Arrest Johns, Not Girls

The summer issue of Ms. magazine (yes, I’m way behind on my magazine reading) was a great read. My favorite was probably the article about Hollaback, a website where you can post articles about and pictures of street harassers. I still remember how much I got harassed on the street in DC 30 years ago!

The articles that moved me the most, though, were “Ping-Pong Hell,” about Thailand’s sex industry, and “Jailing Girls for Men’s Crimes,” about how girls caught in the act of prostitution may be arrested and jailed even if they’re under the age of consent for sex. That’s just wrong.

Here’s a frightening quote from the article on Thailand’s sex industry:

Tiew prepared for her grand finale. Offstage, she implanted a wire tightly coiled with steel razor blades into her vaginal cavity. Tiew planned to extricate the wire as she gyrated around a pole in front of her inebriated audience.

But suddenly, the Royal Thai Police flooded the stage with light. … Completely naked, Tiew raced down three flights of stairs into Bangkok’s notorious Patpong District. The blades sliced her open like a gutted fish.

Lovely, isn’t it? I’ve wanted to visit Thailand for years. Travelers talk about how cheap it is to live there. But a downside of the affordability of the country for foreigners is a lower standard of living for citizens. In the last few years, many factories have closed, leaving women out of work. In addition, they can make much better wages in the sex industry.

I seriously doubt any of the people in the audience got arrested. It’s much easier to arrest the dancers and prostitutes than the people who create demand for them.

And that fits in with the second article, about a movement in the United States to stop arresting girls for sex work. Instead, the idea is to take them to a safe harbor. The idea is that the girls (and boys, of course) who are working as prostitutes are victims of sex trafficking.

In 2000, the federal government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which included the sale of youth under 18 for sex in its definition of trafficking. It worked on the federal level but didn’t make much of an impression at the state or local levels. So this year, New York State passed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act. Other states are also decriminalizing prostitution of girls.

How Is This Restoration?

If we can rescue children from prostitution and give grown women in the sex industry better options, then we’ll have restored people by giving them a chance to lead safer, healthier lives. I think a good first step, frankly, would be to legalize prostitution so that adult prostitution could be regulated. But even better would be to create living-wage jobs for women so that they have a choice.

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Sources: “Ping-Pong Hell: Thailand’s Sex-Show Industry Is All About Pain,” Deena Guzder, Ms., Summer 2010; “Jailing Girls for Men’s Crimes,” Carrie Baker, Ms., Summer 2010