Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rhode Island: Expanded criminalization of sex work?

Today's Providence Journal is reporting:
With the nation’s eyes trained on former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s alleged involvement with a prostitute, Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a bill that would close the loophole in this state’s laws that makes prostitution legal if it occurs indoors.
I was unaware until this morning that unassuming Rhode Island has a somewhat unusual law on prostitution that targets street work but gives wide reign to escort services and other indoor work. (A conservative Rhode Island blogger detailed this issue awhile back, including a link to the statute.) Lawmakers have been trying to close this "loophole" for years; Rhode Island's ACLU and some other critics have opposed such an amendment, for a variety of reasons (though it seems no one has argued to the legislature that indoor prostitution should not be illegal because it's not inherently wrong, and because there are far better ways to help prostitutes than criminalizing their livelihood.) It's unclear whether the Spitzer scandal in nearby New York will give those lawmakers' efforts a boost, but it's at least provided the newspaper a catchy hook for their coverage.

It would be interesting to see whether and how this legal landscape -- markedly different from other states -- has affected indoor sex work: its prevalence, price, market structure and most of all working conditions. But Emily Bazelon recently noted, prostitution is a shockingly under-researched topic, so we may never find out.

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