reitzer_Prostitution - Crime Law Social Change 32 83-102 1999 2000 KluwerAcademic Publishers Printed in the Netherlands Prostitution control in America

reitzer_Prostitution - Crime Law Social Change 32 83-102...

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Crime, Law & Social Change 32: 83-102, 1999. © 2000 KluwerAcademic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. Prostitution control in America: Rethinking public policy* RONALD WEITZER Department of Sociology, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052, USA (e-nail: [email protected]) Problems with Current Policy Prostitution control in America involves the commitment of substantial criminal justice resources - with little impact on the sex trade or on collateral problems such as victimization of prostitutes and effects on host communities. Criminal justice system costs There are approximately 90,000 annual arrests in the United States for violations of prostitution laws (Bureau of Justice Statistics, annual), in addition to an unknown number of arrests of prostitutes under disorderly conduct or loitering statutes, The fiscal costs are substantial, A study of the country's sixteen largest cities found that they spent a total of $120 million in 1985 enforcing prostitution laws (Pearl, 1987). Data are unavailable on the costs of prostitution control nationwide, but extrapolating from the above figure on just a few cities, there is no question that the total expenditure is considerable. What are the benefits of these expenditures? A San Francisco Crime Committee (1971: 20) concluded in 1971 that spending on prostitution control "buys essentially nothing of a positive nature," and Atlanta's Task Force on Prostitution (1986) concluded that this spending was a "waste" that burdened the courts and lowered police morale, Moreover, law enforcement has little effect on the amount of prostitution, offers little protection to prostitutes at risk, and gives little relief to communities besieged by street prostitution. At best, the problem is contained within a particular area where prostitutes are occasionally subjected to the revolving door of arrest, fines, brief jail time, and release or displaced into another locale, begetting the same revolving door dynamic. Containment is the norm throughout the United States; displacement requires sustained police intervention, which is rare. Instead, law enforcement typically consists of periodic arrests and occasional, sweeping crackdowns on prostitutes. Containment may be acceptable to residents of
neighborhoods free of street prostitution, but is aggravating to many residents of prostitution zones. Victimization Street prostitutes are at considerable risk of violence from customers, exploitation from pimps, and drug and health problems. A survey of 200 street prostitutes in San Francisco found that two-thirds had been assaulted by customers and pimps and 70 percent had been raped by customers (Silbert and Pines, 1982). Other studies report similar rates of victimization among street prostitutes (Barnard, 1993; Davis, 2000; Farley and Barkan, 1998; James and Meyerling, 1977). However, all of these studies relied on convenience samples (women who contacted service agencies or were interviewed in jail or on the streets), not random samples, which likely skews the results toward that part of the population experiencing the most victimization. This means that the high

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