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Archive for May 18th, 2012

To feed men and not to love them is to treat them as if they were barnyard cattle.  To love them and not respect them is to treat them as if they were household pets.  –  Mencius

Neither of the items I’ll share with you today are directly about the criminalization of sex work, but both of them bear on the currently-leading rhetoric used to justify its violent suppression, namely the “prostitution is harmful to women so the state has the right to overrule adult decisions at gunpoint” model.  Now, I don’t accept this monstrous lie for one second; prostitution is certainly bad for some women, but the fact that Olivia gets horrible cramps if she eats ice cream doesn’t justify banning it and smashing down people’s doors to search their freezers and haul them off to jail if so much as an empty carton is discovered in the garbage.  But I’m going to play the role of devil’s advocate here; what if it really were terribly bad for most people, like some hard drugs?  Would the state then have the right to raid brothels and force women into “rehabilitation centers”, a la Somaly Mam?  As Amy Alkon reports, Dr. Alex Stevens says no:

All drug use is not abuse.  Yet, people caught using drugs are often given no choice but to go into “treatment.”  This is like catching me drinking a glass of wine and forcing me to go to rehab for it…[an essay by] Alex Stevens, Ph.D., “The Ethics and Effectiveness of Coerced Treatment of People Who Use Drugs,” [states]:

There are two types of coerced treatment.  The first occurs when people who use drugs are ordered into treatment with no opportunity to provide informed consent to such treatment.  This will be called compulsory treatment.  The second type occurs when drug users are given a choice of going to treatment or facing a penal sanction that is justified on the basis of crimes for which they have been (or may be) convicted.  This will be called quasi-compulsory treatment (QCT).

The first of the three types of person who uses drugs includes those who use drugs but who have not committed other crimes, and do not meet diagnostic criteria for drug dependence (‘non-problematic drug users’).  This group includes the majority of people who use illicit drugs.  Most of them will discontinue drug use without any need for treatment.  Only a small minority will go on to need treatment to help them give up drugs, or to reduce the harm that their drug use causes.

The conclusion:

This article has argued that it is very unlikely that compulsory treatment can be considered ethical for any category of person who uses drugs, outside of the ‘exceptional, crisis’ situations allowed for under the UN Office on Drugs and Crime/World Health Organization review.  It has been argued that quasi-compulsory treatment may be considered ethical (under some specific conditions) for drug dependent offenders who have committed criminal offences for whom the usual penal sanction would be more restrictive of liberty than the forms of treatment that they are offered as a constrained, quasi-compulsory choice.  It has briefly reviewed research that suggests that QCT may be as effective as treatment that is entered into voluntarily.  This may help individuals to reduce their drug use and offending and to improve their health, but it is unlikely to have large effects on population levels of drug use and crime.

Alkon goes on to discuss the moral and practical absurdity of destroying the lives of casual marijuana users, and though that’s worth reading it diverges from the main point I want to make:  Stevens argues that forced “rehabilitation” of drug users, even those who are chemically dependent on the nastier sorts of drugs, is both unethical and useless unless A) the user is in a life-or-death crisis-type situation, or B) the user has committed actual criminal offenses (such as theft or assault) and is allowed to enter rehab as an alternative to prison.  Even if (devil’s advocate) prostitution were as bad as a cocaine habit, I submit that the same standards of morality and efficacy apply, as demonstrated by the fact that most women “rescued” by force from even seedy, exploitative brothels try to escape custody and return to their work as quickly as possible.

Because the exploitation of people with limited options is enabled by criminal laws and government restrictions, decriminalization is the true solution to most problems found in criminalized or suppressed sex industries.  But just as with drugs, the US government is too invested in its fascist police state to even discuss decriminalization despite evidence that it works for drugs as it does for sex.  And since it can’t back up its position on either one with facts, it simply lies instead:

…the Center for American Progress…[gave] an open-armed welcome to Gil Kerlikowske, the sitting Drug Czar, to tout the “new” drug control policy of the Obama Administration…as pointed out by respected drug law reform champion Ethan Nadelmann, the “new” White House strategy [which] the talk was meant to promote is a change in rhetoric but not much else…Kerlikowske…was clear that any talk of legalization would not be entertained.  He wasted no time straw-manning the arguments of drug reformers, saying that advocates believe legalization is a “silver bullet” that would make the nation’s drug problems disappear–which no one [seriously] says or believes…Furthermore, the Czar added, legalization…is “not humane, compassionate, or realistic”…The way he tells it, you’d think the government was fighting a large, cold-blooded and ruthless force as strong as the drug cartels–who, of course, have all the incentive to maintain drug prohibition–instead of a few dedicated people whose strongest weapons are truth and the compassion he claims we lack.

[Kerlikowske claimed that legalization arguments] “are not grounded in science”…but the government refuses to allow the study [of marijuana]…[he stated that] “…health, workplace, and criminal justice cost of drug abuse to American society totaled over $193 billion [last year]…Contributing to the immense cost are the millions of drug offenders under supervision in the criminal justice system”…keeping human beings in cages is expensive.  Law enforcement is expensive.  Lost wages from job termination resulting from drug charges is expensive.  Supporting people who can’t get jobs after non-violent drug convictions is expensive.  All of these are direct results of drug prohibition…”look how much money we’re spending on this” is not a cohesive argument when your detractors say you should be spending the time, effort, and money elsewhere.

[Kerlikowske also touted drug diversion programs, but their] effectiveness ranges from “okay” to “terrible.”  Depending on the state and jurisdiction, drug courts may require plea agreements, whose violation triggers automatic and often severe jail time, and usually it is not appealable.  Many violations are the result of failed drug tests…It is hard to imagine designing a program that would be more effective at setting addicts up for failure.  The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers did a two-year nationwide study interviewing people from all aspects of drug courts to measure their effectiveness and adverse consequences.  They found that while many people have benefited from drug courts…the programs have been susceptible to other problems, such as “cherry picking” defendants to boost success numbers…Putting people who don’t really need treatment into treatment inflates success statistics while people with severe problems are left out because they may fail on their first try, harming success rates and increasing the risk of criminal penalty for failing…That the man who oversees the national operation to keep people in cages is appealing to pity in order to defend inadequate solutions to a broken system would be comical if not so damned tragic…

The author, Jonathan Blanks, has a great deal else to say about this supposed “policy reform”, but I think you get the picture.  Forcing people into cages for making choices of which the state disapproves is the same regardless of whether those cages are labeled “rehabilitation” or “prison”.  The problem is prohibition, not the behaviors prohibitionists oppose, and until “authorities” admit that we’re going to keep seeing these same brutal, evil, useless and wasteful variations on the same old totalitarian theme.

One Year Ago Today

May Miscellanea (Part Two)” examines two examples of pearl-clutching prudery and reports on cops cavorting with drag queens and attacking migrants with laser beams.

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