Shelters are not solutions

Will Sen. Wyden’s plan help Portland’s prostitutes?

KATU News reported on Nov. 12 that Sen. Ron Wyden announced a plan to set up shelters for prostitutes. These shelters are expected to provide housing, clothing and other services to women who are caught up in a life of prostitution without escape.

“His plan is to set up special shelters for women so they can escape their pimps in parts of the country where sex trafficking is the worst, including in Oregon,” according to an article on KATU’s Web site. “His plan calls for spending $50 million over three years through the use of existing funds. He calls it a ‘modest sum’ of money.”

Shelters or no shelters, this does not solve the problem. In fact, it reinforces the idea that prostitution is OK or that hiding prostitutes and potential sex trafficking victims is going to solve the ultimate problem.
But could there be benefits of legalized prostitution?

Maybe Portland should become Las Vegas, and we can pay taxes on it too. It’s not just Sin City that allows legalized prostitution. In Singapore, sex for money is common. In Denmark, women can be legal prostitutes as long as it is not their only means of income. Our neighbors Canada and Mexico allow it. Prostitutes must stay in brothels in the Netherlands, and Israel, the historical setting for the Bible, allows it too. Meanwhile, we in the majority of the United States are apparently missing out on legal prostitution.

This leads me to explore the idea that prostitution is a free choice. Many prostitutes may think sex work is not the best choice of work, but the best alternative available. And many people label that as free choice. But is it? If women are choosing prostitution for economic reasons, you can’t argue that a choice between prostitution and death is free choice. That is not a choice at all.

More so, many believe that criminalizing the sex industry will only worsen conditions for human trafficking criminalizing because the only way it can be stopped is if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.

On June 12, CBS News reported Rhode Island had a prostitution loophole that went mostly unnoticed for 30 years until “Providence police raided several spas in 2003 and then lost their cases in court because of the loophole.”

Apparently, police were able to arrest prostitutes on street corners. However, until Nov. 3, prostitution could not be prosecuted as long as it occurred indoors.

“Since then, lawmakers repeatedly have tried and failed to change the law, facing opposition from civil libertarians, advocates for sex workers and even the state chapter of the National Organization for Women,” according to CBS News. “They say permitting the arrest of prostitutes could end up punishing human trafficking victims.”

Another way to look at this issue is through the mindset of Margareta Winberg, former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden.

“I believe that we will never succeed in combating trafficking in women if we do not simultaneously work to abolish prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women and children,” Winberg said during a November 2002 speech. “Particularly in light of the fact that many women in prostitution in countries that have legalized prostitution are originally victims of trafficking in women.”

Unlike in the United States, selling sex in Sweden is not a crime, but buying sex is. Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings focuses on the root cause: They recognize that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to expand.

Do shelters for these women provide that? Do they get rid of the root cause—the “pimp daddies”—or do they just hide the prostitutes from being killed? Perhaps Wyden’s proposal of $50 million should not go towards hiding these women, but doing something about the men who sell them. Jeri Williams, a Portland City Hall program manager who was interviewed by KATU, said it right: “People who are driving around at night looking for sex with strangers are not sane people.”

And why should prostitutes in Oregon who are their slaves get in trouble, when the men or women who pick them up, do not?

The Council for Prostitution Alternatives ran a study in 1991 in our own city of Portland. They found that out of 55 prostituted women, 78 percent reported being raped. Out of these incidents, they were raped, on average per year, 16 times by their pimps and 33 times by johns.

“Twelve rape complaints were made in the criminal justice system and neither pimps nor johns were ever convicted,” according to the study. “These prostitutes also reported being horribly beaten by their pimps an average of 58 times a year. The frequency of beatings…by johns ranged from one to 400 times a year.”

Of these cases, only 13 were brought up on charges for the beatings and only two resulted in convictions for aggravated assault.

This is the problem, and shelters are not going to solve it. Sweden may have the right policy on this one.



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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Senator Wyden is not trying to solve the underage sex trafficking. He is recommending federal funding to take care of the children of our country who are currently not being taken care of at all.

    In fact, when the last nationwide sting was done 52 children were found across the US in just 1 night. There are only 45 beds in the entire US for rehabilitation. That is what Senator Ron Wyden is trying to rectify.

    It is up to each state to establish stronger anti-trafficking laws to ensure that the pimp, trafficker, and rapist are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  2. Here is my response which I sent to Vanguard…

    This article is incredibly disturbing and disappointing. It is so poorly written and uninformed I had extreme difficulty in finding a starting place for my rebuttal. I figured the best response was to try to address each point in the article, individually.

    Senator Wyden should be esteemed for his efforts in trying to pass this bill. He is also correct in stating that $50 million is a modest sum of money. When you consider there are nearly 27 million individuals who are enslaved around the globe, and the FBI estimates there are 300,000 American minors who are trafficked within the US every year, or that Human Trafficking is a $32 Billion business (more than Nike, Google, and Starbucks combined), $50 million is a drop in the bucket.

    Moreover our Government’s “Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons” only spent $23 million last year on the fight against trafficking in the US, which is $76.66 per American girl, per year. So, this money is desperately needed.

    As one of the readers had mentioned, “This article is an adventure in missing the point.” The reader could not have been more right. Demand is definitely an issue, but to say that, “Shelters are not solutions” is simply an ignorant statement.

    Officials in Portland have said recently that we have 2-5 minors who are trafficked every week. Simple math would show, that is a minimum of 104 victims a year. What should we do with these individuals? These individuals have been raped 5-20 times a day by 5-20 different men. Most of us know someone who has dealt with rape or molestation and we know how bad that damages the rest of their life. Just imagine being abused to the level that these girls are experiencing. Yet “Shelter are not solutions.”?

    Siddarth Kara is quoted in his book, “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery”, as saying, “If the 27 million people who are in slavery today were set free, where would they go?”

    The writer of this article doesn’t seem to understand that, “Freedom without a future is simply another form of slavery.” (James Pond, Transitions Global)

    The writer goes on to pose the question, “… could there be benefits of legalized prostitution?” The answer is yes! Legalizing prostitution absolutely could be beneficial…. to the Trafficker . If the writer had done proper research it would have been discovered that in places where trafficking is legalized (which in correction to the writer, prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada, but not legal in Las Vegas) it only attracts traffickers. Which naturally makes sense from a business stand point. If you are a business owner, wouldn’t you go somewhere that your business is not being scrutinized and under constant threat of being shut down? 

    The writer continues to create conflict in the article by pointing to Sweden’s model of legalizing the selling of sex, but outlawing the purchase (which I think could be a good model) and seemingly aiding the plight of the trafficking victims. By using this model as an example the writer is saying that, “ … without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to expand.” This is great, but what about all the girls who are left?

    The writer quotes The Council for Prostitution Alternatives and points out all of the damage being done to these women “in our own city of Portland”, not to mention all the underage victims, yet still makes the statement that, “Shelters are not solutions”. This is without taking into account that, “Interviews with prostitutes around the world revealed that two-thirds suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), in contrast to fewer than 5 percent of the general population, and in a higher percentage as well as more severe form than that suffered by Vietnam veterans.” (Farley, 1998)

    To make the statement that, “Shelter are not solutions” after knowing the horror which takes places to these women and little girls in our nation and around the world, is unbelievable!

    Shelters might not be THE solution, but it is definitely a primary facet!

    Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Human Trafficking is a horrible injustice that is ravaging women around the globe and in our own backyard.

    Everyone should find a way to come to the aid of these women and girls for the sake of our humanity, and Senator Wyden deserves to be applauded for his work not questioned.

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