Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. – Rita Mae Brown
As one would expect when considering a parent and child, the United Kingdom and United States are quite alike in many ways. But though one would generally expect a child to be more open to new ideas than its parent, recent events seem to indicate that, at least on the subject of prostitution, the opposite is true with these two countries. Aside from the fact that prostitution is technically legal in the UK but completely criminal in the US, the general treatment of whores in both countries is very similar: the police establishment tends to persecute us while the governments spread propaganda rationalizing the persecution. But while at least some British officials are beginning to admit that criminalization doesn’t work and that perhaps a rethinking of conventional policies is in order, American officials simply continue to apply the same heavy-handed, punitive, police-state tactics and merely alter their public rhetoric instead of making any real and substantive changes.
In the United States, it’s unthinkable that a high police official would ever advocate getting rid of bad laws and promoting more humane treatment of sex workers, but in Britain a police chief who openly supports exactly that was not only tolerated, but promoted. Simon Byrne (whom we’ve briefly mentioned before) was until recently deputy chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police, but has been appointed assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard. And as reported in the November 2nd Telegraph, he has repeated his previous call for prostitution law reform:
Simon Byrne, who will shortly start work as Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, said the decriminalisation and regulation of brothels in Australia and New Zealand had enabled many of those involved in sex work to access health services while maintaining more personal security. Mr Byrne admitted there was ”no perfect solution”, but said he would welcome a debate about alternative approaches to policing prostitution and sexual exploitation. Writing on the Police Chiefs’ blog, Mr Byrne said the move could help bridge the gap between ”tackling neighbourhood nuisance and the exploitation of sex workers…I would very much welcome a debate about alternative policy approaches that could be taken in this area, which would better equip the service to protect its communities and its individuals,” he said. Academic research backed the merits of an alternative approach, Mr Bryne said…
Byrne is still a cop, and therefore tends to imagine that organized crime and “exploitation” are far more prevalent than they actually are. But he seems genuinely concerned with the rights, safety and quality of life of individual prostitutes, and his consultation of real academic research rather than the bogus propaganda studies so popular on this side of the Atlantic make him sound almost like an alien being in comparison with the “tough on crime” rhetoric constantly vomited out by American police officials. Contrast, for example, his proposed strategy with that employed in our nation’s capital:
Under current D.C. law, prostitution is illegal. Simple enough, right? Well, no. Prostitution still happens, so, in 2006, the D.C. Council gave the Metropolitan Police Department the power to designate “prostitution-free zones,” areas in which any two people gathering for allegedly engaging in prostitution-related activities can be asked to disperse and, if they don’t, face arrest. The zones can be designated for up to 240 hours, or 10 days…Now the one member of the Council is seeking to extend that policy…to add a new category of prostitution free zone: permanent…the change has come in response to what [the member] called an “epidemic” of prostitution in her ward…
…During the debate that established the District’s current ten-day prostitution zones, legislators had to balance tools to fight criminal activity and infringements upon civil liberties. A report from the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary noted: “The Court has looked disfavorably [sic] on long periods where civil liberties are limited…” Civil libertarians have pointed out that the mere act of carrying multiple condoms in a designated area would be enough for police to ask an individual to disperse. In 1987, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against a D.C. law allowing arrests of prostitutes who merely beckoned possible clients, saying that simply acting or looking like a prostitute would not be enough to sustain a conviction.
Advocates for sex workers additionally argue that the zones merely push prostitution to other areas and marginalize those involved in it…[but the councilwoman claims that] the permanent zones [are] more akin to a restraining order, allowing police to more easily disperse individuals suspected of engaging in prostitution and arresting them if they return…it could help crack down on the prostitution that’s plagued parts of her ward.
What a difference! Instead of Byrne’s humane proposals and reliance on data, American “authorities” prefer to treat prostitution as a “plague” or “epidemic”, to indulge their inner Gestapo with repeated “crackdowns” and to respond to civil rights concerns by increasing the powers of police to violate citizens’ civil rights. While Britain seems poised to move forward to a more enlightened view on this issue, America seems bound and determined to continue retreating into barbaric authoritarianism.
One Year Ago Today
“Plaçage” was the last officially-recognized system of concubinage in the West, and reached its most prevalent and structured form in New Orleans of the late 18th century; the institution was so widespread that it gave rise to an entire ethnic group which has only begun to vanish in the last few decades.