Vice Squad
Saturday, April 10, 2004
Unsavoury Prostitution Stories

Most of the prostitution stories that I read lead me to reflect upon the relative merits of legalization and regulation as compared with criminalization. But a couple of stories today are quite sad and sordid, while the problems raised by these stories do not seem to be directly "fixable" via legalization.

First, the New York Times tells (registration required) of a Nepalese caste of untouchables in which prostitution has become something of a norm:

"Caste has become destiny for many communities, defining their profession through generations. But few people have inherited so vexed a destiny as the Badis of Nepal. Their profession is prostitution, passed down from one generation to the next." The article notes one 22-year old prostitute who is supporting eleven relatives through her prostitution earnings.

A second story concerns the sentencing of an Arizona woman who prostituted her 13-year old daughter. The woman was a heavy cocaine user, apparently, and also introduced her daughter to illicit drugs. Following a guilty plea, the mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison, though she was facing up to 200 years. An excerpt from the linked article: "The 13-year-old girl still loves her mother, however, and believes the sentence is too harsh and carries guilt for her mother’s troubles, according to a presentence report." Some years ago Leon Dash wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in the Washington Post concerning a poor woman, Rosa Lee, and her family, who lived in the DC slums. The articles then served as the basis for an excellent book, Rosa Lee. Rosa was a heavy drug user, and she also prostituted her teenage daughter to help feed her drug habit. The current case sounds worse, actually, than Rosa's, but that book does give me some pause before agreeing that the 20-year term is appropriate. Compare the mother's twenty years with the slightly more than six year term given this week to a man who forced a 15-year old girl into prostitution.

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