A recent sting in New York’s Nassau County nabbed 104 johns. The county announced the arrests on June 3rd, but it didn’t stop there. It also released the names and photographs of all the suspects.
Kudos to Nassau County because, as District Attorney Kathleen Rice said, “women who are sex workers ‘too often remain the prime targets in prostitution investigations while the johns who fuel the exploitation are treated as mere witnesses.’” The numbers back her up. “In 2011, three times [more] women and girls were arrested for prostitution in New York than pimps and buyers,” writes Lauren Hersh of Equality Now. But it is the buyers who perpetuate the harm.
Not that all sex workers feel harmed. Some have joined COYOTE, an organization that advocates legalizing prostitution and pimping. That’s great for people who chose to be sex workers of their own volition.
But COYOTE also calls for legalizing ‘pandering,’ which COYOTE defines as “encouraging someone to work as a prostitute.” Encouragement can be hard to distinguish from coercion, especially when the target is already vulnerable. Kids who have run away from home, especially if they were fleeing sexual abuse, can wind up prostituting themselves to please someone else, someone who provides them with food and a roof over their heads.
Or they may not have a choice. When one girl was raped at age 12, she turned to a man who said he would take care of her. Then he beat and raped her. Then he sold her for sex and the buyers raped her. Police arrested her.
Prosecuting that child for prostitution would be one more violation against her. Arresting johns instead, as Nassau County did, punishes the bad guys, not the victims. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which a john is a victim; that makes it hard to imagine why other jurisdictions aren’t switching their focus away from catching sex workers and going after johns instead.
Nassau County’s month-long sting, named “Operation Flush the Johns,” reeled people in with an online ad. In one month, in one county, with one ad, cops caught 104 men. Add the people who picked up sex workers on the street or responded to different ads in different places, and the scope of prostitution gets to looking pretty big, which it is. “Thousands of women and children are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation in New York State annually,” Equality Now reports.
New York is working on doing something about it. This month the state Assembly is considering the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act. The proposed legislation, which the state Senate has already passed,
improves the State’s efforts to end human trafficking by enhancing protection for trafficking victims—particularly for sexually exploited children. It increases accountability for buyers and traffickers who are fueling the growth of this massive underground industry and it helps prevent re-victimization of trafficking victims by the justice system.
The current legislative session ends June 20th. The Assembly should pass it now so the blame is properly placed on the people who exploit and abuse others for sex and profit and not on their victims.
As for those 104 johns, they are not going quietly or with dignity. Every one of them pleaded not guilty. One of their lawyers attacked Nassau County, complaining, “these individuals have been humiliated, and now their families will be humiliated, too.” Well, yeah. That is one of the risks you run when you pay for sex. If you don’t want to be humiliated, don’t choose to do humiliating things.
The sad thing is how shocked they seem. It should be routine for them to be targeted by law enforcement, as sex workers are now. New York state may make it happen. Give it a nudge: sign our petition.