By Hooker by Crook

IF, WHILE WEB surfing, you were to stumble upon the St. Paul Police Department's "Wanted!" site (www.stpaul.gov/police/wanted.html), you could be forgiven for mistaking it for an America's Most Wanted-type list of dangerous fugitives. What you see is mug shot after mug shot--more than 30 in all--of unsavory-looking characters, along with descriptive information such as height, weight, and city of residence. Some of the photos are even accented with a police-tape-yellow strip that says, in bold, black type: "CONVICTED."

But this is no catalog of notorious suspected felons. Those included on the roster are pictured merely because they failed to appear for a court date after being arrested for a misdemeanor offense: engaging in prostitution. The site also contains dozens of photos of people who simply have been arrested for engaging in prostitution, regardless of whether they've missed their court date.

Linked to the St. Paul Police Department's home page, the so-called Prostitution Reduction site garnered national headlines when it made its debut in October 1997. Its purpose, according to St. Paul police spokesman Michael Jordan: to act as a deterrent to johns. "It should cause those who solicit prostitution a significant level of embarrassment," Jordan sums up.

Within a month of the site's premiere, the St. Paul City Council was debating whether to take it down, but a resolution to do so was soundly voted down. Eighteen months later the hubbub has died down somewhat, but the site--now closing in on its 1,000th entry--continues to draw criticism.

Alesia Pettiford, head of the advocacy group From Prostitution to Independence, Dignity, and Equality (PRIDE), lauds the department's focus on johns but decries the posting of women's pictures. "It's a double-edged sword, because the johns should be deterred by all means, but the prostitutes must be protected," she asserts. "The women are revictimized by having their pictures on the Internet." Pettiford says she also fears that the site may serve as a means for johns to browse for prostitutes: "Customers usually have computer access and can now more easily identify prostitutes."

That's unlikely, counters Stephen Simon, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who has represented prostitutes in several cases. "The dynamics of street prostitution is that it is on the street," he notes, arguing that customers looking for quick, anonymous sex "would not first make their plans over the Internet."

Still, Simon says, it's hard to evaluate whether the site has served as a deterrent. "The reality is that very few johns are re-arrested--they seldom come back," he points out. "Sadly, the women do not have the same stability. These are women who have been arrested five or six times, and their behavior continues."

 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Minnesota Concert Tickets
Loading...