Decriminalizing prostitution would be a mistake...

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Over the past few months, we have seen a push to decriminalize prostitution in Rhode Island. We need to keep fighting to make sure we do not return to the dark shadowy days where RI was considered a haven for sex trafficking.


The decriminalization movement wants to decriminalize pimping, sex buying, and brothel keeping. Their goal is to legalize the whole sex industry.


Through detailed articles and editorials in The Providence Journal and through the work of The I- Team on WJAR-Channel 10, we learned about the Asian massage parlors, where women lived in one room, cooked using sternos and hot plates, slept on mattresses on the floor, and performed continual sex acts. At that time, there were approximately 34 massage spas in Rhode Island offering sex services and indoor prostitution was legal in Rhode Island due to a loophole in the law.


In October of 2009, I sponsored three laws; the law banning indoor prostitution, an amended law  banning human trafficking, and a law banning minors from working in the adult entertainment industry, (after a fifteen year old was found working in a strip club in Providence and engaging in prostitution). The intent was to stop the transportation of these young women here for the purpose of sex trafficking and to stop the pimps and managers from exploiting them. My intent was to help women, not to punish them.


The prostitution law banned indoor prostitution and gave law enforcement the tools needed to investigate and prosecute the pimps, perpetrators, and johns. These laws have helped in the crackdown of sex trafficking and harboring of trafficking victims and helped prosecute traffickers, pimps and johns.


Many of the so-called “massage spas” are now gone but a few are still around. There has been a crackdown on these spas in the last several weeks in Providence and Pawtucket. Much of the same conditions still exist in these spas. There are ways to combat these problems but  decriminalizing prostitution is not one of them.


The human-trafficking law that passed created a Task Force to fully examine the problem. The Task Force was to include representatives appointed by the state Attorney General, the State Police, the municipal police training academy, the Providence police, the President of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, the Office of the RI Public Defender, the Governor, the House Speaker, the Senate President and various social service representatives.


The Task Force was to monitor the criminal and social issues involved with trafficking and to do bi-annual reports with solutions. Sadly, this task force was never appointed by the General Assembly. Although other groups working to help the victims of human trafficking, this task force was to deal solely and directly with this issue. Furthermore, no reports have been done.


The following should be done to help end the scourge of sexual exploitation of  women, children - and young men.


* The state should implement the Task Force as constituted under the law in 2009.

* Bi-annual status reports by that Task Force should be submitted to the public, the General Assembly and proper authorities.

*  Political leaders should work with law enforcement to ensure the enforcement of all  human-trafficking and prostitution laws, and provide funding in the state budget to fully enact the laws to help victims and provide services.


The laws that were passed were good pieces of legislation and should be used to combat the scourge of sexual victims in our state. They should not be weakened.


Joanne Giannini, of Providence, is a former Democratic state representative and prime sponsor of Rhode Island’s human trafficking and prostitution laws.

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