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The Rand Report: Sex workers on Lake St. #2

By Rand Retterath

Rand Retterrath

Part 2 of a series.

After the one man research project attempting to fully comprehend all the mitigating factors affecting the sex tourism market on Lake St. and on Bloomington Ave. among others, I was left with the following considerations: Gender-based approach doesn’t work! Community approach doesn’t work! Political approach doesn’t work! Feminist approach doesn’t work! Social Service approach meets with only very limited success! Law Enforcement doesn’t have the resources to effectively arrest their way to a solution (nor should they)! Judicial approach doesn’t work, it means nothing! Penalties are meaningless. Combined Judicial/Social Service approach meets with limited success! Community Engagement approach doesn’t work!

We have a spectacular list of tried and failed approaches to the sex industry. For decades, Lake St., as well as Bloomington Ave., have been the sex tourist destination of the south metro area. And for over 50 years nothing has ever resolved the phenomenon. Let’s try a new and completely different approach. 

My first endeavor was a market assessment. Why is the industry almost exclusively on Midtown side of Lake between 18th and 11th while on Columbus to Clinton, it is on both sides? The demand side participants like to SHOP the supply side before purchasing services.Suddenly, EVERYTHING made sense. It is easier to go around the block on 29th than it is on 31st. This same situation holds true for the Columbus to Clinton stretch, but on both sides!

The demand side solution is then to interrupt the shopping opportunity. Make the market harder to shop! It seems a silly thing but when considered, but it makes perfect sense. A test is simple enough by installing Jersey barriers at some key intersections. I would suggest barriers on the intersections along 29th between 18th and 11th Avenues.  Do the same on Clinton and 31st. Then monitor the activity.

On the supply side, we need to demand involvement from the school board. Just like any vocational school, children are educated for a trade. Not all of the trades are socially appropriate. SCHOOLS MUST GET INVOLVED!

Public health officials should be using existing laws to mandate STD testing. In the course of my travels, I have identified a handful of sex workers that are known to have HIV.  It is a public health risk to both supply and demand sides.

Minnesota Statues: Subd. 8. Health threat to others. “Health threat to others” means that a carrier demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to act in such a manner as to not place others at risk of exposure to infection that causes serious illness, serious disability, or death. 

Our courts need to take a more progressive approach ensuring the community welfare. This industry creates a toxic zone in our community with the abundance of feces, urine, needles, condoms as well as making it unsafe to travel, exposes children to parts of life prematurely and condemns EVERYONE to diminished lives.

I would also argue that prostitution, as a crime, should be equalized with solicitation and as part of sentencing should consider impact on the community. Again, this is a market-based approach that, to the extent possible, should be based on market-driven tactics. The market place makes no distinction on gender, merely on the purchaser and the supplier. By the way, I cannot say that a john has ever dropped needles or weapons.

On the demand side, the city needs to appoint an ombudsman to defend the rights of anyone, who through mental defect, addiction or other incapacity, works in the sex industry to hold oversight bodies accountable. This one is hard to believe, but I know of one case where I had to call the Civil Liberties Union and file a formal complaint with Department of Human Services to address a known sex worker deemed legally incompetent. I know of another with fetal alcohol syndrome. By definition, they are not able to make decisions for themselves and as a society, we should NEVER tolerate their being abused in this way.  In addition, I have documented about a dozen sex workers who have been on the streets from 6 to 20 years. Someone needs to dig into these cases and determine competency and or mitigating circumstances beyond the voluntary social services provided in lieu of sentencing.

On the supply side, I wonder, given the statistical prevalence in certain areas, can the Special Service Districts be held accountable in some way? Certainly some work very hard in and with the community to make it safe for all. Others however do nothing, even to the extent, of not finishing buildings, playing the permit chase game and generally creating the environment in which the sex-industry can flourish. Is it any surprise that the highest densities of the sex trade occur immediately adjacent to ONE DEVELOPER/PROPERTY OWNER!

Likewise, if we have established a diversion program for sex workers, a similar one should be established for the demand side (jons).  After all, most psychologists agree that sex addiction is a thing, and there are even 12-step programs for it.  Additionally, in the course of my travels, I see the same johns, day after day, just like we have seen the same sex workers for YEARS!  The American system of law says justice is blind. It does not decide who is or is not a victim.  At best it can only consider mitigating circumstances.

It is time for a whole new approach! It is up to us to hold our city council people accountable. It starts with them! And it is up to us, living with it day in and day out to change the discussion and demand action.

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