Copping a Feel

How far is too far when police target prostitutes?

"And it's going to be her word against his," concludes Mitchell. "Who are they going to believe?"

According to Deputy City Attorney Peterson, however, touching remains a tactic of last resort among Minneapolis vice cops. "I've talked to a lot of these officers and, believe me, most of them don't like doing this," she explains. But if the appeals court rules that police cannot engage in any intimate physical contact, Peterson adds, busting prostitutes will become much more difficult in the future.

As Beverly Balos sees it, that would be a good thing. Balos, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who has written extensively on prostitution, argues that authorities should focus their efforts on the demand side of prostitution--and that means going after johns. "If you look at the statistics, you know that the overwhelming majority of people arrested are the prostituted women. But why are we targeting the most vulnerable actors here?" Balos asks. "If we want to help these women become self-sufficient, there is a whole host of things we could be doing rather than having them arrested and thrown in jail."

Simon, meanwhile, expects the appeals court will rule on his client's case by late fall. If the conviction is overturned, he says, cops may indeed have a more difficult time in undercover operations. If the conviction is upheld, she will have to serve her original sentence: 45 days in the Hennepin County workhouse. Such a ruling, he adds, would likely lead to a rise in intimate interactions between undercover cops and prostitutes. And women just like his client will continue to search for a fail-safe screening method to keep them from being put behind bars. "And we'll be asking ourselves again," Simon concludes. "Is there a line we don't want our police to cross?"

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