I’ve been concerned about trafficking for prostitution in Rhode Island since the 1990’s, when the Providence Journal ran a story about a brothel called Club Osaka. I wrote to the Attorney General and the Mayor. I talked to my representatives. I was at the Providence forum hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women that led to the formation of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking. I joined and worked with them for a year before leaving in discouragement and worry about the direction we were going in.
We on the Coalition worked to pass legislation that would rescue trafficked persons and punish criminals. Apparently all our work was in vain, and the only remedy is to ‘close the loophole’ that fails to criminalize indoor prostitution. It seems that this is where we started. But a lot of good people are still working on this issue.
I am very encouraged that Rep. Joanne Giannini and Sen. Rhoda Perry are both sponsoring bills against human trafficking that offer increased protections to minors under age 18. (click on their names to see the bills–short and simple to read. click here to read some fine reporting from ProJo. ‘Eye of the Storm’. )
I continue to have serious concerns about anti-prostitution bills and how the laws would be enforced if passed. Dr. Donna Hughes, one of the experts in the study of human trafficking, has cited the Mann Act as a legal tool to fight this scourge. But the Mann Act has a dubious history of being used selectively to target individuals whose celebrity or politics created enemies. Although reformed in 1978, we should not ignore the history. Sen. John Mc Cain recently led an effort to clear the name of boxer Jack Johnson, whose conviction in 1913 under the Mann Act is widely considered a punishment for transgressing racial boundaries.
This is not to say that we should not have a law, but the debate and caution of the Rhode Island legislature is well-founded. And once a law is passed, the coalitions and concerned groups need to be vigilant in watching how the law is implemented. After all, adjoining states that don’t have a ‘loophole’ are not free of prostitution and related crimes. Corruption goes all the way up and there’s an awful lot of money to persuade with.