Call to legalize prostitution is attacked

Mayoral candidate draws criticism from vice squad

June 14, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The vice squad of the Baltimore Police Department is criticizing mayoral candidate A. Robert Kaufman's call to legalize prostitution in the city.

Two weeks ago, Kaufman, a 68-year-old Walbrook Junction Democrat, called prostitution a "victimless" crime that should be regulated by the city Health Department. Founder of the City Wide Coalition citizens group pushing for insurance reform, Kaufman said creating a red-light district for prostitution would help change Baltimore's standing as a city with a high rate of venereal disease.

Sgt. Craig Gentile, head of the vice unit in the Central District, opposes the idea. Gentile, known for his enforcement of vice laws on The Block, said Kaufman doesn't take into account prostitution's link to illegal drugs.

Many of the city's estimated 400 prostitution arrests annually involve women who sell themselves to support their drug habits, Gentile said. In addition, many of the prostitutes are victims of physical abuse by their pimps and clients, Gentile said.

"Victim No. 1 is the prostitutes themselves," Gentile said. "Some of these prostitutes are not out there just for the sex side of it."

Gentile also noted that prostitution has spread sexually transmitted diseases and worsened other health problems in the city.

Kaufman countered that regulating prostitution would be the best way to protect the prostitutes from violence and monitor their health.

"A society that drives so many women to prostitution is a society to be condemned," said Kaufman, an apartment complex operator who has run for governor, president and U.S. Senate. "If prostitutes are victims, why are we punishing victims?"

Last week, Kaufman also detailed his plans to increase voter turnout in Baltimore by extending the right to vote to felons, immigrants and 16-year-olds.

Pub Date: 6/14/99

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