Editor’s Note: As a libertarian, I don’t want the government telling me how I should spend my recreational time. I can’t think of any reason why the state should have an interest in keeping people from spending (or making) money on sex. I was pleased that here, in an article on prostitution, I was able to work in the technical trade phrases, “happy ending” and “around the the world.” This op-ed was written in response to an editorial in the Stamford Advocate, which followed up on a news story that appeared in the paper on March 26, 2011.
Normally, when I read that criminals have been apprehended, I feel a little safer. However, the Stamford Advocate’s article (March 26) about the arrest of a 40-year-old Darien man and a 67-year old from Greenwich had no such effect.
On March 24, Stamford’s Narcotics and Organized Crime unit apprehended three prostitutes, their madam and the two aforementioned clients, breaking up a prostitution ring at La Rue Estetique massage parlor on Summer Street. Like articles about drug busts, this sort of story produces lurid, boldface headlines that catch the reader’s eye.
After years of an expensive, endless and fruitless War on Drugs, that pendulum seems to be swinging toward legalization. When Christian conservatives like Pat Robertson echo William F. Buckley and Reagan secretary of state George Schultz in calling for decriminalization, an end to this war starts looking like an idea whose time has come.
The same should be true for prostitution. I don’t feel any safer knowing a brothel has been closed, because I never felt threatened in the first place. None of the arrested parties seem dangerous: It’s not as if innocent bystanders were being shanghaied on Summer Street, then forced to pay for sex.
The police spent six weeks investigating the massage parlor, “watching a steady flow of men come through its doors.” During a budgetary crisis, when police overtime is at issue, couldn’t this manpower be better utilized watching for men to come through the windows of private homes for more-nefarious purposes?
Police work is a zero-sum game: Personnel staking out brothels for weeks at a time can’t be doing other, more-worthwhile tasks. I’d feel safer if those police had been patrolling my street to keep burglars from stealing my stereo.
And it’s hard to believe detectives are excited about spending their time keeping the streets safe from this type of crime. Natalia Cataraso, the madam, had already been arrested for prostitution, but pled down to disturbing the peace, which couldn’t have been a happy ending for the officers who’d worked that case.
Prostitution provides a useful service, especially for those who might otherwise have to do without or inflict themselves on the general population. A ranting misogynist like Charlie Sheen is better off in the hands of a $1,500/night professional than out with unsuspecting amateurs, who might be dumb enough to marry him and produce more of his progeny.
Sex is legal, and the buying and selling of goods and services is the foundation of our capitalistic system. So, why is combining commerce and carnality illegal? Realistically, how different is it from dating? Dinner for two easily costs $100, and you can spend twice that on a Broadway show. Prom night probably costs more than a high-priced call girl. And if there wasn’t an exchange of goods for services, would 80-something Hugh Hefner (see also Donald Trump) be able to keep marrying those beautiful 20-somethings?
Law enforcement hasn’t put a dent in the “world’s oldest profession,” which consenting adults have patronized since the discovery of fire. And I’m not sure why anyone wants to put a dent in it, other than the fact that arresting prostitutes and their customers makes us feel we’re doing something moral, without actually accomplishing anything. It’s like barring people from buying beer on Sunday, arresting pot smokers or preventing gay people from saying they’re married.
Our sex lives ought to be an area where both libertarians and conservatives can agree that the government shouldn’t be telling us what we can and cannot do. And it’s no vice to shift resources from “victimless crimes” to pursuing carjackers, muggers, and drivers who run red lights while talking on their iPhones — criminals who truly endanger life and limb.
The Advocate’s editorial page has taken the opposite view, calling for stiffer penalties, because the prostitutes — often illegal immigrants — are exploited “victims” (i.e., “sex slaves”), who are powerless to protect themselves. But this makes little sense.
If you want to keep people safe, criminalizing an activity and driving it further underground isn’t the way to go. Keeping prostitution illegal leaves its management in the hands of criminals. Wouldn’t it be better to legalize and regulate it like a legitimate business — as we’ve done with gambling at Connecticut’s casinos, for example.
Wouldn’t everyone be better served if the sex trade followed ethical business practices, paid taxes on its profits and was subject to humane requirements that protected the sex workers? (The enforcement of child labor laws comes to mind.) And wouldn’t the general public feel safer if they knew the Health Department was certifying, as much as feasible, that the participants were STD-free?
Around the world, in places like The Netherlands, these sorts of practices are being attempted. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than driving the sex trade further into the shadows, where pimps prey on their prostitutes, and no one looks out for the women.
Perhaps, in a few years, as seems to be happening with marijuana, legalization will be the wave of the future. Then we can turn our attention to other issues, such as legalizing … well, you fill in the blank.
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