Throughout history, laws that are supposed to “protect” women have pushed prostitutes to the margins of cities and the social order itself.
By Melissa Gira Grant
June 22, 2012
We’re told that being a prostitute will mark a woman for life. Yet after several millennia of practice, lawmakers and social reformers still struggle to identify what a sex worker looks like.
You know,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said (in a June 15 appearance on WOR’s perfectly named “The John Gambling Show”) when asked what might go wrong with a bill that could penalize taxi drivers who knowingly transport people in the sex trade, “if I were a young lady and I dressed in a ‘sporty way’ — or however you want to phrase it, and there’s nothing wrong with that — I would not want somebody thinking that I’m a prostitute.”
Has Mayor Stop-and-Frisk given pause on an issue of criminal profiling? Even the reliably hooker-baiting New York Post came out swinging against the bill, citing a protest held by women bartenders, who “aren’t hookers – they just look like they can be!” concerned that cab drivers would leave them stranded for fear of getting stung.
The intention of this bill, according to proponents like New York City Council Speaker (and mayoral hopeful) Christine Quinn, is to make it undesirable for taxi and livery drivers in the city to risk any involvement in what they call “sex trafficking.” But the bill doesn’t actually say that: it hits taxi and livery drivers with a $10,000 fine and the revocation of their license if they “knowingly allow” their vehicle to be “used for the purpose of promoting prostitution.”
Attorneys at the Sex Workers Project (SWP) have argued that language like “promoting prostitution” is too vague. “It could include anyone who knowingly aids another person to commit prostitution and anyone who receives money from someone else, knowing it came from prostitution,” SWP co-director Sienna Baskin said in testimony to the city council. No matter what the bill’s intentions, cab drivers could end up passing up fares from sex workers – or people they think might be sex workers.