A Corner Where L.A. Hits Rock Botton

L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez ventures out to his city’s skid row, reporting on the squalor and sadness he sees there. This week his column focuses on one corner where prostitutes live in porta-potties and offer oral sex for $5 or $10 so that they can buy the drugs they’re addicted to.

Lopez doesn’t get in to policy issues here, but articles like this should make us ask, How can we improve this situation? The war on drugs isn’t working. Arresting these women for prostitution isn’t going to help them. Punitive legal methods simply aren’t effective here. What, then, is a reasonable — and practical — solution?

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35 comments for “A Corner Where L.A. Hits Rock Botton

  1. October 18, 2005 at 10:16 am

    I just posted this article on my blog, which talks about young girls/boys in the sex trade, who can’t stop working ’til they reach the amount their pimp has set for the night.

    And yesterday in class, we watched Killing Us Softly 3 which details prostitution and how most women drug out because no one wants them anymore. This usually happens before they’re 30.

  2. October 18, 2005 at 10:23 am

    That article made me tear up.

  3. Linnaeus
    October 18, 2005 at 10:55 am

    I don’t know if this is practical, but I’ve long thought that we should at least consider legalization of both recreational drugs and prostitution. I know that doing so – and especially the latter – generates a lot of mixed feelings, but it seems to be that all outlawing drugs and prostitution has done has pushed people to the margins where they are most vulnerable and not cut into the demand for either.

  4. kate
    October 18, 2005 at 11:44 am

    The Swedish solution – decriminalize prostitution, make trafficking or being a pimp/john (the truly exploitative positions in this whole sordid business) a crime, aggressive efforts to rehabilitate prostitutes by getting them health care, counseling and better jobs. I’ve heard (I think it was at prostitutionresearch.com) that in countries with legal prostitution, crime and child prostitution has only increased, and many poor and desperate women from the third world are trafficked in – something like 90% of prostitutes in Spain are not Spanish.
    IMHO, prostitution is morally wrong because it is the sale of a human body. Yes, I know it’s wrapped in the flag of “services”, but if it’s about services, then why are there different categories of prostitutes (male, female, transgender, different ages/races) for fetishes if it’s not about a body?

  5. kate
    October 18, 2005 at 11:46 am

    Here’s the article with the statistic from Spain (http://feministing.com/archives/001330.html)
    I disagree completely, however, with the celebratory trappings.
    When johns will get “serviced” by nonhumanoid robots, then I’ll believe it’s about services and not the prostitute’s body.

  6. j swift
    October 18, 2005 at 12:07 pm

    When every Americans talk about social issues such as drug-addiction and prostitution we always fall back on the dogmatic hot buttons.

    First there is the alleged big- government fix of rehabilitation and various other government programs to help people. While these programs are obviously less than perfect they are at least an attempt to alleviate the situation though I doubt they will succeed by themselves.

    Second, there is the personal responsibility theme espoused by the right in this country. At worst this is the whining howl of those on the Right who want to keep more of their tax money and nothing more. At best and I believe in most cases this equates to abandonment of the drug-user or poor to the other equally reviled (by the Right) government programs and the court system.

    Third, there is the preventative programs our society tries to stop the cycle of poverty but we do not focus on these in my estimation.

    All we are doing at present is “managing” sex and violence, we are not close to solving it, if that is even possible without having the mythical “benevolent tyrant”.

  7. Thomas
    October 18, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Kate, I used to be in the decriminalization camp and I have come to believe that, as you say, full decriminalization only leads to more prostitution, not more protection.

    Sex work really happens on two spectrums. There is lots of sex work which is just slavery. It’s not even nominally consensual. Women and children (and very occasionally adult men) are forced to provide sexual services.

    Then, there is the spectrum of “consensual” sex work. I’m including here lots of stuff other than prostitution as the term is narrowly understood. At the one end, there are lots of women who have other options, but not good ones. A woman turning tricks because she has no real alternative can be called consensual only in a technical sense. At the other end, there are women who really have other choices — who have money and educations and skills and could do work other than sex work.

    I know of only a few women at the upper end of this spectrum. The ones I am most familiar with have done various kinds of sex work (from escorting to hand-jobs to nude modelling) as a hobby job or on the side to make some money while pursuing other interests. And the women who seem okay with that, in my experience, have been those in a position to stop doing what they’re doing when they don’t like it anymore. That’s not the position the vast majority of sex workers are in, as far as I can tell.

    So I don’t buy the romanticization of sex work.

    Having said that, prosecution seems to fall with much greater frequency and severity on the sex worker. I think this is just patriarchal slut-shaming, and I want none of it.

    I’ve been won over to the Swedish model — prosecute the johns, let the sex workers go. Most of them would do something else if they could, and if they become scarce, the market will improve their conditions. Even if what they do is illegal for the johns, if the sex workers don’t fear prosecution, they are more free to seek services and protection, and are not so excluded from the system.

    If the choice were between decrimninalization, though, and prosecuting sex workers, I’ll take decriminalization. Prosecuting a woman for making ends meet doing a job where she’s rather be doing just about anything else is not my idea of justice.

  8. October 18, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    You know for those of us who live in and around the 6th St./Skid Row area the tourism and attitudes of shock and dismay by the press really aren’t about helping these people, just getting enough attention drawn to them so they can be cleared out by the developers who are busy gentrifing those neighborhoods.

  9. October 18, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    I think the Seattle Chief is spot-on about the drugs. I have long hoped for decriminalization if not legalization. Prostitution is trickier. Im all for solutions that work, are there any models that work?

  10. October 18, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    The troubling thing for many people is that they want to draw a line and declare the nature of the problem either a product of society or personal decisions.

    Alas, it is both.

    What kind of choice is this for a society to offer: you either make a decent wage or you live on the street, especially when the minimum wage in Los Angeles is hardly enough to rent a tiny closet to live in?

    On the other hand, those who take drugs are making a personal decision. They may be self-medicating for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or mood disorders. But this bounces back to society again: how effective and how available are the rehabilitation services? How comfortable are they? If you send an addict to a unit with aged linoleum floors and patients who can’t tell the difference between a hallway and a bathroom, do you honestly think they will want to spend the time getting well there?

    Women choose to be prostitutes instead of being counter-girls at Burger King who then go to spend the evening working in a sweat shop. Again, we have to ask, what kind of society is this?

    Decriminalizing drugs and prostitution may be part of the solution, but if we just lift these prohibitions and do nothing about the mental illness and poverty that drives people into these professions, we do nothing for the people. We just make the prostitute another kind of Burger King girl. And she will still either have to work a second job or live on the street.

  11. Linnaeus
    October 18, 2005 at 1:46 pm

    Food for thought, here….perhaps it isn’t as simple as I was led to believe.

  12. RandomGuy
    October 18, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    Every solution is requisite on and no solution will work without something being done to break the cycle of poverty. That’s all there is to it. Whether the direct approach is to decriminalize in L.A. or reinforce criminalization as in N.Y. or something else entirely, the key determinant of whether or not it works will be whether or not the girls actually have a visible avenue to lift themselves (and their children) up out of poverty once and for all.

    I wanted to keep this short but what Joel said warrants more attention. Though I expect most of the commentors here already realize this, getting a job straight off the street with no education and not so much as a telephone number to your name may be not only possible but even if it were easy; it still is not a way out of poverty. As I’ve seen presented on the floor of the house and senate alike, you can work a fulltime job and still live in poverty. It’s a truly Unamerican dream to think that this is acceptable while bragging that the economy is growing.

  13. Marksman2000
    October 18, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    I’ve seen enough of drug addiction to know that you can’t help dopers–they have to want to help themselves first. This usually happens when they go down, way down to the bottom. Now, once they show (not say) that they want help, that’s where assistance can come into play.

    We should have a program to help get people off dope and off the streets when they decide they’ve had enough. Many of those people aren’t crazy or even on drugs, they’ve just had a streak of really bad luck and/or made some bad decisions.But you know America is an unforgiving place. No resources available for the destitute and helpless.

  14. kate
    October 18, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    Thomas – I have thought about the Heidi Fless/Mayflower Madam types, but they are a minuscule minority of prostitutes, plus they actively choose their profession, are usually reasonably well off (well, if not loaded, then at least not eating out of the garbage and desperate) so their freedom to work concerns me much less than women who have no choices.
    If you’re easily offended, don’t read the rest of it, but I just want someone to explain this to me. Liberals are generally outraged about the Wal-Mart sorts of jobs where the vast majority of people are poor immigrants working for crappy wages but when it comes to prostitution (where as I’ve said many women are foreign-born and poor), it’s “sexual freedom”. Also liberals usually go ballistic about big pharma and badly tested, harmful medications, or chemical companies spewing poisons into the environment, but illegal drugs largely do the same – have negative side/health effects or (like tobacco/pot) are somewhat polluting – and yet drugs are totally ok and even kind of a chic and positive thing to do. (I didn’t express my opinions on drugs earlier, but I personally think medical marijuana is the compassionate thing to do for terminally ill people in pain, nonviolent drug offenders should not be filling up our jails when rapists/drunk driving vehicular murderers get two years, and, again, those tax dollars spent on the war on drugs/vice could be better spent on rehab. IMHO.)

  15. Tanooki Joe
    October 18, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    Also liberals usually go ballistic about big pharma and badly tested, harmful medications, or chemical companies spewing poisons into the environment, but illegal drugs largely do the same – have negative side/health effects or (like tobacco/pot) are somewhat polluting – and yet drugs are totally ok and even kind of a chic and positive thing to do.

    Just to play the devil’s advocate, I would note that people do not choose to have corporations make unsafe products or pollute the environment, while people choose to do recreational drugs.

  16. October 18, 2005 at 10:58 pm

    I find that casual, functional, recreational drugs users are often more knowledgeable about the things they put in their bodies than people who blindly trust pharma.

  17. Sally
    October 19, 2005 at 12:37 am

    Liberals are generally outraged about the Wal-Mart sorts of jobs where the vast majority of people are poor immigrants working for crappy wages but when it comes to prostitution (where as I’ve said many women are foreign-born and poor), it’s “sexual freedom”.

    Eh. I’ve certainly come across some ding-bat-y feminists who think that sex work is always fun and liberating (or shouldn’t be talked about when it’s not, because that’s “denying people’s agency”), but I don’t think that’s the normal liberal or feminist stance. I think it’s much more common to admit that sex work is often exploitative but to question whether the best way to give better options to exploited workers is to threaten to throw them in jail.

  18. October 19, 2005 at 1:54 am

    I would note that people do not choose to have corporations make unsafe products or pollute the environment, while people choose to do recreational drugs.

    Corporations are not staffed by androids. Every decision being made by a human being, is a decision being made by a human being. For good and for ill.

    Liberals are generally outraged about the Wal-Mart sorts of jobs…but when it comes to prostitution…it’s “sexual freedom”

    Well, far be it from me to defend my left brethren (this just in: liberals hate America and kill babies) but I don’t hear this from liberals very often. The outrage about Wal-Mart giving people options they didn’t have before, yes; glamorization of sex work, no. There are SOME liberals/leftists who go there, but really, not very many; most of the treehugging brie-sucking comsyps I’ve palled around with have been folks who think sex work ought to be legal, maybe, but that it is very, very sad and exploitive of women.

    It’s us little-l libertarians who like the whores, sad to say.

  19. October 19, 2005 at 3:46 am

    The Swedish model has not been officially evaluated, as dictated by our government. However, a Norwegian law professor, Ulf Stridbeck, tried to evaluate the effects of the law for the Norwegian government, who had similar plans. A shortened translation of his report can be found here.

    It should be noted that there were differing opinions about future legislation among the evaluators.

  20. October 19, 2005 at 5:04 am

    My solution is pretty simple. Shoot johns who pick up streetwalkers on sight. Leave streetwalkers alone–they’ve suffered enough.

    I was, sadly but educationally, exposed to a website where johns around Austin bragged to each other about their exploits with streetwalkers. It was fucking gruesome–I’ll never forget the man who bragged about talking a woman down from $7 to $5 for a blow job. Men who pick up streetwalkers are the lowest of the low and should be treated as such.

    That said, I’m a big believer in degree. Sex work for good money is entirely different from sex work for crap money. It’s like any other job. Making someone work their ass off 45-50 hours a week for $5.50 an hour is immoral. Making them do it for $500-1000 an hour is called trying to get a partnership. The latter person may not feel he/she has a choice, but he/she actually does. And he/she will benefit greatly at the end of it. Same story, different verse with med students doing internships. Though I really think their shifts need to be reduced–not for their sakes so much as the sakes of the patients they see at the end of a 36 hour shift.

  21. kate
    October 19, 2005 at 9:34 am

    Sally – I urge you to go to the feministing.com link I provided in post 14. And here’s two more from one of the biggest liberal sites on the internet: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/6/8/95637/85245

    Here’s an article about prostitution in the US with some statistics:
    A National Criminal Justice Reference Service study found that victims of child sex abuse are 27.7 times more likely than non-victims to be arrested for prostitution. 22 out of 30 respondents cited supporting their drug habits as their reason for getting into prostitution.
    A Center for Impact Research study estimated that 21.4% of sex workers (escorts included) had raped 10 times or more. God, I can’t even imagine that.
    This is what a former prostitute had to say:
    “If it wasn’t for men you wouldn’t have prostitution,” said [Brenda] Myers [now leader of the group Exodus, which helps women get out of prostitution]. “They think it’s a joke, she’s having a ball. No she isn’t! They think they didn’t do anything wrong — ‘My wife is pregnant and I deserve to have my needs taken care of.’ Well fuck your needs! And fuck the things you do to us, things that would have you arrested if you tried to do them to a date. Women need to be taught that their body isn’t an offering or a sacrifice.”

  22. October 19, 2005 at 10:39 am

    My solution is pretty simple. Shoot johns who pick up streetwalkers on sight.

    Oh, you liberals and your constant compromising.

  23. Linnaeus
    October 19, 2005 at 11:04 am

    treehugging brie-sucking comsyps

    For the record, I do not suck brie. I do have a very nice tree in my courtyard, though.

    But, seriously:

    Sex work for good money is entirely different from sex work for crap money. It’s like any other job. Making someone work their ass off 45-50 hours a week for $5.50 an hour is immoral. Making them do it for $500-1000 an hour is called trying to get a partnership. The latter person may not feel he/she has a choice, but he/she actually does. And he/she will benefit greatly at the end of it.

    I’ve been thinking along these lines myself. It takes only a modicum of research before one finds that at the upper end of the prostitution scale, you’re dealing with women who are not only making much more than their streetwalking sisters, but who are often independent or working for other women (unless there is another layer of secrecy I’m unaware of).

    Now I’m not arguing for the merits of lack thereof with respect to prostitution, but I do think a fair argument can be made that for at least a small percentage of sex workers, their work is in fact a choice, even if it’s a choice we wouldn’t make for ourselves. The question then is whether this difference is significant enough to merit a policy that reflects this difference.

  24. smb
    October 19, 2005 at 11:28 am

    Therese, putting aside the obvious pro-sex industry slant of a report calling itself “Purchasing Sexual Services”, it admits in several places that the number of Swedish men seeking prostitutes has gone down significantly and that though the Netherlands has twice the population of Sweden it has ten times the prostitution.

    It also admits it did not actually speak to any active sex workers in either Sweden or the Netherlands. Page 33, “In the Netherlands we met with nobody who was a sex worker now.” The Swedish testimony comes from two former sex workers from the same pro-legalization group with only 20 members (one is on the organization’s board). Big surprise then that there is no direct testimony from either country saying anything but prostitution legalization is good.

    I intensely disliked the way men’s violence against sex workers was always made to seem someone else’s fault than the mens, usually blaming Swedish lawmakers for prostitute-using men’s violence but sometimes blaming the abused women themselves for not successfully ‘reading’ bad clients and avoiding them. When does men’s violence against sex workers actually become the fault of the men according to pro-prostitution legalization people?

    The concern for prostitute-seeking men being robbed and extorted by girls pretending to be prostitutes is touching in a men’s rights activist sort of way.

    Even with the pro-business bias made clear this report shows in the Netherlands there have been increases in prostitution overall and increases in foreign women in sexual slavery, while the most damning thing that can be said about the Swedish model is there’s not enough information and it’s too soon to declare it a success despite meeting early goals at reducing street prostitution, reducing trafficking and reducing new recruitment.

  25. Earl
    October 19, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    I must say, I find most of your opinions on prostitution rather odd. I believe that support for an unlimited right to abortion would be almost unaninmous here, and you would derive that support from a theory that people have a right to privacy, particularly with respect to their body — a theory that I share. What I don’t understand is how you can lay any claim to believing in a right to privacy and not also believe that individuals have the right to privately transact, whether or not it is good for them.

    Oh, and kate, in countries that have de jure or de facto legal prostitution, it is my understanding that relatively few of the prostitutes are trafficked in, at least in the sense of the trafficking begin involuntary on the part of the prostitute. Trafficked perhaps in the sense of snuck across the border, but I think most of them just overstay visas. Thats, for example, why you don’t see E European prostitutes in the US — we’re notoriously unwilling to grant visas, particularly to young women. Even so I believe our default rate for Russian visas still hovers around 25%.

  26. October 19, 2005 at 2:00 pm


    I think part of the issue here is whether or not prostitues are exercising a right to personal choice, or if they’re being expoited. It’s not much of a personal “choice” or an expression of sexual autonomy if you’re addicted to crack, living in a portable toilet and giving $10 blowjobs because it’s the only way you know how to support your drug habit. It’s extremely counter-productive to criminalize this behavior and arrest women for doing it. I do believe there should be a right to privately transact, but we draw lines on transactions all the time, particularly when those transactions are for personal services. It’s rightfully considered exploitation to “hire” someone to clean your house and then pay them $2 an hour because they’re desperate for any sort of income. Similarly, it’s exploitative to hire someone for a personal sexual service and then underpay them because they’re desperate.

    I happen to be in favor of decriminalizing prostitution and simultaneously increasing international law enforcement of human trafficking — I think we often overlook what a huge international problem the trafficking of women and children is. I also think it’s foolish to look at sex work and write it all off as “personal choice” and “right to privacy,” just as its foolish to look at domestic labor and similarly dismiss it as if all workers have equal agency.

    That said, I would argue that women and men should have the right to sell sex as a personal service, just as we have the right to sell other types of personal services — but we do have to similarly moniter the sex industry to try and prevent exploitation and abuse.

  27. Sally
    October 19, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    You didn’t actually provide a link in comment 14, Kate, but I’m well-aware of the women at Feministing’s blinders about prostution. (Actually, it’s not clear to me whether it’s all of them or just Vanessa, who seems to post most of their stupider items about sex work.) As I said, I’ve run into some feminists who refuse to acknowledge that sex work is anything but super cool. But you seem to be suggesting that the Feministing ladies and two posters on Kos are synonymous with “liberals.” And that strikes me as pretty dubious.

  28. Thomas
    October 19, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    Kate, you’re comment sounds like you think I disagree with you, but I think you may have misinterpreted what I wrote.

    I’m not in favor of decriminalization.
    I agree that, while a few privileged women do well-paid sex work, the vast majority of sex work is either 1) slavery or its equivalent; or 2) a bad choice among rotten options.

    I’m not in favor of the current regime, where the burden of criminal penalties falls on the prostitutes. Rather, I favor the Swedish model of prosecuting johns.

    Just to be clear, I’m not in favor of prostitution. I want it to stop, and if we can’t stop it entirely, I want it overwhelmingly reduced. I want women to have better options than sex work, and I’m pretty sure that the very very few women who do occasional sex work of various kinds as a personal sexual or creative outlet can find other ways to get their needs met.

  29. kate
    October 19, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    Sally – I meant comment 5. My bad.

    Earl – My presence here means that support for abortion-on-demand at this blog is not unanimous, but a discussion about my views is not appropriate for this thread so I won’t go into it and I expect others not to attack me for it either. For now, I’ll say that I do believe in some form of privacy rights, just not as expansive a one as some others do. (Still, because it is but a “penumbra” I think it is best if states include a more specifically worded right to privacy in their constitutions.) Trafficking perhaps was a bad choice of words on my part – but I suspect that many of those women immigrated due to economic desperation. The Spanish statistic seems strikingly odd – that 90%, an overwhelming majority, of women in this particular field are not Spanish … As for prostitution in the US, there was a horrifying New York Times story a few years ago about Eastern European women and girls who are tricked into leaving their homes and end up as sex slaves (they don’t get paid at all) in Mexico and Manhattan.

    Does anyone else here get annoyed by the sexist laws that do legalize prostitution? In the Guerrila Girls book, I read that in some counties of Nevada where prostitution is legal, it is only female prostitution and they are usually only allowed to sell sex to men, sometimes couples and virtually never other women. I also read a book about Germany that in the red light district in Hamburg, women (who are not prostitutes) are forbidden to enter.

  30. Tanooki Joe
    October 20, 2005 at 12:29 am

    Corporations are not staffed by androids. Every decision being made by a human being, is a decision being made by a human being. For good and for ill.

    I am well aware of that. I was merely using the same examples as Kate.

    Besides, everyone knows corporations are run by angels.

  31. October 20, 2005 at 12:34 am

    I also read a book about Germany that in the red light district in Hamburg, women (who are not prostitutes) are forbidden to enter.

    There is a section of one of the local sex shops that women aren’t allowed to enter. When I inquired why, they said there had been minor assaults against women who went into the movie booth. I was in there with a girlfriend and wanted to see what they looked like — I’d never seen one. When I asked if I could just take a look, they gave me an unequivocal no. I wonder if this is similar justification, and if it is, it is depressingly telling about bodies, choice, and transaction.

  32. Earl
    October 20, 2005 at 4:19 am

    How do you define exploited? Sure, being a crack-whore sucks — though I dunno what society can do to help them besides offer them treatment, not that that will do much. I think that our experience with drug treatment programs has pretty conclusively shown that people get and stay clean if and only if they want to. But getting back to the idea of exploiting people, I have a hard time quantifying that. How do you define exploitation in a manner which doesn’t involve your moral opinion of other peoples’ choices? Yes, women may earn more doing sex work than alternatives — but that doesn’t mean alternatives don’t exist. Obviously not all workers have equal agency, but that doesn’t mean they have none. People who perform sex work choose to do so despite alternatives; obviously the tradeoff is worth it in their minds. And how do you define underpay? I’d pay good money to hear congress debate minimum wages for sex work.

    As for the fact that we do draw lines on private transactions, that’s immaterial to the description of a political philosophy. I don’t believe that most such lines should exist between consenting adults.

    With respect to human trafficking, well, that’s a pretty good justification for the death penalty. Sure, it’s a problem — but it’s not one that Americans can do all that much about. We just have relatively little power to alter the economic circumstances of most other countries, particularly the poorest. Though it would help if we would provide birth control / abortion funding. But short of providing these countries the ability to check the sex of children and selectively abort, which would probably lead into a eugenics program, I don’t know what we can do to prevent the birth of unwanted female children.

    I’m not surprised at all that most prostitutes are foreign. For people with no education and little means of earning high wages in any other way, it may be the most valuable thing he or she can sell.

    We already prosecute johns. In fact, we often do so unconstitutionally — witness programs such as in Chicago where we broadcast mugshots before conviction. And when we get into prosecuting people making bad choices among rotten options, we’re claiming that we know better than the people involved how to run their lives.

    It’s my understanding that some glory holes are men only. Ick either way. Though in your case, it sounds like they may have been afraid of legal liability if something happens to you — a reasonable fear in today’s legal climate.

  33. Thomas
    October 20, 2005 at 8:58 am

    Earl, in your response to Lauren, you’re confusing two things. You used the term, “glory holes.” As you no doubt know (but other readers may not), this is a location for anonymous sex through a hole in a partition — usually, a man puts his penis through and gets a blow-job. It is generally found in gay clubs or porn spots. To my knowledge (second-hand) it is never or at least rarely done as sex-work (rip-offs would be too easy). Rather, it’s anonymous sex. I have only heard of women participating in glory holes in a BDSM context, and even then, only as part of a sort of Potemkin-glory hole where the male participants are unknown to the bottom but have been pre-selected by the top.

    The video booths that Lauren was referring to probably do not have glory holes. I have not heard that their are glory holes in video boots in straight porn shops; and years ago when I did look at mainstream commercial porn, I did sometimes go to video booths and I never saw one.

    I’m on Lauren’s side of this one: any kind of sexual entertainment where women can only be the product and not the consumer, is irretrievable.

    As to the liability, we have never permitted that excuse in public accomodations. Imagine a hotel saying, “we cannot allow women unaccompanied by men to room here. We cannot protect them from our male guests.”

    Or, keeping the porn-shop context but switching sex for race, “we cannot allow black customers in the peep booths. We’ve had some minor assaults, and we just cannot control our white clientelle.”

    It is neither true that the shop can discriminate on the basis of sex in public accomodations, nor that they are absolved from liability.

    (N.B.: their liability is not absolute! depending on the state, they probably are only liable for negligence. If they are on notice that male customers have assaulted women, they probably have an obligation to take reasonable remedial steps: one person in a booth at a time, a camera or mirror or even a live person in the hallway to ensure that customers passing each other outside the booths behave. If they don’t want to do that, they can tear out the booths. Some folks usually respond to this sort of answer by saying, “well, someone could sue anyway, and they’d have to spend money to defend!” That’s not an answer. We have motions to dismiss for frivolous suits, and non-frivolous ones should go forward. Premises liability is part of owning a business that brings in customers, and the porn shop is no different in that respect than a donut shop — they all have insurance to cover slip-and-falls, and that insurance includes, generally, advancement of legal fees and expenses for defense — when a business gets sued in a slip-and-fall, in most places the business does not hire the attorney that defends the case. The insurer does. Insurance costs are the way that, in this society, we apportion the risk of many business externalities.)

    In fact, the reason typically advanced for excluding women as consumers of porn is that the businesses want to exclude prostitutes. I don’t like that argument, either, but I don’t know if it has fared better. On my account, the proprietors ought not to be able to ban all women just because some may be prostitutes, because this is both radically over- and radically under-inclusive (most women are not prostitutes, and many prostitutes are not women).

  34. Thomas
    October 20, 2005 at 9:32 am

    Earl, I just realized that with everything I wanted to say in my previous comment, I forgot to address your remarks to me.

    We relieve people of the consequences of their actions or bar them from doing things that will hurt themselves under many circumstances, not because we think they are dumb or that we’re better decision makers, but because we recognize that some circumstances interfere with people’s ability to act in their own best interest. We relieve people of both unconscienable contracts, and of contracts entered into under duress, for example. We don’t permit people to purchase organs, no matter how much the seller needs the money, because anyone in such a dire position that they would sell an organ for money is likely not in a position to act dispassionately and rationally in their own interest.

    A person who is willing to give a blow-job for $7 dollars to feed a drug habit is in a desperate position: jonesing badly, they are under physical compulsion to do something that, if they had a free choice they might never do again, which is get high. Not only are they under that compulsion, but they are so destitute and devoid of options that they likely can’t come up with the money any other way — if begging would work, they’d surely do that instead.

    Simply put, while as a society it makes sense to view all people as rational agents capable of protecting their own self-interest as a rule, it makes no sense to conclusively presume that this agency extends to every situation. Accordingly, in situations where agency is overcome by powerful forces, we install safeguards.

  35. October 20, 2005 at 9:45 am

    “…after my divorce I scrapped by with baby sitting gigs and odd jobs…mostly the jobs we call blow.”

    Hedwig :)

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