Politics & Other Mistakes: Looking for a good time? This ain’t it

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It’s easy to understand why some politicians would want to legalize prostitution. The two occupations share an astonishing number of similarities.

I’ll leave the more lurid aspects of those overlapping job descriptions to the sick and twisted corners of your imagination, because, as always, this column is only concerned with public policy and similar wonkiness. You’ll just have to take your prurient interests someplace else. Use your computer or your smartphone. That’s what they’re for.

During its just-concluded session, the Maine Legislature (motto: Available for Rental or Purchase; Rates May Vary According to How Kinky You Want to Get) passed a bill that essentially legalized prostitution. Penalties for proposing or engaging in sex acts for hire were eliminated, while the consequences of pimping, sex trafficking, and paying for sex were increased.

Instead of being arrested, sex workers would be offered counseling (“Have you ever considered running for office?”) and career advice (“If you want big money, you just have to pretend you enjoy whatever acts the fat cats request.”).

The ex-hookers get to go legit. The pols create a ready-made pool of future candidates with compatible moral standards. Seemed like a win-win.

Except there’s always somebody who wants to take all the fun out of engaging in debauchery. In this case, that wet blanket was none other than Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who claimed the legislation went much too far.

“While some hope this bill will protect the survivors of human trafficking, a goal I share, others fear that sex traffickers will use decriminalization of prostitution as a way to entice more people into their trade,” Mills wrote in a letter explaining why she was vetoing the measure. The governor went on to say pimps might use the legal change to entice more victims into the trade by telling them “what they’re doing is not a problem.”

Mills has a point, one shared by some advocates for those who’ve been lured into the sexual underground. But another bunch of activists takes the opposite view. They say such a law would halt an ugly operation that’s been thriving in the shadows for years in parts of Maine. Here’s some reporting from Politico:

“The state is a trafficking hub: People within Maine are recruited, often from rural areas, and transported to major cities like New York and Boston, according to Nate Walsh (an assistant district attorney in Androscoggin County) who helped write the legislation.”

Even after Mills’ veto, Maine law remains reasonably sympathetic to those caught selling themselves for sex. They can’t be convicted if they can convince a judge they were prostituting themselves to “prevent bodily injury, serious economic hardship or another threat to the person or another person.”

That’s almost the same oath legislators take when they’re sworn into office. The only difference is they get to keep the money.

There’s no easy answer to this problem. By which I mean there’s no politically acceptable answer. No one outside a county or two in Nevada and a few European countries is going to allow total legalization, with licenses for brothels and their employees, special zoning for red-light districts, regimented medical checkups, unannounced health inspections, and strict limits on advertising.

Sort of like what we already have for the marijuana industry.

But that’s pot, which is now so mainstream that everyone can use it without penalty – except Olympic athletes. Sex isn’t anywhere near as acceptable – except for Olympic athletes, and they never have to pay for it.

Part of the reason politicians can’t come up with a sensible solution for this issue is that they’re unable to separate sex trafficking (which is a horrendous crime) from traditional prostitution (which probably shouldn’t be a crime at all for either sellers or buyers). The pols have been prostituting themselves to the highest bidders for so long that they can no longer grasp the distinctions that divide the sex trade.

They only understand one kind of horny.

I’m soliciting your opinions, emailed to me at [email protected]. But I’m not paying for them.