Absurdities of law enforcement

September 23, 2007

The Morning Call reports on police and prosecutors in Lehigh County using civilians undercover to investigate prostitution rings. These civilians are allowed (encouraged?) to engage in sex. The latest case – in North Whitehall – involved a man who himself approached police to volunteer to investigate a local massage parlor where he was “offended” by an apparent offer of sex for money. The man went on to pay for sex with taxpayer money four times.
Of course vice is not the only area of law enforcement where this sort of mentality took over long ago. But – as far as I know – this is the only one which potentially offers otherwise uninvolved “informants” the opportunity to engage in illegal activity frequently and with the full sanction and financing of the law. (As opposed to informants already embedded within criminal enterprises and those who assist on investigations solely for financial gain. Both of which are themselves a far cry from those upright citizens who aid police out of a sense of civic duty.)
In addition to implicitly ridiculing this thoroughly corrupt and corrupting parody of real police work, the article also makes some points about the real societal problems which are attached to prostitution:

Mary Anne Layden, a clinical psychologist with the University of Pennsylvania Health System who served as an expert witness at the Shiatsu hearing, said the debate over how prostitution investigations are conducted obscures a far more serious issue: the exploitation of women whose backgrounds, research shows, almost always include sexual and physical trauma.
Most prostitutes are forced into the lifestyle when they are little more than children and about 70 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result — a higher percentage than researchers have found among soldiers at war, she said.
Layden said the most effective way to stem prostitution and related crimes such as human trafficking is to ”flip” the standard approach by treating prostitutes as victims — giving them psychotherapy and job training instead of jail — and targeting johns as criminals.
In Sweden, this approach was been credited with reducing prostitution by 50 percent within a decade. Conversely, Germany and Australia saw massive increases in prostitution after legalizing the practice, with increasing numbers of children forced into the lifestyle to meet the demand.

If I’m reading this correctly, the logic here is the opposite of what one frequently hears from pro-legalization people. That legalizing the act of prostitution is not an effective way to curb human trafficking, and that prosecuting those who purchase the services provided by traffickers – for which the trafficked are only the means of provision – is proven to be more effective. This corresponds to what many people have been trying to say for a very long time about drugs, immigration, and a number of other social ills. And yet – as with nearly every other social ill – it seems that common sense, reason, and statistical validity have no power against conventional wisdom and the politically convenient.

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