By ELIZABETH BASTIAN, Managing Edtior
In the midst of the Valentine’s Day posts of love, chocolate, and other things that upset my stomach, one thing stood out among the Metro Detroit Google News highlights on February 14.
Atti Pollard, a candidate for the upcoming Detroit City Council elections, has been gathering signatures for a petition that would create a “red light district” somewhere in the downtown area. This is something he believes will not only take all the prostitutes and strippers and put them in one place, but will also bring tourists to the city and boost its failing economy.
“For instance, starting off with a strip club district,” said Pollard. “Once the time goes on, we can see if brothels or other means of sexual entertainment are needed.”
According to WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton, the strip club district could be accomplished through passing a change to the zoning code. But to legalize prostitution, Pollard would have to go through the Michigan Legislature.
Legalizing prostitution has been done in certain European and Oceanic/Asian cities, but is something I doubt any state in America will consider within the near future. After all, we are a country founded by Puritans.
To many, the first thought associated with Amsterdam in the Netherlands involves either marijuana or prostitutes, as both are legalized within the metropolitan area. Since 2000, the Dutch government has legally recognized sex workers as independent employees who have to register with the Chamber of Commerce and pay income tax on their earnings. There are some positives to this particular legislation, to be sure. According to Mariska van Huissteden, a coordinator for the public health site Prostitutie & Gezondheidscentrum, PG292 (Prostitution and Health Center), prostitutes now work in buildings surrounded by security camera and patrol officers, both in uniform and undercover. Every brothel is equipped with an alarm system that can be heard from a considerable distance. Health and hygiene is also cared for, and the women have access to free STD testing as well as clean towels and sheets.
However, the realm of prostitution is still rampant with problems. Despite the legalization, almost all sex workers are still stigmatized and marginalized by society, creating discrimination against them. Some even have problems opening bank accounts with certain banks. In addition, registering with the government causes an invasion of privacy, causing several women to go “underground.” The high rent for windows and rooms within the Red Light District also leads to illegal prostitution. And just because these women are listed as independent workers doesn’t mean they work independently. The Dutch government has come to reduce the amount of spaces that can be rented out by sex workers, in hopes that decreasing the supply would decrease the demand; but this is not the case. Now not only is money scarce to these women, but space is as well. This only serves to increase the already enormous amount of competition between sex workers, and drives many into the hands of pimps. While pimps can often lend them money and manage their clients, they also can, and will, heavily abuse them and take a much higher cut of the pay than they should. And the fear of losing clients to competition often leads to workers performing sexual acts they would normally say no to for extra cash, including having unprotected sex.
And this is happening where prostitution is legal. Think of all the places in the world where the government has zero involvement in the lives of these women and girls, or where sex trafficking is simply ignored because it is a tourist attraction (Thailand).
In theory, government regulation of prostitution would create a safe, profitable environment where women, and some men, can cater to the carnal desires of humanity without fear of abuse or discrimination. They would have a union that would protect and fight for their rights. They would have access to proper health care, and wouldn’t have to go through a pimp to earn their living.
In reality, as anyone can see, it doesn’t quite work out like that.
While I respect Pollard for thinking outside the box as far as creating solutions to the city’s problems is concerned, now is not the time or the place. For Detroit as it is right now, creating a red light district is an awful idea. It’s absolutely dreadful.
While it would be great if we could get all of the street walkers off of the mile roads and into a certain area, there is no guarantee this area would be safe, or regulated. The Detroit Police do not even have the capacity to answer 911 calls; how could they find the manpower to constantly patrol a red light district? The city doesn’t own any ambulances – how could a sex worker get to a hospital quickly in an emergency? Detroit is bankrupt, to the point where emergency managers have stepped in to help several areas of the city government. There would be no money to cover healthcare costs for workers, or contraceptives, or STD testing.
And just think of the political climate in Michigan right now, a place that is often referred to as the Mississippi of the Midwest. Think of all the bills that passed through the Michigan House and Senate just last year concerning women’s health and their access to it (Vagina-gate, HB-5711, anyone?). Right-to-work received Snyder’s signature less than 90 days ago, greatly reducing the power of the unions. Even if by some crazy occurrence, the conservatives who currently dominate the state legislature decided the legalize prostitution, the sex workers would have a huge problem getting the health care they needed, and even ensuring they are getting the rights they deserve.
The more I mull this over in my head, the more terrifying this vision becomes.
And so, Atti Pollard, please just drop the petition. If you truly want to become a City Council member, and bring real, positive change to this area, you need to change your political agenda. There are so many other problems that Detroit has that could be fixed with a solid board of council members. Please, please, please, focus on our current issues instead of creating new ones.
Because ain’t nobody got time for that.