Targeting Sex Buyers, Not Sex Sellers: Arresting Demand for Prostitution
One of my doctoral students who studies the sex trafficking and exploitation of children says that this documentary is well done.
The following article is presented in conjunction with the broadcast television premiere of A Path Appears on PBS’s Independent Lens (airs Monday, January 26, February 2 & 9; check local listings for the date and time in your area).
With the exception of some counties in Nevada, prostitution is
illegal throughout the United States. But for every john or pimp
arrested, multiple girls and women — some of whom were forced into the
trade while still underage — are often arrested as well. Police
harassment and incarceration can subject these women to further injustice, violence, and abuse.
In Massachusetts, police were found to arrest women for prostitution-related offenses far more frequently than they arrest men.
The laws themselves are discriminatory: a woman can be arrested for
prostitution by standing on a street corner with intention to sell, but
johns can only be arrested if they’re caught discussing payments in
exchange for sex.
Elsewhere, law enforcement agencies are pursuing a different approach.
The Dallas Police Department views girls in prostitution as sexual assault victims, not criminals.
Instead of detention, they’re offered treatment, and seventy-five
percent of those who receive it don’t go back. Officers and social
workers build trust gradually with the girls, who are then more likely
to testify against their pimps. As a result, the number of pimps
convicted in the city has risen.
Advocates such as Carol Leigh, director of the Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network, say that prostitution laws that criminalize selling sex can increase exploitation — a woman may be unwilling to report abuse to the police if she’s also at risk for arrest. Criminalization, as well as the conflation of sex trafficking and voluntary sex work, thwarts women from receiving vital health services and HIV/AIDS prevention.
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