Shelters are not solutions

KATU News reported on Nov. 12 that Sen. Ron Wyden announced a plan to set up shelters for prostitutes. These shelters are expected to provide housing, clothing and other services to women who are caught up in a life of prostitution without escape.

KATU News reported on Nov. 12 that Sen. Ron Wyden announced a plan to set up shelters for prostitutes. These shelters are expected to provide housing, clothing and other services to women who are caught up in a life of prostitution without escape.

“His plan is to set up special shelters for women so they can escape their pimps in parts of the country where sex trafficking is the worst, including in Oregon,” according to an article on KATU’s Web site. “His plan calls for spending $50 million over three years through the use of existing funds. He calls it a ‘modest sum’ of money.”

Shelters or no shelters, this does not solve the problem. In fact, it reinforces the idea that prostitution is OK or that hiding prostitutes and potential sex trafficking victims is going to solve the ultimate problem.
But could there be benefits of legalized prostitution?

Maybe Portland should become Las Vegas, and we can pay taxes on it too. It’s not just Sin City that allows legalized prostitution. In Singapore, sex for money is common. In Denmark, women can be legal prostitutes as long as it is not their only means of income. Our neighbors Canada and Mexico allow it. Prostitutes must stay in brothels in the Netherlands, and Israel, the historical setting for the Bible, allows it too. Meanwhile, we in the majority of the United States are apparently missing out on legal prostitution.

This leads me to explore the idea that prostitution is a free choice. Many prostitutes may think sex work is not the best choice of work, but the best alternative available. And many people label that as free choice. But is it? If women are choosing prostitution for economic reasons, you can’t argue that a choice between prostitution and death is free choice. That is not a choice at all.

More so, many believe that criminalizing the sex industry will only worsen conditions for human trafficking victims because the only way it can be stopped is if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.

On June 12, CBS News reported Rhode Island had a prostitution loophole that went mostly unnoticed for 30 years until “Providence police raided several spas in 2003 and then lost their cases in court because of the loophole.”

Apparently, police were able to arrest prostitutes on street corners. However, until Nov. 3, prostitution could not be prosecuted as long as it occurred indoors.

“Since then, lawmakers repeatedly have tried and failed to change the law, facing opposition from civil libertarians, advocates for sex workers and even the state chapter of the National Organization for Women,” according to CBS News. “They say permitting the arrest of prostitutes could end up punishing human trafficking victims.”

Another way to look at this issue is through the mindset of Margareta Winberg, former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden.

“I believe that we will never succeed in combating trafficking in women if we do not simultaneously work to abolish prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women and children,” Winberg said during a November 2002 speech. “Particularly in light of the fact that many women in prostitution in countries that have legalized prostitution are originally victims of trafficking in women.”

Unlike in the United States, selling sex in Sweden is not a crime, but buying sex is. Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings focuses on the root cause: They recognize that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to expand.

Do shelters for these women provide that? Do they get rid of the root cause—the “pimp daddies”—or do they just hide the prostitutes from being killed? Perhaps Wyden’s proposal of $50 million should not go towards hiding these women, but doing something about the men who sell them. Jeri Williams, a Portland City Hall program manager who was interviewed by KATU, said it right: “People who are driving around at night looking for sex with strangers are not sane people.”

And why should prostitutes in Oregon who are their slaves get in trouble, when the men or women who pick them up, do not?

The Council for Prostitution Alternatives ran a study in 1991 in our own city of Portland. They found that out of 55 prostituted women, 78 percent reported being raped. Out of these incidents, they were raped, on average per year, 16 times by their pimps and 33 times by johns.

 “Twelve rape complaints were made in the criminal justice system and neither pimps nor johns were ever convicted,” according to the study. “These prostitutes also reported being horribly beaten by their pimps an average of 58 times a year. The frequency of beatings…by johns ranged from one to 400 times a year.”
Of these cases, only 13 were brought up on charges for the beatings and only two resulted in convictions for aggravated assault.

This is the problem, and shelters are not going to solve it. Sweden may have the right policy on this one.