Justice for a Hidden Population

GTA San Andreas prostitution screenThe Drug War is the most blatantly obvious example of persecution of those engaged in ‘victimless crimes’, and I have been concerned with ending it for my entire tenure in the LP (10 years now). There is another such ‘victimless crime’ that has more recently engaged my interest, due to my present occupation.

It is often said that prostitution is the ‘world’s oldest profession’. That may well be true. At the present time in the U.S., however, prostitutes typically are comprised of two varieties: those who choose the occupation because of its potentially lucrative properties, and those who start selling their wares due to addiction to drugs. In both cases, however, prostitutes face exploitation at the hands of a ‘pimp’ (read “business manager” who ranges from arranging customers for a fee to a ‘slaveowner’ who demands all profits with recourse to physical abuse ever present), as well as violence at the hands of a customer (since this occupation is not typically recognized by government, such violence almost always goes unreported). The state of Illinois is considering a bill (passed the Senate and now in the House there) that would allow workers in this profession some recourse in both situations: LINK

Over the last year I have had the privilege of talking freely with female prostitutes in the City of St. Louis, and I can speak generally about what has been reported to me. First, these women are real human beings, most of whom have been victimized since an early age and who report continuing victimization because of their lifestyles, primarily involving addiction to drugs. Next, these women report having no ‘pimps’. This is somewhat unusual for a major metropolitan area, but the fact is that most prostitution that occurs here is directly drug-related. I have, however, heard or seen in the media stories elsewhere that corroborate the fact that prostitutes are often completely controlled by ‘pimps’ (to the extent that a woman who has not eaten in 24 hours hangs around a fast-food restaurant, holding her earnings, waiting to hear from her ‘pimp’ that it’s okay to spend a couple of dollars to feed herself). What I can corroborate from the women with whom I’ve spoken is that they live in fear while plying their trade on the streets. They readily admit that the fear of violence is tangible, at least until they are able to parlay the money they make into their drug of choice. (Of course, if the drugs were available at the local pharmacy, chances are excellent that they wouldn’t have to resort to selling their bodies and risking physical harm to get the ‘high’ they crave, but that’s a slightly different matter, involving another ‘victimless crime’.) I have heard women tell of times they were beaten and left for dead by people who were, or claimed up front to be, customers.

While my desire is that both prostitution and the pursuit of a ‘high’ through any pharmaceutical means one chooses would be made legal today, I applaud those in the Illinois legislature (and other states before this) who support some measure of justice for people who have most often entered this profession because of past victimization.

12 Comments
  1. I wonder how this law does anything at all. While I agree that a person has the right to sell body as well as intellect, the players (pimps/johns) in this game are probably flying below the radar. How can you serve a suit summons to a person whom likely deals in cash and moves around? Especially after a couple years have passed. Rather than offering an illusion of a prostitute’s right to civil damages, the government should take their paws out of sexuality. For sale, or otherwise.

    A prostitute is human. If she is cheated or assaulted in the course of business, she should seek damages. Her “criminal” business should not postpone her case.

  2. This does raise an ineresting question. When driving in DC and Birmingham recently, I’ve seen a fair amount of working girls, but only one (in B’ham) with someone who appeared to be a pimp.

    I was talking to a hotel barkeep in Baltimore who told me (when two girls walked in) that they both “work” but each provides cell phone security for the other.

    Some of the media stories which include pimps I’ve read lately are more likely to involve illegal (or legal) immigrants who get pushed into prosititution, but I’m not hearing much of American born and bred girls working with pimps.

    Is this a new trend?

  3. I actually want to bring up one more issue. What about those women- non-victims- in the industry? If they sue, they are marked. There is no way for them to report/sue for abuse and exploitation because even if the past event is no longer punishable, future employment is.

  4. I think that the media hypes the whole “pimping” thing and you should listen to the prostitutes themselves. I’ve never had a pimp, and neither have any of my friends in the business. But it’s a lot easier to gain public support for cracking down on prostitution by painting an image of young girls being victimized by abusive thugs.

    In California the pimping laws make it a crime for a prostitute to live with her significant other (even if he has a full time, legal job) unless -possibly- he pays all the bills. It also makes it illegal to work for a prostitute as her driver or bodyguard (a felony).

    I agree with the above poster, these laws about suing pimps or abusive clients are useless for women who intend to keep working. If a sex worker still wants to be in the business, she doesn’t want to clue law enforcement in on what she does for a living.

    But it’s very nice to know that you care about us :-)

  5. It’s a step in the right direction; it at least gets the state’s people thinking about the matter, and one (largely ineffective) reform will be followed by another and another, until prostitution is finally legal in some real, tangible form.

  6. Most of the time when pros threaten a customer with violence from a pimp, they are bluffing. They figure the guy will be scared and not do anything to get his money back if he got ripped off.

    Of course those who want to paint all pros as victims want everybody to think all the pros have pimps, and all pimps are abusive. In most cases this is not true, and I don’t think it’s a new trend.

    There are a lot of guys in jail who claim to be pimps. I think a lot of them are full of shit, in my experience. If they are such big shot pimps where are their hos with the bail money? 90% of these so called players are fake ass perpetrators.

    Another thing that is not supposed to be talked about is that a lot of pros who do get abused actively seek that out, because they were brought up in such a messed up way that is how they understand love. If no one is beating them or calling them names they feel unwanted. Sad but true.

  7. I want to know from you guys point of view, if there is something wrong with amsterdam’s way to deal with prostitution…Thanks

  8. I think Amsterdam has the social stuff right. Decriminalized drugs and prostitution. I have always felt safe in the red light district there, and although I haven’t shopped the windows personally, I know someone who used to. It seems to be safer for the girls and the customers.

    I will be back in Amsterdam in July. Perhaps I will see if one of the nice ladies will give me their opinion. That is, if I can remember through the Heineken and pot haze anyway. (If my boss is reading, I am kidding.)

  9. Amsterdam’s got it righter than anyone else. They tax and regulate both drugs and prostitution, which is lamentable… BUT AT LEAST THEY’RE LEGAL.

  10. Prostitutes have to pay taxes in this country, and they’ve really been cracking down hard on it lately. I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but after being interrogated, accused of making money illegally, and being told I could write off my cell phone (even after I told them it was used for personal calls and not just business) only to find out that the feds are charging people with using a phone for racketeering/protitution (a federal crime) I’m terrified of working. I can barely make ends meet (I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country) and paying self-employment taxes is really tough.

    Even landlords are forbidden from deriving income from prostitution, and I know women who have been evicted after getting arrested (CA state law) Apparently only tax collectors can take money derived from prostitution.

  11. Honestly, folks, I hadn’t thought through the ‘being known to the cops’ issue, since the women I talk to are already well known to the cops. In fact, we have this wonderfully vague city ordinance in St. Louis called “street demonstration”, which means that the person charged is potentially blocking sidewalk or vehicular traffic by their behavior. That’s part of the problem here. If a woman is ‘known’ to the police as a sex trader, she can get a ticket just walking to the store in the wrong part of town, even if she has complied with Drug Court orders and has been clean for several months.

    I don’t know what Amsterdam’s model is, exactly, although I would oppose in general principal government regulation of any business. I do believe, though, that once a government critter recognizes that something might be amiss with the current status of laws, and tries to change them, that will hopefully be the first step to major reform.

  12. Shoot, it seems that everyone is down on pimps these days. And I was thinking of offering a “professional management service” to French, Tamara and Michelle. :)