Victimless Crime

Absent evidence of sexual trafficking, coercion, forced servitude or abuse of minors, I’ve never thought adult consensual prostitution (sex work) should be criminalized. That you can pay people to have sex if you film them and sell the resulting product (porn), but can’t pay them to have commercial sex that isn’t filmed for sale, seems absurd.

Charges against the owner of rentboy.com were originally brought in August 2015. The New York Times reported at that time on the odd circumstances behind the investigation, which was conducted by the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security in league with Kelly T. Currie, at the time the acting U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn:

It’s somewhat baffling, though, that taking down a website that operated in plain sight for nearly two decades suddenly became an investigative priority for the Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.

I guess there wasn’t enough on the terrorism front to keep DHS busy. Publicity seeking all round, particularly by Currie, who landed as a partner at NYC law firm Crowell & Moring.

More. Huffington Post noted that:

Germany legalized prostitution in 2001. A decade later, trafficking had decreased by 10 percent. New Zealand legalized it in 2003, and after five years a report found zero incidents of trafficking. But they did find that sex workers were more likely to report violence when it occurred.

After Canada legalized prostitution, sex workers experienced fewer homicides — and according to some reports, law enforcement harassment has made sex work more dangerous.

We even know how legal prostitution works in the US, since some Nevada counties regulate brothels. Researchers from the University of Nevada found brothels enforce monthly STI checks, mandatory condom usage and panic buttons in every room. Compare that to the NYPD, which has accused women of prostitution for carrying condoms.

11 Comments for “Victimless Crime”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    An article in Slate a few years back (concerning efforts to recriminalize prostitution in Canada and Sweden) made an interesting comparison:

    One of the reasons the cause of same-sex civil marriage has gained so much ground in recent years is that it is no longer socially acceptable to hold gay couples in contempt. Many if not most opponents of same-sex marriage harbor no ill will toward lesbians and gays, yet opposition to the expansion of civil rights for gay people has long profited from deep-seated prejudice against them. As this prejudice has grown less common and less intense, it isn’t terribly surprising that proponents of same-sex marriage have gained the upper hand.

    Similarly, opposition to cannabis legalization has long rested on the belief that stoners are losers who can and should be kept on the margins of society. Now that marijuana use is associated in the public mind with cancer-stricken grandmothers and foxy celebrities, there is no going back. The stigma against marijuana use is dying, and support for keeping marijuana illegal has been slowly dying with it.

    Sex work is a different story. The stigma associated with selling sex remains strong, as is the stigma against buying it. This is despite the growing evidence that decriminalizing the buying and selling of sex has significant public health benefits.

    It has long been clear to me** that conservative Christian opposition to “equal means equal”, in marriage equality and other areas such as public accommodations laws, is much less about religion than it is about religionized cultural bigotry, an cultural effort to continue to stigmatize gays and lesbians while trying to gussy up cultural homophobia as religious/moral opposition.

    The battle on that front continues with efforts to gussy up government-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians under the rubric of religious freedom, but I think that it is safe to say that the American people have been won over to the idea that gays and lesbians should be treated like other Americans.

    Gays and lesbians influenced that change in American attitudes by coming out to family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, putting a face on homosexuality, much as droves of college students went “Clean for Gene” in the late 1960’s to put a face on the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era. Cancer-stricken grandmothers are putting a face on marijuana legalization.

    But who will put a face on commercial sex workers and commercial sex consumers, a face appealing enough to overcome the inevitable opposition from social conservatives?

    ==============

    ** I came to that conclusion by reading and listening careful to what conservative Christians wrote and said about the issues over the last two decades, writing and discussion that laid bare the thin veneer of religion, the blatant lies (see Blankenhorn, Perkins, Fischer, Gallagher, Brown, et al) demonizing gays and lesbians as disease-ridden child abusers (and so on) told to the American people in order to extend the shelf life of homophobia, the hysterical overreaction to Obergefell, which characterizes gays and lesbians a “poor winners” determined to punish Christians and destroy Christianity, and indefensible insistence that religious freedom demands that the government sanction discrimination in the case of same-sex marriage but not otherwise. The history of supposedly religious opposition to “equal means equal” is a classic example of “protest to loudly” — the more conservative Christians speak and write, the clearer it becomes that religion is being used to mask cultural bigotry. And when otherwise sober conservatives like Stephen started depicting gays and lesbians as successors to Robspierre (and worse), I knew rationality had left the room, as well.

    Reply
  2. posted by Jorge on

    Oh, that.

    What little sympathy I have for the guy makes me think six months is a great sentence.

    More substantively, the world is different today than it was 20 years ago. I do not question that DHS probably had a legitimate theory or suspicion that an interstate criminal operation was likely to have or develop personnel or financial connections to international terrorism.

    But who will put a face on commercial sex workers and commercial sex consumers, a face appealing enough to overcome the inevitable opposition from social conservatives?

    Only someone savvy enough to do what Trump has done: bypass the conventional media and politicians and speak to the public directly.

    I can also tell you that I wouldn’t want to be the person who has to deal with my feedback about a lifestyle patronizing escorts.

    Reply
  3. posted by TJ 3 on

    If you want to legalize prostitution, then put some time into a PAC or something. don’t start a website called Rentboys, get rich and get surprised that your illegal activities finally got you into trouble.

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  4. posted by s.j. on

    Organized crime – even terrorist groups – have used human trafficking/prostitution, so its possible that was where the initial investigation began. Its hard to say, because the press coverage wasnt terribly indepth and lots of adolsensent giggles and partisan speculation involved.

    has their been much research into male vs female sex workers?

    In Nevada, its only legal in specfic zones (which wouldn’t address quite a bit of sex work) .

    Reply
    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      Organized crime – even terrorist groups – have used human trafficking/prostitution, so its possible that was where the initial investigation began.

      It would seem likely, given the involvement of Homeland Security, that the case was initially triggered by something more than simple “boy sells to boy” sex work. I didn’t follow the case, so I don’t know what — international money laundering, whatever — initially triggered the investigation.

      Reply
    • posted by JohnInCA on

      I don’t know what “triggered” the case, but no one on the government side every alleged, publicly or via “undisclosed sources” that there was a terrorism or human trafficking connection.

      Heck, in the end the judge even said flat-out that they works was a better place *with* RentBoy then without it.

      So yeah, it really does seem like it was about seizing money and claiming “prostitution” as the excuse (you know the agencies for to keep most of the money they seized, right?)

      Reply
      • posted by Lori Heine on

        That is also what I think.

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      • posted by Tom Scharbach on

        For what it is worth, and it isn’t worth much, my guess is that the thing started with money laundering concerns from Homeland Security. The government has been cracking down on money laundering since the Bush years (any money movement over $10,000 through the banking system has to be reported, for example), for good reason.

        But prosecutions have a life of their own, a lot of the time, and I’m guessing that the US Attorney decided to make a name for himself by expanding the prosecution.

        Wouldn’t be the first time (think about the relatively large number of US Attorneys who have used the office as a springboard into politics, ala Chris Christie), and it won’t be the last.

        The prostitution prosecution sounds absurd to me, and always has, but money laundering I take seriously.

        Reply
        • posted by JohnInCA on

          Actual money laundering? Sure.

          But I’m not sure the last time I heard about one of those cases. I have heard about cops seizing money that folks happened to be travelling with, failing to ever charge the person with a crime, and then refusing to ever give it back. I have heard about prosecutors seizing all a small business’s bank assets because of “structuring”, and then after it’s established that the business did no wrong, refusing to return it. I have heard about the excesses and perverse incentives of asset forfeiture.

          This is definitely one of the areas where prosecutors and their choices have just-about convinced me that catching the bad-guys isn’t worth all the good-guys that get caught up in the net.

          And to bring it back to this case? Whatever may have originally stirred Homeland Security’s interest, there were no money laundering charges. If that was their original intent, then at some point they made a choice to ignore their original rationale, glom onto something unrelated, and ruin folk’s lives over it. Because they could.

          Reply
  5. posted by Tj 3rd on

    If you want to legalize prostitution, elect your Congressman.

    Reply
  6. posted by Rex on

    I suspect sex robots will soon make prostitution nearly obsolete. I say nearly because there will always be those who desire the “real” thing. (whatever that thing is). Besides if you are into S&M could you get off on humiliating something that doesn’t really care or can it fake it just as well? Interesting times ahead, too bad I’m almost at the end of my rope and wont’ be around to see the amazing great and terrible times to come but I guess that’s always true……… “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times………”

    Reply

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