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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Is abuse a reason to crack down on prostitution?

There is a news article that cited several men who mistreated women (in this case it doesn't matter if they are professional or civilian). It used this as a reason to crack down on prostitution.

I think it's common to think of men as abusive jerks. It's because there are some men who are, and they tend to stick out. In the case of providers, the media seems to like the image of a downtrodden abused woman, but it's a common (and historical) theme in literature for ordinary relationships also.

Arguably, raising the social consicence on spousal abuse has created laws to protect women, and that has been helpful. But it wasn't a reason to ban or scrutinize marriage! Yes, this form of abuse happens among providers, but is it because of:

  1. the vocation,
  2. the fact that it is socially unacceptable and therefore hidden and dangerous, or
  3. something else?

#2 was the reason that Prohibition made alcohol a more dangerous drug. It is one of the reasons pro legalization advocates give for legalizing drugs -- to regulate it and take the most dangerous drugs off the streets (this is not a position I take, by the way, although I find it better applied to prostitution and other coercive crimes.)

Let's think of #3 another way:

If I had a girlfriend who mistreated me, would I be correct in calling women jerks? It happens to a lot of friends of mine. They feel trampled by a woman and then mopes around with their buddies calling all women "bitches". Natural.

But what if I had a series of twenty girlfriends, all of whom mistreated me. Then are women jerks? Or could it be that I'm selecting women poorly, or there is something at issue with ME?

In high school my sister seemed to attract abusive boyfriends. I couldn't figure it out. She was pretty, popular, and smart. What was with all the losers? She broke out of the habit, but she admits it was a habit: she was attracted to and attracted these kinds of men. She didn't put all the blame on them: she had a choice, and she took responsibility to stop seeing them. But what if what she was doing was illegal and socially unacceptable? Then perhaps she could not ask for help, or avoid the situation as easily.

Risk Management

In the sense that providers exchange money for companionship, it is a profession with wide definition. Statistically you have many different risk profiles.

A streetwalker is exposed to clients whose only qualifying criterion are that they are amulatory or have a car. Because this is very inclusive, and the street may be a risky environment, this provider has a higher than average chance of a bad experience.

I presume a provider at an agency that advertises in the Yellow Pages may meet many customers from out of town. The qualification is merely that they can read and use a phone. I would guess that many agencies qualify customers based on the hotel. It is quite possible that the worst-case experience is thereby not as bad due to hotel security and the guest identity registration at the hotel.

Other agencies and independents have a wide range of screening procedures. Top agencies would not advertise and would rely on word of mouth referrals. The Internet has enabled ad hoc communities to exchange such referrals, allowing independents to enjoy the benefits of exclusive agency referral from the comfort of their own workstations.

Put another way, when we ask "does it attract abuse?" you may be asking a question that we could apply to the entire human population. There are people in the population who enjoy harming others or dominating them. Organized religion has killed more people than any other ethic. Yet I hope such individuals remain statistical outlyers and never become the norm. Does that make humanity "abusive"? One can argue it does, since it is a responsibility of society to maintain community standards. Yet that's a slippery slope that leads to community-maintained ethics, which may lead to laws banning paid companionship entirely. Or restricting individual freedom. Or discouraging individual responsibility and liability for actions.

Oh, but wait, maybe that already happened!

Now is this a reason to crack down on prostitution? I don't think so. I do think it is important to apply common laws to reduce abuse. And to educate people so they don't continue to attract abusers. Creating a socially-hidden bunker mentality for non-coercive prostitution is not the way to do that.