One law for the lion and ox is oppression. – William Blake
In Greek mythology, Procrustes was a bandit who played a sadistic game with his victims. He would invite them to lie upon his bed; those who were shorter than the bed were stretched via a rack until they fit, and he chopped off the lower legs of taller men so they, too would fit. The expression “Procrustean bed” therefore refers to an arbitrarily-determined, ruthlessly-enforced “one size fits all” legal standard, such as that which the State of Massachusetts hopes to impose upon its citizens. In the minds of these Procrustean legislators, everyone involved in prostitution in any way is either a criminal or a victim, and anyone who cannot be defined as one will automatically be defined as the other. Regular reader Jason called my attention to this story from NPR affiliate WBUR in Boston:
The Massachusetts House is considering a bill that would change the way the state prosecutes criminals in the sex trade. The proposal would define the people who manage prostitutes, or “pimps,” as “human traffickers.” It would also impose much stiffer penalties on pimps and the johns who pay for sex. Some say the law would help put an end to trafficking by making it easier to prosecute those who benefit from prostitution. But others say it would do little to curb the sex trade…
Defining anyone involved in transactional sex as a “criminal” is nothing new, but traditionally prostitute, management and client were all considered so. Unfortunately, the injection of trafficking mythology into the mixture in order to pander to the current witch hunt requires that the state produce victims other than the amorphous “public decency” or the faceless “state”. A “human trafficker” requires a human to “traffick”, so the law amputates prostitutes’ legal “legs” (i.e. the presumption of adult self-determination), reducing us to victims unable to walk into or out of prostitution on our own. And if all whores are victims, all those who assist us in our work must therefore be victimizers. This Procrustean law defines anyone who “manages” a prostitute (of course, “manage” is not specifically defined) as a “pimp” and all pimps as “human traffickers”, thus stretching escort service owners, drivers, boyfriends and husbands into international gangsters.
As is typical for stories about politically popular but legally abhorrent “feel good” legislation, the article next attempts to distract the reader’s attention from the real issues by telling the horror story of its poster child:
Tanee Hobson, 21, is among the bill’s supporters. As a teen, Hobson felt unwanted and ugly, and she had little support from her family. At 14, she ran away from home. Soon after, she started dating and living with a man…[who later] pushed her into prostitution…One she got into “the life,” it was hard to get out, Hobson says. She needed the money, she couldn’t go home, and she was addicted to the self-esteem boosts she got every time someone paid to have sex with her. She makes it clear: people don’t sell themselves unless they’re desperate. “I don’t think anyone wakes up one day saying, ‘I want to sell my body for money,’” Hobson said. “Things have to be going on in your mind, you had to be going through some things to make you want to go to that part where you think your body isn’t worth it.”
In other words, if a 21-year-old former teen runaway who has been brainwashed by prohibitionists says “people don’t sell themselves unless they’re desperate”, that automatically trumps what many thousands of adult women, both anecdotally and in studies, have said. The Procrustean Prohibitionists have chosen Tanee Hobson as the bed by which we are all to be measured, and because she did not voluntarily choose sex work, the legs of every voluntary adult whore have to be hacked off to her level of self-determination. The rest of the paragraph is no better; performing a sexual service is described by the tired and stupid metaphor “selling one’s body”, as though someone else’s soul was going to inhabit it after the “sale”. The language is of course intended to make the reader think of slavery, and the phrase “she was addicted to the self-esteem boosts she got every time someone paid to have sex with her” is intended to call attention away from something wholly positive (increased self esteem) by evoking the old stereotype of the drug-addict streetwalker. So is everything which increases self-esteem now to be an “addiction”, or is self-esteem only a bad thing when sex is involved?
The downward spiral next brings this article into the usual propaganda; we are told that the DA, Daniel Conley,
…regrets that his staff used to arrest and charge young women for prostitution while pimps and johns went free. He is also troubled by the fact that in the United States, on average, girls get into prostitution between the ages of 12 and 14…this harsh reality is one of the reasons Conley decided prosecutors should change the way they approach prostitution. “I concluded that the best way to deal with this problem is to treat the prostitutes, especially the young ones, as victims,” Conley said. “It’s classified by our office as human trafficking, instead of just prostitution, because the phrase prostitution or the concentration on the prostitute emphasizes their criminal behavior. So we strive, in most cases, to take the young woman out of the harmful situation and focus our prosecutorial energies on the pimp, the human trafficker”…Currently, pimps could face three months to two years in prison or a few hundred dollars in fines. Under the new trafficking law, they could be sentenced to 20 years for selling adults in the sex industry and sentenced to life for exploiting children…if the bill passes, a john could face a maximum of two-and-a-half years, or 10 years for underage prostitution. The law would also allow courts to seize the money pimps make and give it to their victims. And it would create a task force to study trafficking and come up with strategies to end it.
As we know, the average age at which a prostitute enters the trade is 24, not 14. This lie is intended to inflame “think of the children!” hysteria and call attention away from the fact that Conley supports a law which could send a man to prison for two decades for marrying the “wrong kind” of woman or even just driving a hooker to a call, and just for a little Swedish spice he wants adult men sent to jail for over two years for consensual sexual relations with an adult woman. The law would also drive escort services out of business because none could dare risk having their companies and bank accounts seized in response to a complaint from a disgruntled employee; this would force some escorts who prefer to work with agencies to instead work independently even if they don’t want to. But of course, the new law would also provide plenty of money for political whores to look for a “solution” to a virtually-nonexistent problem.
The one saving grace of the article is that, though its author lacks the intellectual honesty (or perhaps editorial permission) to interview sex worker rights advocates who might present a true opposing view, it at least pays lip service to fairness by interviewing Cherie Jimenez, the director of a Boston harm reduction project which, though it considers prostitution harmful, also recognizes that it is usually a free choice:
Jimenez…said many people end up in the sex trade because they’re poor and have no other options…[she] says defining everyone who engages in prostitution as a trafficking victim is problematic, because it sensationalizes the sex trade and disempowers the people in it… “When you look at in the context of, oh, these sorry victims, or passive victims…or you have to be enslaved…it’s not like that. You know, I’ve met young women that are very edgy. It’s not that they’re passive. They have incredible strength and resilience…”
But despite this, the article ends on a chilling note from the Massachusetts Attorney General, Martha Coakley; she calls the demonization of clients and employees of prostitutes “fair” and justifies the continued criminalization of so-called “victims” allowed by the new law: “Keep in mind, the act itself is criminal, so we’re not excusing that criminal behavior,” she said…[but] prosecutors would probably only enforce penalties against people who refuse to accept this kind of help to get out of prostitution.” This so-called “help” means that in order to have even a chance at avoiding prosecution, arrested “victims” would be forced into re-education camps or the modern equivalents of Magdalene laundries. Apparently, Coakley isn’t against coercion and enslavement as long as the state does it and it doesn’t result in increased self esteem for anybody.