarrassing! What will people think!” buzz that hit RI after that underage stripper story broke this year. Prostitution isn’t something we openly talk about, but I fully believe these women have a right to earn their living in a safe environment, and being kicked onto the streets and criminally prosecuted for something they’ve come to depend on for a living, because they were giving in to a -clear- statewide demand for supply, is cruel and not all that smart. Bills making it criminal for -others- to profit from the sex workers’ trade would have provided the protection that supporters of the anti-prostitution bill claimed the bill is providing. The supporters of the anti-prostitution bill seem to be turning a deaf ear and blind eyes to the very real fact that prostitution isn’t magically going away now. It certainly hasn’t in all the other states in which it’s illegal.

  7. Rob, I think you’ll find that STD transmission here is surprisingly low compared to other areas with similar demographics. I can’t help but think that it has something to do with decriminalized sex workers being much more likely to use protection.

    Good public policy isn’t about trying to model people’s souls, it’s about finding the ‘sweet spot’ between what people are going to do anyway and what’s best for everyone (including the burden of enforcement on society).

    If you want to live in a state where religious values dominate the legislation, you can use Indonesia or Afghanistan (or closer to your own values, Nicaragua) as examples. Sharia law is pretty harsh on prostitution, homosexuality, and intoxicants, but you see them all in abundance in places that subscribe to it. In Nicaragua, it’s true that you have fewer abortions, but you have thousands of women who will never give birth again when they’re ready, because the ‘back-alley’ services have mangled their reproductive organs.

    Ideally, the law of the land, or as Aquinas would put it ‘the law of man’, should let as many people do as they please but still provide for the common safety and well being, without encroaching on your ability to go out and ‘save souls’ in your own way.

    The main problem I have with criminalization of prostitution is that from a taxpayer’s perspective, I think it’s silly to spend tens of thousands of dollars to enforce such a petty infraction. I feel the same about most intoxicants. I feel strongly that it -is- worth tens of thousands to enforce laws against violence and abuse, though.

    I’m curious, since you seem to be Catholic… Catholic doctrine considers prostitution and fornication to be equal, do you think we should criminalize fornication or decriminalize prostitution? Which one leads to more divorce, single parents, STDs, and abortion? Does that shape your perspective at all?

  8. I’m from New Zealand. We’ve had legalised prostitution for years and the civilisation hasn’t crumbled. Brothels are regulated, licensed with health checks – workers have to be over 18. Local councils can decide what areas of the town they can operate from.

    There is still those who will try and trade with underage girls, ignore OSH, import women from Asia, etc, without required paperwork. Generally, they’re hit hard by the law.

    Despite regular reviews of the legislation, the Government has seen no need to change the law to any degree.

    The police seem happy, because they can now target illegal operations instead of trying to stop prostitution per se. It was always impossible to control.

    Yes, it’s primarily a moral issue and those who disapprove don’t have to use the service.

  9. Very glad they are closing this loophole. Demand for prostitution doesn’t make it right. Where did we ever get the idea that sex is a form of recreation? No wonder half of all marriages end in divorce. No wonder abortion is used as birth control. No wonder STDs are so commonplace.

  10. Well, this story was filed correctly. It was a shit show, and once this bill becomes reality, it will be a shit storm.

  11. I am still not clear on why people think that prostitution is a crime to begin with. If health and safety is a concern …why not regulate it more. If it is just a moral question, why not leave it to each adult human to make their own choice.
    It is clear that there is a demand and a desire for prostitution, so why PRETEND that it is bad and face the fact that people want it and need it, and make it safe.

  12. Also, as an aside… After the hearing, I decided to get myself a few stiff drinks… While at my neighborhood pub, I was greeted by a friend I haven’t seen in several years. She’s a former sex-worker who went from nursing, to sex work, and back to nursing in order to pay off her home (which she did in three years). She said she saw me on the news, and appreciated my work.
    She’s glad to be ‘out’ now, her timing couldn’t have been better, and nursing is marginally easier on the body and soul. Amidst our inebriated conversation I lamented that I still have 351 more mortgage payments to go, but she assured me that I would be alright, if there’s one thing she learned from her days ‘working nights’, it’s that you can do anything you put your mind to. Who ever thought they’d get confirmation of the American Dream from a prostitute?

  13. As any ‘Dose reader knows, I’m appalled by virtually every aspect of this legislation, but towards the legislative endgame, another issue crossed my mind…

    As a landlord, what concerns me about the legislation (not my own situation of having a non sex-workin’ couple downstairs), is that both commercial and residential landlords will be in the unenviable position of not being able to accept rent, for fear of facing criminal penalties or forfeiture of their property, while still being bound to honor a lease.

    Several appeals towards the end of the House Judiciary hearings from both ‘pro’ and ‘con’ were asking for a temporary reprieve, to maybe allow these women to ‘save up and get out’ (of the state or of the business, either one is valid), to allow the majority of sex workers, may who moved here because of the ‘loophole’ to put their houses on the market, or to make arrangements for subletters, or even to bank up a few months of cash in order to face the harsh job market. Those appeals fell on deaf ears. It was clear that the majority of legislators in the room are eager to ‘catch’ these women, rather than politely hold the door open for them on the way out.

    Maybe it’s that I grew up in a house where we were influenced by mid-east and Persian culture, where it is customary to invite one’s enemy over for dinner to hash-out the issues, and possibly at least be civil through a disagreement, that I felt this was a reasonable request. I should have known that this was a ‘dirty’ fight when my emails to Donna Hughes and several organizations she works with, asking to discuss more reasonable compromises (that would probably be -more- effective than criminalization) went unanswered.

    The good news is that Rhode Island will go on… Our crime rate will be higher, our taxes next year will reflect additional millions spent at the ACI, and we -will- see trafficking and abuse of sex workers as we see syndicates that manage to circumvent the law in other states move in; but the sun will rise, the tides will ebb, and the economy will, eventually, rebound. Some day far in the future, if our generation doesn’t become as close-minded as the last, and states experiment successfully with gay marriage, legalization of narcotics, and prostitution, Rhode Island will likely overturn this policy, hopefully not thirty years after it’s the national norm.

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