Utah defines solicitation as a person agreeing to sex in exchange for money. A new law that went into effect this month broadened the definition to include any person who indicates through lewd acts, such as exposing or touching themselves, that they intend to exchange sex for money. (LINK)
Utah has long been one of the most religious states, and this legislation illustrates its commitment to “religious values” no matter what. The first red flag — the giant red flag — is the notion that someone could be arrested for intending to exchange sex for money! Utah has effectively legislated the thought police.
Of course, supporters of the law insist that this carte blanche authority will only be used on women who really do intend to exchange sex for money:
Burbank said officers would not target anyone who is not a prostitute. Arrests will be made by undercover officers and only when it becomes obvious that a deal is being arranged, he said.
This is a fine intention, and it would be nice if officials could be trusted to wield limitless authority benevolently. Unfortunately, history has taught us otherwise, and the framers of the constitution were very careful to emphasize the need for individual protection against such tyranny.
Among the problems with this law:
- Many women — some wearing sexy clothes — touch themselves as an invitation to consentual sex, or simply as harmless flirting.
- Many women in legal professions, such as strippers and licensed escorts, engage in the same kinds of “sexy” behaviors as illegal prostitutes.
- A nearly identical bill was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge in 1988.
Utah House Minority Whip Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored the bill, and claims that it is a weapon in the fight against “underage prostitution” and sex slavery:
The intent is to target prostitutes, especially underage ones who are forced into the sex trade and trained to evade arrest, Seelig said. The arrest would be the first step in helping them get off the streets, she said.
Again, it’s a noble gesture, and it would be nice if it was grounded in reality. A recent study at the University of Arkansas discovered — to the surprise of the researchers — that large portions of the sex industry are not populated by unwilling participants. On the contrary, many women with “good prospects,” education, and affluence are choosing sex work for the same reasons they choose other jobs: flexible hours, good pay, job satisfaction, etc.
Furthermore, the extent of sexual slavery in the U.S. is questionable. In the seven years since the Bush Administration spent $150 million on 42 special task forces, only 1,362 victims of sex trafficking have been identified — nowhere near the 50,000 estimated. Additionally, sex slavery — where it does exist — is often focused in “Asian Massage Parlors.”
The inclusion of sex slaves and children is an emotional appeal, not a reality on the ground. It is deflection from the broader issue. Yes, sex slavery is very bad, and the sexual abuse of children is very bad, but two wrongs do not make a right. Creating laws specifically targetting women and their “intentions” is medieval, misogynist, and a blatant infringement on basic human rights.