Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Publish the names of men who pay for sex

I'm often surprised by some of the news stories that gain national traction, although maybe I shouldn't be. Any local scandal involving sex and money probably stands an even money chance of grabbing headlines from coast to coast.

So maybe it's not the stories, but the angles I find perplexing. Today, all over the morning shows and the blogosphere, legal experts of varying pedigree are engaged in handwringing over whether or not a court in the lovely little town of Kennebunk, Maine did the right thing by allowing the police department to publish a list of men arrested for soliciting sex from a prostitute who happened to moonlight as a Zumba instructor.

Of course the police should publish the johns' names. 

Why should an arrest for solicitation of sex be treated any differently from any other arrest? If law enforcement has probable cause to arrest and charge the suspect, why not publicize that information?

Look at any police beat column in any local paper. You'll find names, ages and addresses of citizens arrested and charged with various offenses, ranging from driving while intoxicated to simple assault to breaking and entering to possession of marijuana. Sometimes you'll even see their occupations.

Why not treat johns the same way?

Many of the talking heads on television, along with many in the defense bar, say that publishing the names of johns causes damage to their reputations and families. There's an unappetizing, boys-will-be-boys flavor to such arguments.

Details remain incomplete in the Kennebunk case, but some of the johns are rumored to be members of law enforcement, which if true, could explain local zeal for a cover up.

Perhaps these johns should have considered the potential fallout before committing their crimes.

Protecting those who pay for sex perpetuates the myth that most prostitutes are entrepreneurs— seductresses who tempt God fearing, unsuspecting family men off the straight and narrow. 

Sounds like Taliban reasoning to me. 

The thought of treating men who pay for sex like victims should shock our collective conscience. 

Why? A small percentage of prostitutes may indeed by entrepreneurs. But the vast majority are the real victims. There's a pervasive myth about women entering prostitution to afford drugs, but according to reputable studies, including those undertaken by the My Life, My Choice project here in Boston and GEMS in New York City, the average age a girl enters prostitution in New England is twelve.


Most of the child and teenage prostitutes are introduced to drugs by their pimps, the same men who sell them in online ads, beat them, isolate them, and traffic them across state lines to wherever great demand for paid sex exists (major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the recent RNC convention in Tampa, etc.). 

And guess what career options are open to a girl who spends her teens selling her body instead of attending school? Let alone one who's repeatedly jailed while the men who participate in her crime walk with a slap on the wrist and a sealed record. Aside: I believe anyone convicted of paying for sex with a minor should be required to register as a sex offender. The alleged prostitute in this case, Alexis Wright, is an adult, so the buying-sex-with-a-minor issue is not at play here.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for throwing the book at pimps, the only entrepreneurs in the majority of prostitution transactions.

But I'd love to see us rethink the entire jurisprudence of prostitution, by decriminalizing the actions of the prostitutes and prosecuting the johns far more zealously. As countries like Sweden that have gone this route have discovered, fines and the threat of public disgrace can go a long way to thwarting demand.

To that end, here is the Kennebunk Police Department's list of men charged with buying sex from a prostitute in the so-called Zumba scandal: Gary Bahlkow, Jens Bergen, Norman Crepeau, Joseph Cuetara, Kenneth Fairbanks, Donald Hill, Monie Hobbs, David Kline, Robert Labonte, Dale Madore, Paul Main, Harry McMann, Kevin Pagliccia, Claude Palmer, Philip Parker, Colin Powers, Clinton Ray, James Soule, John Verreault, James White, and Peter Wormell. 

More names will likely follow. 

Each accused john will have his day in court, just like any other citizen who finds him or herself charged with a crime. I wager we'll see many of them plead no contest. In any case, I hope the papers continue to cover the proceedings against these men, and I hope other jurisdictions will follow suit. Pay for sex, get your name in the paper.

Who knows? Perhaps a weekly column listing arrested johns would even save jobs by boosting straggling newspaper sales.

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