I remember watching "Cops" one night several years ago when the camera crew was following a group of police officers on a prostitution sting. Eight or 10 cops were making stings out of a Las Vegas hotel room. One undercover officer was playing the role of the prostitute. After she lured the unsuspecting john back to the room, the officers descended on him and either gave him a ticket or took him to jail.
Not too long after that, another episode showed a similar sting, but in reverse. Undercover officers pretending to be johns were taking the prostitutes off the streets. I remember thinking, "What a colossal waste of time and money."
I thought at the time that the police could certainly find a better crime to investigate. Weren't there rapists, drug dealers or murderers on the loose? How about looking for some of those guys? Leave the frat boy on spring break alone. Who exactly was getting hurt by him paying for sex?
I also wondered what good the police could be doing. Did they really think locking up a prostitute for a few days was going to deter her from returning to the street corner? Would embarrassing one guy enough that he never again went looking for a "date" with one of those girls really stem the tide? Wouldn't the flow of lonely, frisky guys keep rolling forward like shark's teeth, with one falling out and another immediately replacing it?
I thought that way for a long time, and still do to some extent, when it comes to how much of a deterrent these arrests are. But the one thing I've changed my mind on is who's getting hurt because I've come to believe the answer is a lot of people.
Whether it's so-called "high-end" prostitution like the type police allege was taking place in Sugarloaf Country Club or the more common kind that takes place in seedy motels and back alleys, the true cost of sex for sale is higher than the rate the john is quoted by the people who offer themselves for money.
Now I'm purposefully keeping morals out of it. What you believe about extramarital, premarital or any other type of sex between people who aren't married is a question of morals and not legality, and thus, not my point.
The point is the people who support prostitution are by association supporting all sorts of other activities the legality of which can't be argued:
- Drug abuse/dealing: One study by the National Institute of Health reported that more than half of all prostitutes are addicted to drugs before entering the sex trade and another 30 percent become addicted afterward.
- Assault: According to the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault, four out of five prostitutes are assaulted at some point with a weapon.
- Rape: The Web site of Prostitution Research and Education, a nonprofit group dedicated to abolishing prostitution, reports that nearly all prostitutes are raped either by johns or pimps, most numerous times over the course of years.
- Organized crime: The fees paid to prostitutes are almost always kicked up to a criminal boss of some sort. Whether it's a street-level pimp or a Mafioso running a large ring, the result is the same: Lining the pockets of career criminals with more capital to continue their criminal enterprises.
- Slavery: The U.S. State Department's 2004 report on human trafficking says that of the approximately 800,000 people smuggled across international borders each year, 80 percent are female, nearly half are minors and the majority are forced into the sex trade.
- Murder: Prostitutes have been the easy target for maniacs, going back to Jack the Ripper. But the johns aren't safe either: Aileen Wuornos, the female serial killer who was put to death in 2002, was a lifelong prostitute. She killed seven men before she was caught.
The police have their work cut out for them. Eradication is probably impossible, and the effects of deterrence are debatable. But it's still work worth doing.
The old adage says the root of all evil is money. As long as some of that money is spent on sex for sale then the roots of crime will be firmly planted in the soil of prostitution.
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