Prostitution and the American view on it has always been a hot point of contention for me, therefore this article in this morning's Boston Globe made me shake my head quietly and wonder why, we as a society, continue to push moral legislation on The People.
The issue that I see in Rhode Island is that, while state law allows prostitutes to ply their trade behind closed doors, there is no industry oversight or regulation. In other words, while the activity itself may remain legal (barely), the means by which prostitutes come to find themselves in this state are still highly illegal - and there is no protection or shelter for these women at the government level.
So, Rhode Island got it marginally right by removing prostitutes from the streets and the inherent dangers that form of business holds but may have made it worse for these women by hiding them and allowing these businesses to thrive, unfettered and un-regulated.
Let's travel across The Pond and visit the Red Light District of Frankfurt, Germany. Yes, I am very familiar with that district. I had a friend, for many years, who worked there. She was from Brazil originally, lived in Amsterdam with her husband and son and worked in the Red Light District of Frankfurt for 6 months a year.
To work there, she had to get working papers and register with the government. She had to be tested for STDs and HIV every month. She paid taxes and made enough money to stay home for remainder of the year. She also very rarely sold herself for sex alone because she had the choice. She couldn't be compelled by club or brothel management to do so due to the regulations that governed the industry.
And one day, when I was sitting with her in a private booth in the club where she worked, I asked her if she was safe. She was on a break and sitting across from me, dressed in a pair of panties and little else. We were enjoying drinks and chatter and she responded, "Phe...do YOU feel safe here?"
"Yes. I do. You know that." In fact, I walked in Frankfut and whenever I was walking home at night, I made it a point to cut through The District because it was the safest route home. One night, a doorman noticed what I hadn't - someone appeared to be following me. He took care of it and I kept walking. I didn't work there; it was just a shortcut. The safest route in the city.
"Well, so do I. I don't love my work, but I love the fact that I am safe and I make enough money to go home and not worry at all. And I have friends like you."
The German government makes a lot of money off of prostitution in these districts. Club and brothel owners make even more - but so do the employees. And to keep it legal, the illegal activity associated with prostitution in the US such as drugs, is highly discouraged by club and brothel staff. By highly discouraged, I mean that very large, not very intelligent doormen are very definitive in their actions when patrons are caught engaging in this activity. And the government is the biggest doorman of them all. While human trafficking remains a problem in almost every country, the rate of it in countries like Germany is much lower for the sex trade industry than anywhere else, especially the US and Canada.
I do not favor prostitution. I would be devastated if my own daughter ever took that path. My friend also once admitted to being secretly happy that her son wasn't a daughter for just that reason. BUT - prostitution is here to stay. The more we marginalize it and hide it or continue to prosecute it, the more harm we do in the end. STDs go unchecked. These women fly under the radar. Human trafficking will remain ever more lucrative.
It's time to wake up. Legalize it. Regulate it. Oversee it. Tax the hell out of it. Moving women off of the streets, as in RI, doesn't make them safer without following through and ensuring that they are truly protected. Having a vigilant doorman who doesn't want to lose his good paying job is great for a night-to-night enforcement of the letter of the laws that govern your place of business - but even that's not possible without having someone who is willing to step up and protect the men and women who work there from the top all the way down.