Denver’s City Council wants it both ways in addressing the city’s illicit sex trade. At its meeting on Monday, the council voted to crack down on massage parlors — but to ease up on prostitutes on the streets.
Our best guess is members don’t even realize they voted at cross-purposes with themselves. Perhaps it’s an inevitable hazard for an ever-meandering, tangent-prone council without a cohesive agenda. Every issue is a new adventure — and exists in a vacuum. Little effort is made to plot out day-to-day policy decisions as part of a broader strategy. Pretty much the only overarching value the council invokes to tie it all together is “equity.”
Monday’s newly adopted ordinances on sex workers offer a case in point. The effort to rein in massage businesses in itself makes sense and is probably overdue. It’s an old racket — offering sex under the cover of massage. The businesses not only unfairly taint real massage therapists but also often aid and abet sex trafficking. Employees tend to be foreign-born women forced into the industry. They frequently live inside the businesses in poor conditions.
From now on, massage businesses will have to apply for special business licenses requiring their owners to pass a criminal background check, provide contact information, disclose any previous licensure disciplinary action and offer proof they own or rent their business location. The new procedure will prevent some categories of felons from running massage businesses. It also will hold the owners, rather than the sex workers, accountable when businesses are found to be illicit. Let’s hope the new rules have the desired effect.
But why doesn’t the same council seem to care as much about the welfare of sex workers who ply their trade on the streets? The council also voted Monday to end the requirement for those arrested to be tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Why? As reported by The Gazette, an official with the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment told council members testing “is something that the research really does not back up.” Did the official mean to imply the tests don’t work — false positives, perhaps?
No, that wasn’t it. It turns out some other things bother the city health department about testing. Those concerns were highlighted in a 14-page briefing paper the department prepared for the council. The paper notes for one thing that only a third of those busted in the sex trade were complying with the order to get tested. The price of the tests and getting an appointment can be off-putting, the paper speculates. So, just change the law because some people don’t heed it?
And then there was this: “Disproportionately affects African American Women: In 2019, 43% (52 out 119 arrests) of the women arrested for sex work in Denver were African American.”
Meaning what? Isn’t the city’s health department concerned about African-American women getting sexually transmitted diseases? If not, wouldn’t that be racist and just plain ridiculous? Or, is the city’s point that the burden of testing for infections among sex workers falls disproportionately on African Americans? But why should the race of those arrested matter at all on such concerns involving public health? The point of testing is to stop the spread of disease in an industry that stands to be a super spreader of it. And testing seeks to protect not only the general public but also those engaged in prostitution in the first place.
But then there was this observation by the same health department official quoted in The Gazette’s report: “Voluntary testing and letting people have autonomy over their bodies is a much better way to address sexual health.”
Does that autonomy apply only to testing — or also to the sex-for-hire business itself. Isn’t “autonomy over their bodies” the whole problem — when that autonomy is used to sell their bodies? Doesn’t it then become exploitation of their bodies? Isn’t that one of the reasons prostitution is illegal? Doesn’t the entire illegal sex trade amount to a form of exploitation and subjugation?
Is the city’s health department in fact proposing something more radical, and ending testing is only the first step? Included in a pdf of the health department’s briefing paper is an uncredited photo of a demonstrator holding a sign that reads, “Decriminalize, destigmatize, decarcerate people in the sex trade.”
Is that where Denver is really headed?
Credit: Source link