Tag: Laws regarding prostitution

The Latest White House Oops

You may remember the scandal, a few years ago, when Secret Service agents and military personnel in the President’s advance security detail in Colombia hired a few prostitutes. While prostitution is legal in Colombia, it was felt that the agents endangered security by their behavior. They were seeing these women and drinking heavily when they should have been preparing for the President’s arrival; they invited them up to their rooms in a security violation; they tried to cover it up, exposing themselves to potential blackmail*. Worst of all, they refused to pay the women what had been agreed upon. I don’t mind people hiring courtesans; but not when they are supposed to be protecting the President.

(*Using sexual infidelities or behavior as blackmail fodder is not unique to prostitutes and is probably actually less common among professionals. A woman who just wants a few hundred dollars for her time is a lot less likely to blackmail someone than a random stranger they pick up who may not be so random. The infamous 1986 sex-for-secrets scandal involved a Russian civilian, not a prostitute. The big infidelity blackmail scandals — such as Rick Pitino or David Letterman — involved women they’d picked up not women they’d hired. Indeed, this is why a lot of famous people hire women instead of picking them up. The potential danger of US military personnel being blackmailed for hiring a prostitute would be severely lessened if we abandoned the idiotic policy of discharging military personnel who avail themselves of legal sex workers.)

Punishment came down on the men involved but there were rumors that a White House staffer also hired a prostitute and it was covered up or at least punted past the 2012 election.

Boom:

As nearly two dozen Secret Service agents and members of the military were punished or fired following a 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia, Obama administration officials repeatedly denied that anyone from the White House was involved.

But new details drawn from government documents and interviews show that senior White House aides were given information at the time suggesting that a prostitute was an overnight guest in the hotel room of a presidential advance-team member — yet that information was never thoroughly investigated or publicly acknowledged.

The information that the Secret Service shared with the White House included hotel records and firsthand accounts — the same types of evidence the agency and military relied on to determine who in their ranks was involved.

Once again: one rule for the masses; one rule for the elites. It’s Elliot Spitzer all over again. You plebs can’t hire a girl to spend the night with you. But we, the rulers, can do whatever the fuck we like and fuck whoever we like.

It gets better:

Whether the White House volunteer, Jonathan Dach, was involved in wrongdoing in Cartagena, Colombia, remains unclear. Dach, then a 25-year-old Yale University law student, declined to be interviewed, but through his attorney he denied hiring a prostitute or bringing anyone to his hotel room. Dach has long made the same denials to White House officials.

Dach this year started working full time in the Obama administration on a federal contract as a policy adviser in the Office on Global Women’s Issues at the State Department.

Dach, incidentally, is the son of Leslie Dach, a huge Obama campaign contributor. But more importantly, he advises the State Department on women’s issues. This is the same State Department that opposes legal sex work, has issued all kinds of idiotic and factually-challenged statements about sex trafficking and has pressured foreign government into adopting Victorian mores on sex and sex work. Again, this guy has a job telling everyone else not to use hookers while he — allegedly — employs them.

I don’t have a problem with clients working in high places. Depending on which study you believe, something like a third of men have used a hooker at least once. What I have problem with is the absolutely putrid hypocrisy on display here. Secret service agents and military personnel are drummed out of the service; our government pressures other governments to outlaw sex work; it runs nationwide “stings” for underage sex workers which nab thousands of consenting adults; it brands anyone who so much as gives a ride to a hooker as a “pimp”; it shuts down websites that help hookers screen out dangerous clients; it promotes garbage stats like the myth that there are 200,000 underage sex slaves in this country. But when one of their own is alleged to have seen a sex worker, they immediately cover it up.

Apparently no one should be able to pay for sex except the rich, the powerful and the connected.

The Other Prohibition

All of us are familiar with Prohibition, the attempt to ban the sale and manufacture of alcohol in this country. Very few would disagree that it was an unmitigated disaster. It created a spike in crime, empowered criminals and smugglers and did little to stop drinking (and I hope you celebrated Repeal Day last week).

This post is not about alcohol prohibition, but I raise it to point out some of the traits it shares with two other kinds of prohibition. It was pushed by religious figures, yes, but more so by a Progressive Movement that saw banning alcohol as being for Americans’ own good. They believed that they could create something like a perfect society, where everyone behaved … at least according to how they thought everyone should behave. They unabashedly claimed the moral high ground, casting their opponents as either drunks or profiteers on human misery. And the effect varied depending on class. The Volstead Act was an inconvenience, at worst, to the rich and powerful, who could acquire illicit booze when they wanted it. Meanwhile, entire swathes of the population were condemned to violence, extortion and murder. But it was OK because they were just bootleggers, drunks, smugglers and Italians. Al Capone pointed out, quite correctly, the classist nature of Prohibition — that what was called bootlegging when he did was called hospitality when rich people did.

There’s a second prohibition that we’ve discussed many times — the War on Drugs. I won’t rehash the many many horrors and inefficacies of this war — see the Alberto Willmore video below. But notice the traits it shares with alcohol Prohibition. It was supported by the Religious Right, yes, but also upheld by many “Progressives”. Our Vice President has long been one of the most vocal drug warriors out there and several Presidential campaigns in the 80’s and 90’s turned on who could be toughest on drugs. The Drug Warriors believe they can create a perfect drug-free society. They unabashedly claim the moral high ground, describing their opponents as either addicts or profiteers on human misery. And again, notice how the effect is varies depending on class. It’s not difficult for the elites to get drugs if they want them. If a Congressman’s son is busted with drugs, he goes into treatment. Meanwhile, the lower classes are condemned to the hell of gang wars, no-knock police raids and minimum sentencing guidelines. But it’s OK because they’re just drug dealers or drug addicts (or, it must be said, black).

There’s a third prohibition, however. In fact, it’s actually the first prohibition, the one whose “success” inspired the ones that followed. It is so insidious that many of us don’t even realize it is a prohibition. And since my friend Maggie McNeill has asked those of us who oppose this prohibition to write about it on Friday the 13th, I’m going to talk about the prohibition on sex work. Or, to be trite: the War on Whores.

Prostitution was not illegal for most of our history or most of human history. Because even those who regarded it as an evil saw it as a necessary one. As Maggie explains in the Cato Unbound debate between her, Ronald Weitzer and two well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) fools:

Indeed, up until the nineteenth century almost nobody imagined that prohibition could be done, let alone that it should. It was almost universally understood that many working-class women and a not-inconsiderable number of those in higher classes would accept money for sex, at least on occasion, and it was impossible to draw a bright, clear line between behaviors that constituted “prostitution” and those (such as concubinage, mistresshood, and political marriage) which did not despite their often-mercenary basis. The manifold laws regulating sex work were not intended to preclude pragmatic motivations for sexual behavior, but rather to keep up appearances, guard the purity of bloodlines, and maintain public order. But as the Victorian Era dawned, a new idea began to take hold of European minds: if science could perfect Man’s tools and techniques, why couldn’t the same process be applied to Mankind itself? The immediate result of turning (pseudo-)scientific inquiry upon sex was that taking money for it was no longer considered merely something that “unladylike” or “sinful” women did for a living or extra income; instead, the “prostitute” was defined into existence as a specific type of woman, separate and distinct from other women. For most of the century the prevailing view was that women who took money for sex were congenitally defective, but in the 1880s the idea arose that most or even all were forced into the profession by evil men. It was about this time that “avails” laws started to appear, under the rationale of “protecting” women from exploitation by such men.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the “white slavery” hysteria was in full swing. Progressives were determined to “rescue” women from the clutches of the “pimps” who were abducting them by the thousands from homes, railway stations, and dance halls, and for the first time in history the act of taking money for sex was itself criminalized on a large scale. In the United States, it was illegal almost nowhere in 1909, but almost everywhere by the end of 1914.

The more you dig into the issue the more you see the parallels to the War on Drugs and alcohol Prohibition. Again, we see the hand of religion, but also the Progressives (and I would argue that they are worse on this issue than the religious, having now donned the cloak of pseudo-feminism). They believe they can create a perfect whore-free society. They unabashedly claim the moral high ground, describing their opponents as whores or pimps. And the effect once again depends on class. It’s not difficult for someone like Eliot Spitzer — who prosecuted sex workers and their clients — to get a high-priced call girl. But some poor shmoe who just wants to get laid goes on John TV. Prostitutes can be raped with impunity, extorted by law enforcement and ultimately jailed. But it’s OK, because they’re just perverts and whores.

And look where this hysteria has led us. Just as the War on Drugs will get a high school girl busted for giving Midol to a friend, so will the sex prohibitionists engage in absurd excesses in the War on Whores. In Madison, a man has started a business where people can pay to snuggle and cuddle with other people. I think it sounds stupid (about a decade ago, this sort of thing showed up on a Penn and Teller episode as a laugh). However, if paying $60 to hug some people is your thing, knock yourself out.

But ultra-liberal Madison is banning it.

Snugglers contend touching helps relieve stress. But Madison officials suspect the business is a front for prostitution and, if it’s not, fear snuggling could lead to sexual assault. Not buying the message that the business is all warm and fuzzy, police have talked openly about conducting a sting operation at the business, and city attorneys are drafting a new ordinance to regulate snuggling.

“There’s no way that (sexual assault) will not happen,” assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. “No offense to men, but I don’t know any man who wants to just snuggle.”

This is your brain on the War on Whores: a government official invoking sexual assault and the dreaded prostitution in a response to a hug house. God knows what they would have done if they’d found out about the back rubs on my freshman year college dorm.

This is where this ahistorical hysteria on sex work has led us. This is who we are now. People think that bans on prostitution and hysteria over sex work only affects dirty whores and their filthy clients. But when you open the door to government getting involved in consensual sex between adults, the entire damned law enforcement industry will stampede through it. And next thing you know, they’re calling you a rapist for wanting to hug someone.

No society has ever rid itself of alcohol — not even Islamic countries, where alcohol is illegal. No country has ever rid itself of drugs — not even China which once imposed the death penalty for opium use. They can reduce it, a bit. They can drive it underground. But they can not stop human beings from human beings.

And no society has ever rid itself of sex work. In fact, many of the greatest empires embraced it. Our experiment in banning sex work has now gone on for a century. As with alcohol and rugs, its adherents continually claim we are right on the verge of victory; we only need to ruin a few more lives. It’s time that the prostitution ban, like Prohibition and the War on Drugs, find its way into the list of history’s abandoned mistakes.

Don’t think that this is entirely about booze, drugs and hookers, either. All three of our nation’s great prohibitions have arisen from the Great Progressive Conceit: the idea that government can make people better (assuming you accept the Progressives’ definition of ‘better’). This is a conceit that plays out in a thousand ways in our politics, from the government telling you your insurance policy isn’t good enough to forbidding you from smoking in your own home to telling you not to drink so much soda.

The Great Progressive Conceit is tempting because government can create the circumstances for people to become better. Freedom of religion and speech, capitalism, rule of law, etc. all create opportunities for human beings to improve themselves and the society around them. And we absolutely need government to stop people from harming each other. But the minute the government turns its eye toward telling you that you must do this or you must not do that for your own good …

Just Say No.

You Can’t Say That (Prostitution Edition)

The Supreme Court has yet to render decisions on gay marriage, affirmative action or the Voting Rights Act. But a number of critical decisions have come down, some good, some bad. I’ve been sitting on post on criminal rights for a few days; I’ll hopefully crank it out over the weekend. But I did want to comment on Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., which was handed down yesterday.

(Aside: I have become a total SCOTUSblog junkie. They have pages on every case the Court is handling, complete with amicus briefs. When they liveblog decisions, I close my office door. They get it fast and they get it right. They absolutely deserved the Peabody Award they won for getting the Obamacare decision right while the networks floundered. If you care about the Court, they are a must-bookmark.)

About ten years ago, the government implemented two policies for funding organizations to fight AIDS. The first was that they not used funds to promote prostitution or its legalization. The second was that they must explicitly oppose prostitution. The orgs argued that the second requirement impugned their First Amendment rights by forcing them to advocate a political view. And yesterday the Court agreed 6-2 that it did.

(It was always stupid policy — legalizing prostitution would very likely cut into the spread of AIDS. But the Court has no power to overturn laws because they’re dumb.)

Volokh:

This case is about far more than prostitution and HIV/AIDS. The expansion of the modern regulatory state has increasingly led to financial involvement of the government with private organizations — including churches, religious universities, and religious charities — in ways that potentially give the government power over those organizations. Tax exemptions, which have been treated by this Court as tantamount to the provision of funds, are a prominent example. Student loans and grants, which are likewise treated as equivalent to direct payments to the university, are another. Numerous other examples exist, including the direct grants at issue here.

Under the government’s theory in this case, federal, state, and local governments may use these kinds of government funding programs as leverage to pressure organizations into affirmatively expressing particular government-prescribed views as the organizations’ own. For instance, if a government wants to pressure such groups to avow that they support or oppose contraception, pacifism, abortion, the death penalty, assisted suicide, or whatever other policy those then in control of the government choose, then that government would be free to do so.

For the reasons discussed below, that cannot be right. Such a “get with the program” power would let the government badly distort the marketplace of ideas by strengthening groups that toe the government line and financially crippling groups that refuse to say what the government demands. And such a power to coerce ideological conformity would unacceptably burden religious groups’ rights to speak or not speak in accordance with the truth as they see it.

Exactly. As Noah Feldman pointed out, this decision protects conservative views as much or more than it protects liberal ones. Had the Court upheld this provision, there would have been nothing to stop the government from forcing organizations that wanted federal funds or tax exemptions to recognize the legitimacy of gay marriage or the importance of a woman’s right to choose or anything else that popped into their heads. To quote from Robert’s stirring decision:

[T]he Policy Requirement goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program. It requires them to pledge allegiance to the Government’s policy of eradicating prostitution. As to that, we cannot improve upon what Justice Jackson wrote for the Court 70 years ago: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” West Va. Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette.

Now there’s an argument for this policy, which Scalia and Thomas put forward and is discussed more by Ken at Popehat that goes like this: it’s the government’s money, so you have to play by their rules. There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. You don’t want to parrot the government line? Don’t take their money.

I would say, as a general rule, that’s not unreasonable. But the history of government using its financial power to compel behavior is long and ugly and has frequently extended to areas where we don’t have a choice (or effectively don’t) about taking their money. Highway funding was used as a bludgeon to raise the drinking age. Financial aid was used to force universities to adopt more aggressive anti-drug and anti-drinking policies. In fact, this very Court has decided that we are not entitled to Social Security money. How long would it take for politicians to mandate certain views in return for benefits?

Amanda Marcotte, always one to completely miss the point, tries to hammer this into a Bush and the evil Christians narrative. But that ignores that the Obama Administration supported this policy. Numerous “feminists” supported the policy or filed amicus briefs in favor. Numerous Democratic politicians supported it and filed amicus briefs in favor. And it would not surprise me at all to see this emerge again with a thin Constitutional veneer.

As Volokh says, our government has tremendous financial and regulatory power. Even if we elected Rand Paul and a bunch of libertarians tomorrow, it would take decades for that power to recede. We have to be very suspicious when it tries to use that power to make people agree with it. To not do so is to ignore the monster in the room.