A crime without a victim


Sex workers are often afraid to report rape and assault because if the police are called, they will be arrested alongside their assailant.

When one imagines the seedy underbelly of a city, they picture men in hoodies offering to sell them drugs, people brandishing unlicensed firearms and, of course, a woman in too much makeup offering them a good time.

Prostitution in particular feeds into fears of the depths of our society.

Images are conjured up of depraved women living in squalor, forced about by violent pimps and riddled with disease.

But what if I told you that these very stereotypes are a result of sex work being illegal, not just part of the trade?

In King County, much ado was made about supposed reports of “human sex-trafficking,” the act of forced prostitution.

Reason magazine reports that the King County sheriff’s office shut down illegal brothels full of South Korean women taken from their home countries against their will.

The UK’s Daily Mail reported that the women were being pimped out all across the United States in order to repay their family’s debts incurred by coming to the U.S.

“It was shocking, scandalous, horrifying,” wrote Reason associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown. “Yet almost none of it was true.”

What appeared to be a massive scandal of human trafficking turned out to be something much less serious.

These women from South Korea, like so many of our forefathers, immigrated to the United States knowing little to no English.

“If I spoke little to no English I would need assistance in finding a work place, scheduling clients, etc.,” wrote Seattle resident Christina Slater, herself an “erotic services provider”, in a blog post in response to the King County bust.

The criminal activities of the two pimps were actually just scheduling, accounting and providing these women with places to work.

Does that make them pimps?

“Yes, in the sense that the definition of a pimp is anyone who helps manage business for a sex worker or makes money off of prostitution,” Nolan Brown wrote. “Migrant sex workers, especially Asian migrant workers, are often inaccurately labeled as trafficking victims.”

King County succeeded in busting what are essentially a group of small businesspeople, immigrants who are trying their best to achieve the American dream.

Just this summer, Pullman police arrested a prostitute, an individual buying the prostitute’s services and a promoter of prostitution.

Pullman Police Cmdr. Chris Tennant explained the local connection.

“Prostitutes that frequent this area are typically coming from Spokane,” Tennant said. “Added attention in Spokane will make them want to look for more markets.”

Tennant explained that most prostitutes coming through this area are addicts, looking to fund hard drug addictions.

Prostitutes typically advertise themselves on the website Backpage, which allows users to post free classified ads, and Pullman detectives monitor those sites, Tennant said.

The police will typically call someone up if they see them advertising in our area and explain to them that their activities are now being monitored.

In a study of San Francisco prostitutes, the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that 82 percent had been assaulted and 62 percent were raped.

Carol Leigh, a San Francisco-based sex worker and activist, said in an interview with HBO that sex workers are afraid to report rape and assault because if the police are called, they will have to turn themselves in — both the rapist and the victim will be hauled off to jail together.

Leigh added that she herself was raped and didn’t call the police.

Tennant explained that since prostitution is a misdemeanor and rape is a felony, police would probably be more concerned about the rape than the prostitution.

But that simply doesn’t change that the illegality makes the industry much more dangerous than it needs to be.

The Washington Post reported that experts contend that decriminalization of prostitution could seriously reduce the amount of HIV infections.

So if this is what prostitution looks like when it’s illegal, what does it look like when it’s legal?

Business Insider took a look within a legal brothel in Nevada, Sheri’s Ranch, about an hour outside of Las Vegas.

They found a sports-bar-like atmosphere, where the sex workers are actually licensed independent contractors.

Each contractor is free to set her own price.

Business Insider even interviewed one sex worker at this particular house who was happily married with a child.

Physicians come in weekly to give each girl a health check and condom use is mandatory.

The “pimp” of Sheri’s Ranch is a former police detective and used car salesman.

When illegal, prostitution is dangerous, not only in terms of unregulated diseases and danger of sexual assault, but also dangerous in that you could be arrested and be sent to jail by the police.

But when it’s legal, the world’s oldest profession turns out to be just another field of work, where women clock-in in the morning, take a lunch hour halfway through the day, and then go home to their families when their workday is over.

Many anti-legalization activists act as though sex work was made illegal under George Washington, but prostitution was not banned in the United States until 1915.

Supporting the legalization of prostitution doesn’t mean you have to take part in it, nor condone it.

Prostitution is a crime without a victim. And if we put people in jail for crimes that are committed against nobody, for no reason other than we believe we know better than them, there’s no end to the tyranny that implies.

Harrison Conner is a junior economics major from Stanwood. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.