Donna Hughes and Criminalizing Prostitution

Posted on behalf of B.

In her May 2, 2009 email, Professor Donna Hughes claims that criminalizing prostitution in Rhode Island will some how help victims of sex trafficking in the state. Despite what she says, Professor Hughes’ position amounts to a claim that the best way to help the victims of the crime of slavery is to spend large amounts of public money to arrest the very small number of victims of this serious crime and the much larger number of women who are not victims of any crime. This proposition makes no sense, violates any sense of justice and fairness and won’t work.

Arresting the victims of a serious crime so we can, in theory, get at the real criminals is just not an answer to anything. By making the victims criminals themselves, we would only strengthen the hold that the slavers have on them by increasing the victims’ fear of identifying themselves as victims to the police or anyone else. It will make the victims less talkative, not more talkative, since they will fear criminal punishment and deportation.

If Professor Hughes’ theory were correct, Rhode Island would be the sex trafficking capital of the US, and there would be no sex trafficking anywhere else in the country, except the two counties in Nevada where prostitution is legal. Obviously, this is not the case.

The idea that the Rhode Island police are incapable of conducting an investigation into violations of the anti-slavery, wage and hour and working conditions laws which are violated by trafficking without arresting the victims of the trafficking is silly. If that were true, there would be no arrests of labor traffickers, which obviously there are. The Rhode Island police are more capable than Professor Hughes gives them credit.

The estimate of a group in Berkeley, California which studies trafficking in the US is that there are 5,000 trafficked persons in the US at any one time. Of that number 1/3rd are girls who are kept as domestic servants and over 1/2 of trafficking victims are performing non-sex labor. Even though the numbers of sex trafficked women are small, they are not all in Rhode Island. Indeed, Professor Hughes provides no numbers of how big this problem is in Rhode Island.

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that at any one time there are approximately 1 million active prostitutes in the US. Professor Hughes says she doesn’t want to hurt consensual prostitutes, but they are nonetheless covered by re-criminalizing prostitution. It’s hard to see how turning these women into criminals in order to arrest slavers is not hurting them. Furthermore, the fact that there are a lot more consensual prostitutes in Rhode Island than trafficked ones, means that most prostitution arrests under Professor Hughes’ law will be the wrong people. Given that each prostitution arrests costs thousands of dollars, she is setting the state up to spend a lot of money arresting people unrelated to the problem she wishes to address.

Professor Hughes makes incorrect statements about the federal Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000, as well. This Act has hardly been a boon to trafficking victims precisely because in reality sex trafficking victims are not treated as victims to be helped, but as criminals under the state laws of other states. The trafficking victim prostitutes are held in custody while awaiting deportation, not turned loose on the streets. And it is particularly untrue that they get so-called T-Visas easily and then green cards. The truth, as any of the immigration lawyers who work with trafficking victims can tell you, is that it is very hard for any trafficking victim to get a T-Visa. Mostly, they are deported to an uncertain future.

Finally, it should be noted that a law prohibiting consensual prostitution, which is after all only consensual sex, is unconstitutional. The state has no constitutionally defensible basis for preventing two consenting adults from having sex under whatever conditions they choose. Rhode Island has taken a progressive and sensible approach to prostitution. There is no reason to abandon it.

12 Responses

  1. “Finally, it should be noted that a law prohibiting consensual prostitution, which is after all only consensual sex, is unconstitutional.”

    You might want to state what part of the constitution this covers, because it’s useful information.

  2. Isn’t it also unconstitutional to arrest people for being victims or suspected victims? If Donna Hughes is really so against traffickers holding innocent people captive against their will, why would she support law enforcement doing this? If the police are able to hold innocent people captive, then that’s like trafficking. Also, what makes her think that holding people captive will gain their trust (if this really is in fact what she thinks)?

  3. What’s of interest are the statements of which states has the most ‘trafficked victims’. According to RI its them, but according to war on the whore profiteers, California is the place. But of course the same was said about Capetown South Africa and that turned out not to be true.

    http://www.ktvq.com/Global/story.asp?S=10489904

    Korean woman appeals prostitution conviction

    Associated Press – June 6, 2009 7:05 PM ET

    CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – A Korean woman has appealed her conviction on prostitution charges.

    Okki Shoffler was convicted in May of 2 counts of prostitution and a single count of conspiracy stemming from an investigation at and the closure of Tokyo Massage near Casper.

    Shoffler’s court-appointed attorney, Tim Cotton, appealed the misdemeanor convictions, arguing that customers incorrectly identified his client as a prostitute while trying to avoid arrest themselves.

    Four men testified they paid to have sex with a woman later identified as Shoffler. Those men were not prosecuted.

    The appeal also challenges the fairness of the photo lineups investigators presented to the men.

    Cotton has said that because of the conviction Shoffler, who is not a U.S. citizen, may be deported. She has lived in the United States legally for decades.

    Prosecutors, meanwhile, continue to file charges against alleged customers of the massage parlor, which had operated for more than 20 years. A man who pleaded guilty to solicitation charges on Friday was fined $480.

    Information from: Star-Tribune, http://www.casperstartribune.net

  4. Donna’s solutions are ridiculous. Arrest the victims for their own good. That is what being an expert tells her is the right answer.

    Even the actual trafficking definition of sex slave that meets her view of the standard,,,,,,,,,, The most vulnerable to being enslaved, to being trafficked and needing to be rescued are also most often the ones who were desperate for work and were exploited by traffickers. Rescuing them does what to solve that? Even when someone is rescued according to the Donna Hughes, Law and Order SVU type great cop scenario, does she really think it is a LIfetime Channel show in which there is a wealthy loving family just waiting to take the victim in, with some hero or heroine scouring the streets for their lost trafficking victim loved one and all is well as soon as they are re-united? That is a fantasy that exists in the minds of experts like Donna Hughes and Hollywood. And no where else.

    Arresting people for their own good. That sounds remarkably like the same logic used by oppressors world wide. And has such a great track record of generating trust of the police. Sarcasm intended.

    She figures making prostitution criminalized in Rhode Island is going to drive out trafficking. It is already illegal in 99 percent of the country and there is still trafficking.

    Answers come with rights, they come with breaking down the reasons that cause the individual to be vulnerable to exploitation. If she wants to fight trafficking then she needs to fight poverty, hunger, oppression, racism, among a huge list. None of those things are achieved via arresting all the victims or taking away the livelihood of all sex workers. The arrest scenario only makes it worse and makes everyone at risk.

    Donna’s logic is classic convervative bullshit. A war on something, use of force, blanket arrests for the “good of the oppressed” and just trust the experts and the system, experts and system that have virtually no one that knows the issue from the inside.

  5. […] Donna Hughes and Criminalizing Prostitution « Bound, Not Gagged "This Act has hardly been a boon to trafficking victims precisely because in reality sex trafficking victims are not treated as victims to be helped, but as criminals under the state laws of other states. The trafficking victim prostitutes are held in custody while awaiting deportation, not turned loose on the streets. And it is particularly untrue that they get so-called T-Visas easily and then green cards. The truth, as any of the immigration lawyers who work with trafficking victims can tell you, is that it is very hard for any trafficking victim to get a T-Visa. Mostly, they are deported to an uncertain future. […]

  6. A response to Susan from B:

    A commenter asked for a reference to the Constitutional provision that makes the prostitution laws unconstitutional. The reasoning is rather short and clear cut.

    The Constitutional right to privacy is well established. A state government has no right under the 14th Amendment to prevent consenting adults from doing what they want to do in private, unless the state can show that it has a compelling interest in preventing the conduct. In Constitutional law, this is a very high standard to meet, and goes way beyond “we don’t think it’s a good idea, so we’re going to outlaw it.” There is no Constitutionally acceptable reason why a state can prevent consenting adults from having sex with each other in private and, either before or afterward, giving their partner gifts such as flowers, candy, a bottle of wine, a fur coat or cash.

    Think about how very odd the prostitution laws are given all the other things that consenting adults can do relating to sex, and no one questions that a state can’t prevent it. A person can legally pay two people to have sex and photograph or video them doing so and then sell copies of the photographs or video all over the world. Two people can video themselves having sex and charge people to view it on the internet or by selling videos of the act. But it’s illegal for a person to get a gift before having sex or to be given cash by your partner after having sex. There is no logical legal ground for the distinction.

    Even stranger, a person can legally pay someone to give them a massage in private without violating the law. But if in the course of the massage, the masseuse touches a few square inches of the person’s body, the massage suddenly become illegal. Clearly, there is no logical or legal ground for a state to outlaw touching just a few square inches of the body.

    Or consider a man who meets a woman online and invites her out to dinner. When they meet, he gives her a box of chocolates. He pays for dinner, they go back to her apartment and have sex. No state could constitutionally prohibit this activity. Likewise, a state cannot constitutionally make the date an illegal act if the man gives the woman an envelope with cash in it instead of the box of chocolates because there is no difference in law between chocolates and cash. Both are gifts of value.

    There are two further non-legal points worth mentioning. First, while the Constitutional analysis is correct, Constitutional law cases are very expensive to pursue and given the number of activist conservative Justices on the Supreme Court, it is not likely to be successful at this time.

    Second, this should not prevent sex workers and their supporters from asserting the right of sex workers and their clients to be left alone under the Constitution. Consider the example of the NRA, which spent decades asserting that citizens had an unlimited Constitutional right to own guns, when all of the court cases said the opposite. For decades the NRA’s court briefs made no mention of any Second Amendment right to own guns because they knew the law was against them and they didn’t want more precedents on the books proving that. So they waited until the Supreme Court has enough activist conservative judges to get a decision that for the first time supported their view of the Second Amendment.

    Since sex workers have a much better Constitutional case than the NRA, they should not hesitate to assert their Constitutional right to have sex with their clients in private under whatever conditions they choose. While it may not be time yet to approach the US Supreme Court, in the right state, a suit under the state constitution may well be a good idea.

  7. Donna Hughes is against prostitution. She does not believe women have free will. She tries to confuse the human trafficking issue by telling people that all women who are sex workers are trafficked. I was on a panel with her after a showing of my film Happy Endings? She calls all women victims, and she has never talked to one women in any spa in Rhode Island!!
    In one of the spas I was in, all the women had cell phones, laptops, and came and went as they wanted. You can even see in the footage the women walking around in the parking lot smoking. The strangest thing is this particular spa shares a parking lot with a taxi company! If they ever wanted to escape they could walk 5 feet to a cab. Yet, Hughes said that this spa had “indicators” of having trafficking victims. I was there for two raids on this spa, and what I saw was civil rights abuses by the police not the spa manager. How can Dr. Hughes tell us that putting these women in cuffs and in prison frees them?

  8. Thank you so much for posting, happyendings! You are so right. It is infuriating that anyone listens to someone who claims to have women’s best interests at heart and yet would leave them in the tender custody of the police, who globally are known to abuse sex workers, and top the list of people sex workers fear the most.*

    She’s also known to have said that GW was the best president for women:
    “President Bush… has done more for women and girls than any one other president I can think of… Years from now, when the anti-Bush hysteria has died away, I believe he will be recognized as a true advocate for women’s freedom and human rights.”

    Jill Brenneman wrote a fantastic post about Hughes here.

    *Global:
    • In Bangladesh, the national HIV surveillance
    (1999-2000) found that between 52% and 60% of
    street-based sex workers reported being raped
    by men in uniform in the previous 12 months and
    between 41% and 51% reported being raped by
    local criminals.6
    • In Namibia, 72% of 148 sex workers who were interviewed,
    reported being abused. Approximately
    16% reported abuse by intimate partners, 18% by
    clients, and 9% at the hands of the police.7
    • In India, 70% of sex workers in a survey reported
    being beaten by the police and more than 80% had
    been arrested without evidence.
    US:
    • 30% of street‐based sex workers interviewed told researchers that they had been threatened with violence by
    police officers.
    • 27% of street‐based sex workers interviewed reported having experienced violence at the hands of police.
    • 14% (7 of 51) of indoor sex workers interviewed experienced incidents of police violence, and victims of such
    violence felt they had no recourse.
    • 16% (8 of 51) of indoor sex workers interviewed have been involved in sexual situations with the police.

    “An indoor worker named Leticia5 said, ‘Just find a way to help us with the police. You have lots of women that have nobody to help them. We don’t need lawyers, we need somebody to protect us when we get beat up, when police mess with us. Around here, they don’t arrest you, they just mess with you like they own you.'”

  9. Well, there’s another issue that I think should be brought up:

    If these women are arrested, do they have access to lawyers? Do they have any due process whatsoever?

    When I listened to Donna Hughes on the radio program, she said something about “detaining them long enough to find out if they’re trafficking victims”. Well how long is long, here??? Days, weeks, months? Even years?

  10. >>t, Hughes said that this spa had “indicators” of having trafficking victims>>

    If Professor Hughes sees indicators of trafficking then it must be true and a great idea to arrest everyone involved and hundreds of people not involved……

    Professor Hughes also indicates she does not want any prostitutes that are there by choice to be harmed by being arrested. So I’m certain Professor Hughes is going to attend court with each that is arrested, offering at no charge, her expertise as an expert witness, is going to pay for all the court and legal costs, the lost income, and job retraining……..

    Right,

  11. anti trafficking experts=war on the whore profiteers

  12. Anti trafficking experts dogma

    Incarceration is Liberation!

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