We read about “the dumbest-ass things that any state could possibly do” according to one retired New Orleans judge to prevent prostitution:
In their neighborhoods, they are sometimes taunted with dirty looks and jeers. Their pictures hang on the walls of local community centers where their children and grandchildren play. And their names and addresses are listed in newspapers and mailed out on postcards to everyone in the neighborhood.
Landing a job or even finding a landlord willing to give them a place to stay is a challenge.
These women wear a scarlet letter — rather, 11 letters — spelled out on their driver’s licenses in bright orange text: SEX OFFENDER.
They aren’t child molesters or pedophiles. Most are poor, hard-luck black women in New Orleans who agreed to exchange oral or anal sex for money. In doing so they violated the latest version of Louisiana’s 206-year-old Crime Against Nature law, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and registration as a sex offender.
Opponents of the law say it is discriminatory and targets poor women and the gay and transgendered community who engage in what they call “survival sex.”
Yes, desperate women trying to survive are treated as if they were kiddie rapists.
I realize there’s a long-standing belief in this country that if you give someone who’s down and out a couple more beatings, she will magically reform herslef. But how are these women ever supposed to go clean if they want to? This simply cements them into the sex industry underclass:
“As a result of our law, not only have we punished them for the mere saying of words, we’ve punished them to an extent greater than if they actually performed the sex act in public,” said Calvin Johnson, a retired Orleans Parish criminal district judge, who said that during a 17-year career he found the law unconstitutional on three separate instances only to be overruled by the state Supreme Court each time. “We’ve punished them to the extent of a felony and made them a sex offender. We have ‘X’-ed them out of social benefits, out of jobs, out of neighborhoods, out of housing, which has an adverse effect on society.”
Keep in mind, these women are being labelled sex offenders simply for talking about oral or anal sex (‘vaginal’ prostitution is a misdemeanor offense). And this is what these women are subjected to–by the state:
Once on the sex offender registry, their state identification cards, driver’s licenses and, in some cases, license plates are stamped with the words “Sex Offender”.
They must send out postcards to every single neighbor — in a one-mile radius in rural communities, three-fourths of a mile in the city — and must foot the bill for postage. Employers, even at places like fast-food joints, shy away from employing sex offenders. Landlords are weary of associating their addresses with sex offenders. And as the federal report noted, most agencies and in-treatment rehabilitation programs do not accept sex offenders.
This is not helping. Many prostitutes are combating drug addiction problems–and now they legally can’t get treatment for their addiction. And this won’t help combat the spread of sexually transmitted diseases if they are driven further underground.
Yesterday, on the Boston Common, I watched part of the Slut Walk rally, which is an important anti-rape statement.
But who will speak for these women?