Prostitutes can't be limited without a 'sinful' embrace

December 01, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

San Francisco recently awoke to the same problem Baltimore has been having:

Prostitutes are moving from traditional "bad" areas, where few people complained about them, to nice residential areas, where homeowners are furious. (Why are the prostitutes moving? Because nice areas are safer than bad areas.)

In Baltimore, this shift has spawned two proposals by city councilmen designed to crack down on prostitution.

Both, however, raise constitutional problems, and both almost certainly will have limited, if any, effect on prostitution.

But in San Francisco, the board of supervisors voted 7-1 last week to consider a more radical approach:

It is considering establishing city-run brothels.

The board has established a 20-person group, which includes three former prostitutes, to consider legalizing prostitution.

"It's worth a try," Supervisor Terrence Hallinan said. "If San Francisco can't do it, who can?"

And although San Francisco's mayor, a former police chief, says forget it and a state law against prostitution would have to be changed, proponents say there are advantages to legal brothels:

* Prostitution would be removed from residential neighborhoods.

* Pimps would be eliminated.

* Safety for both the prostitutes and customers could be assured.

* Prostitutes would be checked for disease.

* A multimillion-dollar business would be taxed.

Currently, Nevada is the only state where brothels are legal (though prostitution remains illegal in Las Vegas and Reno.)

In the legal brothels credit cards are accepted, security is maintained, the health of the prostitutes is checked and taxes are paid.

Which is probably why Nye County Sheriff Wade Lieseke Jr., whose territory includes six legal brothels, wants to keep prostitution legal.

"I don't have a problem with prostitution now," he told a reporter, "but if you outlaw it, I will have a problem: a law enforcement problem."

But why can't we use law enforcement to just do away with prostitution? After all, we have laws, police, courts, jails and politicians who are always promising to "get tough" on crime.

So why doesn't any of that work?

Because we exaggerate the capacity of the criminal law to influence the behavior of men and women.

Though prostitution is not a "victimless" crime in the sense that nobody involved in it suffers, it is victimless in the sense that there is a willing exchange between buyer and seller.

And that willing exchange is very difficult to eliminate.

At the same time, however, arrests for such willing exchanges flood the criminal justice system.

About half of all the arrests in America are for "victimless" crimes such as prostitution, drunkenness, illegal drug use, illegal gambling, pornography, etc.

And the very illegality of such activities makes cleaning them up so difficult.

An example: I once read an interview with a West German prostitute, who had come to the United States to practice her trade.

In Germany, she always got checked for sexually transmitted disease. In the United States, she did not.

"Prostitution is legal there [in Germany]," she said. "All you have to get is a medication book to show you've been inspected. You need that medication book or you'll go to jail."

But in America, she would go to jail whether she got inspected or not, and so she did not bother.

And thus she proved what noted criminologist Norval Morris has been saying for a long time:

That which you forbid, you cannot regulate.

Because we legally forbid prostitution, we cannot regulate prostitution.

We cannot regulate the health of the prostitutes, the location of prostitution or the funds it produces. (Why should prostitution fund pimps, when it could fund schools?)

If we did not forbid prostitution, we could do all those things.

So why don't we legalize it around the country?

For the same reason I am sure that brothels will not be legalized in San Francisco.

Because prostitution is sinful (old political correctness) and exploits women (new political correctness.)

And so America must forbid it.

And watch it continue out of control.

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