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Archive for July 11th, 2011

A girl of the painted cohorts of the city went along the street. She threw changing glances at men who passed her, giving smiling invitations to men of rural or untaught pattern and usually seeming sedately unconscious of the men with a metropolitan seal upon their faces…She hurried forward through the crowd as if intent upon reaching a distant home, bending forward in her handsome cloak, daintily lifting her skirts and picking for her well-shod feet the dryer spots upon the pavements.  –  Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (Chapter XVII)

To the average American, the word “prostitute” is practically synonymous with “streetwalker”, despite the fact that only about 15% of all full-time prostitutes work primarily on the street (and that number seems to be shrinking due to the internet).  The National Task Force on Prostitution estimates 5-20%, the New Zealand study found 11%, a recent Canadian study said 10-20%, and other studies find comparable numbers.  So if they represent a minority of whores, why do so many people equate the two, even to the point that most popular excuses for criminalization apply mostly or completely not just to streetwalkers, but to the least fortunate segment of streetwalkers?

I examined the issue in my very first regular post, one year ago today, so there’s very little point in rehashing it; in a nutshell, I theorized that people think all or at least most prostitutes are streetwalkers because while the other 85% of us try to blend into the woodwork, streetwalkers by necessity try to attract attention because it’s their primary means of advertising.  In a later column I pointed out that the streetwalker is a mythic figure much like the cowboy; she presents a striking visual image, so even if the whore=streetwalker equation was not as prevalent before the 20th century, the coming of movies and television certainly made it so.  And of course the majority of hookers encountered by cops are streetwalkers; they’re the “low-hanging fruit” of our profession and therefore get busted far more often because they can be arrested at will without having to arrange elaborate “stings”.  For the same reason most government-sponsored “prostitution” studies are actually streetwalker studies because street girls are disproportionately represented in jails by a considerable margin and can usually be induced to provide whatever answers, however ridiculous, are desired by the “researchers”.

This narrow view of our profession is of course the fuel which keeps the fires of criminalization burning; cops make claims about “associated crime,” drug addiction, vagrancy and the like, and neofeminists paint pathetic pictures of women in unhappy, violent circumstances, and the public believes them because prior to the advent of the internet only those rare whores who could both write and win themselves book deals ever got a chance to speak in such a way that those who didn’t already know the truth could hear them.  Of course, the internet also gives cops, neofeminists and moralists the same ability to spread their lies as we have to spread the truth, so most people in the United States still don’t comprehend that it’s criminalization itself that creates the shadows in which abuse, degradation and crime thrive; criminalization begets crime, and the whore-hating busybodies are now as ever trying their hardest to disguise that fact and to distract people from reality with appeals to emotion and bigotry and cries of “think of the children!”

There are many well-informed people who recognize that most whores work indoors, but a large percentage of those still oppose decriminalization because they dislike streetwalkers; the Canadian and Dutch governments fall into that category (streetwalking is illegal in the Netherlands, and though it’s legal in Canada the girls are banned from actually talking to any potential clients).  San Francisco’s Proposition K of 2008 (a measure that would have effectively decriminalized prostitution in the city) failed by only 8%, and some advocates feel that it would have passed if it were limited to indoor prostitution.  A number of public figures (such as “Video Vigilante” Brian Bates) have gone on record as saying they’re against streetwalking but have no problem with indoor prostitution, and even many escorts feel that streetwalking should remain criminal even if indoor prostitution were decriminalized (a fact which makes some advocates extremely defensive about the subject).

Streetwalking is a bone of contention among those debating prostitution law and/or its removal, but both sides tend to ignore reality on the issue.  Those in favor of its criminalization ignore the fact that it’s already criminal now, yet it goes on anyway and the women are exposed to more danger because of its illegality.  And those in favor of decriminalization ignore the fact that even if prostitution and all its attendant activities were legal, police could still harass and arrest streetwalkers for loitering, vagrancy, disturbing the peace and many other “public nuisance” type charges.  In short, both sides (as is so typical in the United States) stubbornly cling to extreme positions which don’t accomplish what they actually want to accomplish:  the government wants prostitution out of public sight (and therefore out of mind), and sex worker rights advocates want our trade generally decriminalized, and under the present arrangement nobody is happy.  As I said in my column of last July 11th, “we may eventually have to accept some intermediate form of legal tolerance…and work from there; gay rights were not all granted in one court decision, and neither will prostitutes’ rights be.  Even the Founding Fathers were forced to remove anti-slavery language from the Declaration of Independence in order to secure the approval of the southern colonies, without whose cooperation independence was unattainable.”  As long as there are streets there will always be streetwalkers, and some people will be upset by their presence; if both sides work toward a compromise we as a society may eventually find some balance which will answer the majority of the concerns of both sides without trampling on anybody’s rights.

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