Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Eliot Spitzer bill?

The Case Against Legalizing Prostitution
By Representative Karl Rhoads
District 28 - Palama, Downtown, Chinatown, Sheridan
Vice Chair - Committee on Human Services & Housing

As a 12-year resident of Chinatown, I run the gauntlet of prostitutes on Kukui Street several times a week. Almost every time I walk to Pali Safeway, there are prostitutes on Kukui between Maunakea and Pali Highway. My wife encounters them early in the morning on her way to her workout at the Nuuanu YMCA. Kids walking to Central Intermediate see them on a daily basis. Female friends tell me that would-be johns assume that any woman walking on Kukui Street is a prostitute and that they have been propositioned while simply walking to Pali Longs.

It is often said that legalization is the best policy because no matter what we do we will never get rid of prostitution but that argument does not hold. Laws against assault and battery have been in existence for thousands of years, but there are still assaults and battery every day. There have been laws against tax cheats for as long as there have been taxes, but people still cheat on their taxes.

There is little argument that we should protect our keiki and ourselves from the violence and drug dealing that often accompanies prostitution, but that is where the unanimity ends. Some countries, like the Netherlands, have legalized prostitution. Prostitution is considered a job like any other. Prostitutes are employees, pay the equivalent of Social Security tax and enjoy the worker protections that everyone else has. Zones are created where outdoor prostitution is allowed and brothels can have full legal business standing. A sex purchaser can window shop like you can in the United States for a new pair of jeans.

The real question is whether prostitution is simply two consenting adults having sex or whether one of the parties is at such a disadvantage economically or socially that purchasing sex amounts to a crime. The overwhelming majority of the time, the latter is the case. Women (and men) who resort to prostitution are virtually always in desperate need of money. Whether they come from a country lacking in economic opportunity (like the majority of prostitutes in the Netherlands do) or whether they are trying to pay for a drug addiction, most prostitutes do it for the money not because when they were little girls or boys they thought to themselves, "When I grow up I want to be a prostitute."

One country, Sweden, has accepted this underlying reality. In Sweden, selling sex is legal, purchasing it is not. While this approach has not eliminated prostitution, it has cut down on street prostitution, but more importantly, it recognizes the moral reservations Swedish society has about those who blatantly take advantage of those less fortunate than themselves.

Based on the Swedish approach I have introduced legislation, HB 3002 (Senator Fukunaga introduced the companion in the Senate, SB 2264), which makes a third conviction for purchasing sex a class C felony. The current penalty (petty misdemeanor) would continue to apply to sellers of sex and for first and second purchasing offenses. A class C felony has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a petty misdemeanor a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail.

This legislation, while not a panacea, will reduce prostitution. It will also make those who prey on the most vulnerable of society think twice about what they are doing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Swedish model has proved successful so why not try it in Hawaii. I like your concern for the exploited victims. The high profile escapades seen lately in the news may have been less likely with laws like this.