A recent article in the Dallas Morning News proudly announced that Dallas Vice is arresting street prostitutes and their customers in record numbers. Let’s take a look at some of the points in the article.
You have the customers that take home diseases to their significant other.
Never mind that customers would have far less risk of disease if they insisted on proper condom usage instead of making arguments against condom usage.1 I’d also like to point out that if they were truly concerned about the health of their significant other, they’d keep it in their pants. But, in the interest of keeping it simple, let’s blame hookers for giving married women diseased, cheating husbands.
There are other consequences to prostitution. You have drugs involved, robberies, other kinds of petty crimes… It’s a far-reaching issue.
As we all know, prostitutes are a scourge. Never mind that some or all of these crimes may not actually be committed by the prostitutes themselves (or that according to one study, over 80% of prostitutes have had violence done to them2). It’s believed that with enough prostitutes, one could bring down the entire US.
Occasionally, we get a complaint from a relative of someone. They want our assistance with getting them out of the business.
I’m sure that all psychologists would agree the most effective way to assist someone in changing their life is to have them arrested and sent to jail. That will give sinners time to reflect on the error of their ways! Having the added debt of court costs and fines when they get out of jail will only motivate them to quickly find honest work to pay back the legal system. Given the rising rates of re-arrests, who could question the effectiveness of arrest as a sign from a caring family to get another job?
The vice squad decided to arrest customers as well. Female police officers got the chance to play hooker and get paid for dressing sexy. Being serious about their work, they wanted to appear like prostitutes and not undercover officers.
To prepare for their roles, some of the decoys tried to simulate bruises by rubbing their legs on the tires of the police command RV. The most experienced of the bunch, “Eliza,” a 30-year-old vice officer in a denim miniskirt and a revealing T-shirt for her undercover assignment, had real bruises from a recent mountain biking expedition.
Without a doubt, bruises are what make a prostitute a prostitute. Otherwise she’s just a slut trying to earn some money. Men – if you don’t see bruises on her then she’s not really a prostitute. (The article included two or three detailed descriptions of what the female vice officers wore while on assignment.)
Starting last year, in lieu of jail, customers of prostitutes could take an all-day class that details the risk of disease and other social ills of paying for sex with strangers.
Okay, let me get this straight: free sex with strangers is perfectly safe and without emotional consequences? Money doesn’t cause diseases (nor does it protect against emotional fallout). Too bad such classes aren’t offered to the largest population of sexual-disease transmitters in the country – teenagers and young adults.3
Too bad prostitutes don’t get to choose a day in class in lieu of jail. They could be kept up-to-date on safer-sex guidelines, learn what resources they have if they want to leave prostitution and how to deal with customers who don’t want to use condoms.
Dallas police also post photos of customers and others charged with indecency on the Internet as a deterrent.
Shame is the perfect emotion to foster open and honest discussion about sexual issues. After all, that strategy’s worked since the beginning of time. Prostitution barely exists nowadays where once it flourished in every city in the world!
After four convictions, defendants can be tried on a felony charge and spend up to two years in a state jail…”Filings have been going up,” said Kim Judin, head of the misdemeanor division, adding that the enhanced cases consist almost exclusively of prostitutes. “I doubt there are many customers picking up enough cases to get state jail felonies.”
Prostitutes, who depend on prostitution for their livelihood, have to continue working in order to pay court costs and other fees. Their customers can find another outlet or can continue seeing them, safe in the knowledge that about 90% of all prostitution arrests are prostitutes,4 not their customers (even though a prostitute can’t really be a prostitute without a customer).
Even the FBI agrees that customers don’t really matter; it’s that damn hooker’s fault:
The FBI defines prostitution as: “to unlawfully engage in or promote sexual activities for profit.” Customers are not included in FBI statistics for prostitution arrests.5
Apparently, the only one who counts is the one who ends up with the money (and a profit!), not the one spending the money on the service. Somehow the FBI missed Economics 101, in which one learns that a business cannot survive without customers. But it should give customers of prostitutes a little legal reassurance that what they’re doing really isn’t wrong, it’s that damn hooker’s fault!
What are we to learn from all this? I don’t have all the answers nor have I done extensive research into street prostitution. Common sense tells us that arresting prostitutes and their customers is not an effective way to deal with all the problems surrounding prostitution. Most of these problems – such as a lack of educational opportunities for the poor, childcare, family planning, childhood abuse, social sexual stigmas, care for ailing parents, gender inequalities in the workplace, deadbeat dads, lack of health insurance, pimps and more – are “women’s issues” and don’t receive a lot of popular support to begin with. This attitude does half the population a disservice, not just prostitutes.
I would’ve had no problem with this article if it had been a straight reporting piece on the DPD’s recent arrests of prostitutes and their customers. But the reporter’s ill-conceived biases, lack of objectivity and obvious disregard for research (since he seems to believe this is a story with only one side), hit a nerve. Nor do I care for the unsympathetic views of various members of the legal system (but their remarks are predictable). The big picture seems to be escaping everyone involved.
What is the big picture? I’ve turned this issue over in my mind since I was a teenager (back then I wanted legalization of prostitution, now I simply want decriminalization). The big picture is that women who work the streets do so for a reason and in most cases, that reason is not because they want to, but because they feel it’s their best option. Creating an environment of fear and separation from society does not help these women in the least. I can’t think of a single way that decriminalization of prostitution would harm prostitutes and I can think of a whole lot of ways it would actually help society.
I could go on, but then this post would turn into something more political than I intend for it to be. I don’t plan to become an activist soon, if ever. I feel that my role is to try and change perceptions as much as I can in the way that I can. I leave more informed people to be policy-makers.
But this article was just too much and I had to say something.
1 Visiting any number of public discussion and review boards that include “street” action makes it very clear that male customers have decided they would rather have various kinds of condomless sex. Escort review boards have also made it clear that the males prefer various kinds of condomless sex and they actively trade tips on how to make that happen.
3 This answers the question from a young woman’s perspective and this is a more detailed answer mainly concerned with HIV/AIDS transmission (but the concepts about HIV/AIDS transmission works for other STDs as well).
4 Typical arrest percentages are: 70% female prostitutes, 20% male prostitutes, 10% customers of both. Although this stat is old, it echoes what I’ve read in more recent books. The arrest averages have held very steady.