Summary: Critique of HR972

Carol Leigh
Prostitutes Education Network

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Law enforcement strategies are not effective means of solving social and economic social problems

Currently there is disparity and debate amongst non-profits who offer services to marginalized populations. Some non-profits support an approach that emphasizes law enforcement and others emphasize harm-reduction services. Social services and rehabilitation in the context HR 972 emphasize programs that are dependent on a criminal justice approach to prostitution, rather than a harm reduction approach. As the current administration emphasizes 'strong-arm' solutions, progressives look towards compassionate approaches rather than punishing people for survival strategies. Under the guise of a social service agenda, new provisions in HR 972 authorize funds for surveillance, and support for arrests.

Focus on clients as social service strategy masks growth of correctional industry which intensifies marginalization of prostitutes
Although proponents tout targeting of clients as a new strategy in the effort to abolish prostitution, the ideological focus on those who purchase sexual services is nothing new. Historically male lust has been demonized. Today's anti-trafficking rhetoric mirrors late 19th and early 20th century discourse about the innocent females.

The discourse is nothing new and the strategy of targeting clients has no impact on the numbers of people involved in prostitution. As with most prohibitionist strategies, it merely shifts the activity to a new locale. Prostitutes are not 'saved.' Rather they suffer as their criminalization continues.

Client arrests almost exclusively target street venues. It's clear that enforcement of prostitution laws against clients (or prostitutes) is cost prohibitive, and will not make a dent in the numbers of people participating of prostitution. In fact, in cities where Johns schools have had any effect on incidences of prostitution, off street prostitution has sharply escalated while he marginalization and abuse of sex workers increases.

This posture as a new non-sexist model for advocacy for victims of prostitution masks the growth of an industry which does some good, and a great deal of long term harm. These service groups are the subject of criticism within progressive communities, and among the wide majority of the client population. They are reputed to assist very few of those who are marginalized and abused within prostitution while promoting judgmental attitudes, law enforcement/property owner priorities and a conservative political agenda.

Human Rights Organizations Recently Protested Bush Administration's Anti-Prostitution Policy

Those committed to truly progressive, rights based approaches to social issues should question and examine the alliances forged around prostitution prohibition. 200 human rights organizations organized to protest one of the most insidious policies of the Bush Administration, which was also based on abolitionist principles. The administration would deny social service funds for HIV services to organizations which did not go along with a strict anti-prostitution policy. Human rights groups expressed alarm at this agenda. Progressives should monitor subsequent policies promoted by this administration and examine these strategies based on recommendations of human rights activists. As this responses to this issue tend to be mired in unwitting presumptions and sexual fears, progressives should strive to develop an analysis which recognizes the dangers of policies which are emanating from repressive and conservatives quarters.

HR 972 Conflates Voluntary Prostitution with Slavery

New provisions against voluntary commercial sex acts conflate concerns about slavery and abuse of workers with a moral agenda against prostitution. This ideology attempts to equate voluntary participation in the sex industry with rape. Most people understand the difference, but ordinary sexual negativity in our culture leads to confusion. Educated, frank discussions about sexual practices are rare and the discourse is extremely unsophisticated. Sensationalist stories and jargon about innocent women's vulnerability at the hands of nasty men are a mainstay of prohibitionist campaigns from alcohol temperance to antiporn campaigns.

HR 972 Obscures the Relationship Between Poverty and Abuses in Prostitution

In the US we have witnessed the disappearance of discourses that emphasize anti-poverty approaches to social justice issues. It's clear that prostitution is most dangerous and difficult in contexts of poverty. Rather than acknowledge or address the need for housing, subsidies and financial equity for those who wish to find alternatives to prostitution, HR 972 emphasizes law enforcement solutions to problems of poverty.

Ignoring Labor Abuses in Favor of Enforcing a Moral Agenda

The US ignores the brunt of exploitation that occurs in the context of migration in favor of fulfilling an anti-prostitution agenda: People are trafficked into legal and illegal commercial sexual activities, as well as into other illegal and legal activities, such as begging, domestic work, agricultural work, factory work, etc. Consequently, prevention programs addressing the trafficking of people into all types of illegal and legal sectors should be a priority of the government's anti-trafficking initiatives."

Prostitution Regulation-Not the Domain of The Federal Government

Regulation of prostitution is not the business of the federal government. Although the text of the bill ostensibly seeks to address the injustice of disparate arrests based on gender, there are federal laws addressing gender discrimination. The reality is that the type of surveillance, support of moralistic sexual shaming programs such as billboards with pictures of arrested (not convicted, but arrested!) Johns, is likely harmful to society.

Developing an Industry Around Sexual Surveillance

The greatest share of the funds goes to developing an industry around sexual surveillance. Although Americans are sympathetic to the plight of prostitutes who are victimized, and we support funding to provide housing and training for those with few options, most object to funding an industry to develop police surveillance, shaming programs and to monitor consensual sexual activities. This is a highly problematic use of government funds and should certainly not should be within the domain of federal law enforcement.