Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Prohibition

Last week, police in California busted a prostitution ring that employed more than 240 women. The investigation was focused on Elite Entertainment, which officials said had posed as an escort service and advertised in the yellow pages. Ten employees have been charged with crimes including loan fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.

My first question is, How can an escort service pose as a "front" for prostitution? That's what escort service is — prostitution. I realize that escort agencies insist that "money is exchanged for time and companionship," but surely we can acknowledge that's boilerplate that their lawyers prescribe in order to impede prosecution. Are we really going to pretend there's a legitimate industry of escort services being sullied by a prostitution scandal?

And I don't like the idea of prosecuting an escort service for tax evasion. It's disingenuous. Tax evasion implies that you expect the person to pay taxes; you can't criminalize the industry and then complain when they don't file tax returns.

The Boston Phoenix has a weekly insert advertising local escorts. When I first picked it up as a teenager, it took me a minute to comprehend what I was looking at. I knew that prostitution was illegal, yet I was holding what looked like hundreds of advertisements for prostitutes that had been published by a major city newspaper. Even writing that sentence today, it seems ridiculous.

I don't think prostitution should be illegal, but I understand the reasoning and I'm not inclined to protest. What I don't understand is demanding enforcement while trying to look the other way. We pretend that money really is exchanged for "time and companionship," and we tolerate page after page of prostitution ads on popular websites — but then we send police detectives on a three-year undercover investigation as if they're infiltrating a terrorist cell.

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