I'm going to resist the temptation to call the Howard County woman charged with prostitution this week Brandy "Boom Boom" Britton.
Britton, a former University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor of women's studies, was charged with four offenses, all related to prostitution that allegedly took place in her home, police said. Yeah, the itch to make wisecracks would be easy, but Britton is as much entitled to the presumption of innocence as anyone else.
But there's another reason I'm not rushing to call Britton "Boom Boom." I'm having a hard time seeing a crime here.
What are those charges again? Engaging in prostitution, maintaining a building for the purpose of prostitution, allowing a building to be used for prostitution and allowing a person into a building for the purpose of prostitution, according to an article by Sun reporter Melissa Harris.
The building in question is Britton's home in Howard County. The prostitution allegedly occurred in the privacy of her home. What happens in the privacy of a person's home, Americans were told nearly three years ago, is none of the government's business.
Our Supreme Court told us that in Lawrence v. Texas. Justices voted 6-3 to strike down a Texas law that criminalized sodomy between gays, even if it occurred in the privacy of the home. Justice Anthony Kennedy used some high-falutin' language and purty words in writing for the majority.
"The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime," Kennedy wrote. The "their" he referred to is America's gay population.
"Adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their home and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons," Kennedy wrote, again referring to gays. Kennedy based his statements on a constitutional right to privacy. If that right exists, then Britton is probably asking herself right now, "Hey, what happened to my constitutional right to privacy? Does the constitutional right to privacy apply only to gays, lesbians and women seeking abortions?"
Her critics will argue that she lost that right when she advertised on the Internet. But the nagging question remains: Once someone walked into her house and the doors were closed, why is what happened behind them the business of either Howard County or the state of Maryland?
There's prostitution, and then there's prostitution. Let's assume only for the sake of argument that Britton is guilty. Her prostitution involved consensual acts committed in her home. Now take the average prostitute who conducts her business in public, sometimes in residential areas.
Some of these prostitutes are drug users. They use alleys, front yards, backyards and public sidewalks for toilets. Their drug paraphernalia litters the community. Some of the sex acts are consummated on the private property of law-abiding citizens.
That's why street prostitution is hardly a victimless crime. In late 2002, Cynthia Gaver, then vice president of the community group Dundalk Avenue Area Residents Together, drove that point home in a letter to a District Court judge:
"[Many] prostitutes ... are addicted to the hardest, most unforgiving substances like crack. [They] carry one or more of the diseases transmittable through sexual intercourse and needle exchange and the transmission of bodily fluids. ... Prostitution hurts a lot of people. That's why [prostitutes and johns] go somewhere other than where they live. They find the darkest, remotest place, and that happens to be my street."
Which type of prostitute would you prefer in your neighborhood? One who operates from the privacy of her own home? Or the ones who operate in Gaver's neighborhood?
Yes, many of you are going to say "neither." I understand that. I also understand that the market for prostitution is much like the market for illegal drugs. The latter market will never dry up, because the market that caters to human stupidity will never die.
Neither will the market that caters to horny menfolk.
Let's be clear about why the business of prostitution continues to thrive. And let's be clear about which gender will always get slapped the hardest when the heavy hand of law enforcement cracks down on prostitution.
That would be the prostitutes, most of whom are women. Most of their customers are men. Cops in several jurisdictions do, from time to time, use female undercover officers to conduct stings and arrest johns. Police honchos usually make a big whoop about it when they do.
But drug-addicted women with serious illnesses like the ones Gaver described bear the brunt of our anti-prostitution wrath. And now, so does Britton, who finds that what she might have done in the privacy of her home is now a matter of public record and discourse. And whose privacy remains intact?
Why, that of the men who might have visited her and contributed to her "crime," of course.