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Editorial: Shame customers to fight prostitution

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
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Some people say that prostitution is a victimless crime and that the Nanny State has no right to peek under the sheets to see what's going on between two consenting adults.

One letter writer to The Gazette on Tuesday said as much, calling a recent prostitution sting in Saratoga County "entrapment" and a misuse of taxpayer dollars.

If all prostitution was solely a case of willing adults engaged in business transactions, that argument might hold some water.

But most often, it doesn't. There are victims. A lot of them. Children are often forced or compelled into prostitution at an early age, before they grow up to become the "willing" adults engaged in those "business transactions." Drug addicts sell their bodies to support their habits, which perpetuates their problem and fuels the illegal drug trade. Prostitutes are often beaten and raped in order to keep bringing in the money for their pimps. Families are harmed by the "johns" patronizing prostitutes. Full neighborhoods fall victim to the plague. Diseases are spread. Human trafficking — a $32 billion-a-year business in New York alone — is now an international crisis. Prostitution is in no way victimless.

But since criminal penalties for sellers and buyers are generally on the light side, police and prosecutors have few tools to combat it.

So that's why it's encouraging that Albany County District Attorney David Soares on Tuesday decided to pull up the weed by its roots — by announcing plans to post the names and photos of people convicted of sex trafficking, including those of the customers who fuel the demand.

If quietly paying a fine in an unpublicized court proceeding doesn't discourage you, maybe having your picture on a DA's website will.

It's a risk that many people will not want to take. And that's just what Mr. Soares is counting on. Turn on a light and watch the cockroaches scatter.

Law enforcement agencies in other communities, including Nassau County and the city of Buffalo, have recently started using humiliation to combat the problem. San Bernardino County, Calif., employed the new tactic a year ago. The district attorney's website got 20,000 hits in its first week. Prosecutors know from anecdotal information and monitoring websites that it’s having an impact.

Sometimes, standard approaches to law enforcement no longer work and authorities have to think of other tactics.

This is one that's worth a try.

 
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