Criminalizing Prostitution in Rhode Island

Rhode Island was the only state where prostitution was legal indoors and on private property, but Governor Carcieri signed legislation Tuesday that made the act a misdemeanor crime.

The Associated Press reports:

State lawmakers inadvertently opened the loophole in 1980 when they passed legislation trying to crack down on prostitutes and their customers creating havoc in the West End of Providence. They adopted a law targeting those who sold sex in public, but it was silent on indoor prostitution. Judges would later rule the change had the effect of legalizing paid sex in private.

That legal gap allowed dozens of suspected brothels to operate in the state’s cities and suburbs, including many thinly disguised as Asian spas advertising services such as body rubs and table showers in a weekly newspaper. Until recently, police had struggled to prosecute those involved in the trade.

In 2003, a state judge dismissed charges against prostitutes working just blocks from City Hall. Their lawyer admitted the women offered sex for cash, but he said it didn’t matter because indoor prostitution was legal.

Now, parts of Nevada are now the only counties in the United States where prostitution is legal. In an ABC News report, psychologist Scott Hampton said:

Prostitution, whether it’s high-end or any other form, is really just an expression of men’s beliefs that women are disposable sexual objects or men’s property.

Though public policy in the United States has come down strongly against the world’s oldest profession, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner write in their new book SuperFreakonomics that some prostitutes are happy with their career choice and make high incomes.

In his book Sex for Sale, Ronald John Weitzer writes that the majority of Americans are not in favor of liberalizing the nation’s prostitution laws, which are determined at the state and local levels. However, some academics suggest that legalization could make the trade safer, particularly in countries that have the highest HIV/AIDS rates.  Furthermore, legalization would end the need for police to spend their resources on preventing prostitution.