Should prostitution be considered a crime with equal severity to a speeding ticket?
You can’t spread disease by speeding. You aren’t likely to break up your marriage or enrich a pimp who exercises total control over his workers or even enable the drug habit of someone so desperate he or she has to work for sex. And you aren’t going to inadvertently aid the sex-slavery trade by going a few miles per hour over the limit.
Add to this the fact that speeding, except in the most egregious cases, reveals you as someone who engages in behavior shared widely by many otherwise decent people who often have to go a bit faster than posted limits just to keep up with traffic. Buying a prostitute, on the other hand, reveals you as someone with an ethic that says it’s OK to pay money with the expectation of being able to use someone else’s body for your own gratification.
So when I read about people in Kennebunk, Maine arguing that it isn’t really that big of a deal for someone to buy a prostitute, and that the names of these customers should be kept quiet, I get a little confused. (Read accounts of this here and here.)
That sounds exactly like something a man would say if he was caught with one of these working women and he didn’t want the embarrassment and loss of reputation that would come from being found out. Too bad. Buying a prostitute is a disgusting crime.
The Kennebunk case involves a Zumba instructor accused of prostitution, and her client list, which is the source of great speculation in a small town. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule soon on whether the list should be made public.
A lot of cities publicize the names of suspected johns as a deterrent. Shame can be a powerful weapon, they believe.
This isn’t a novel approach. A judge once ordered a gang member to send me a letter to the editor explaining how sorry he was for his crimes. I didn’t publish it because I wasn’t convinced of its sincerity.
Years ago a judge in Wilkesboro, N.C., ordered a woman who had killed someone in a drunken-driving accident to perform a monthly humiliation ritual. She had to parade around the courthouse for an hour at a time with a sign reading, “I am a convicted drunk driver, and as a result I took a life.”
More than decade ago, a judge in St. George, Utah ordered a 22-year-old man to post a sign outside his house announcing he was a convicted drug dealer. This was added onto a sentence of 36 months probation. His parents were so embarrassed by the sign that they kicked him out of their house.
Shame has some effect. But in Kennebunk, lawyers for some of the Zumba prostitution clients are arguing for keeping the list secret. Some people worry the real victims of this shaming technique will be wives and children, who will be ostracized, teased or otherwise mistreated.
Even those whose names are on the list could see their businesses suffer for committing what the community considers a minor infraction.
I will admit that the shaming technique in Kennebunk has some drawbacks. For one, the names on the list have not been convicted of anything. It is conceivable a name might be there in error. But on the other hand, rumors have spread around town about certain names believed to be on the list. If the names are kept secret, innocent people may remain under suspicion by their neighbors.
Perhaps most importantly, police in Kennebunk routinely publish names in cases such as this. They shouldn’t make exceptions now because the case has gotten a lot of attention and some prominent names may be exposed.
It’s easy to dismiss the hubbub as another case of puritanical Americans being fixated with sex. No doubt, there is something to that.
But it’s also true that society seems to feels this is a bigger crime than speeding. Maybe the law is out of whack, and buying a prostitute should carry a bigger penalty.