Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Charged with Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

A couple of days ago, "Once Were Warriors" director Lee Tamahori was arrested in Los Angeles in a police sting operation while wearing a woman's dress and wig. He had offered an undercover policeman sex in exchange for money, and was charged with prostitution and loitering in a public place.

While this news will have shocked or titillated some, my main reactions were:

1. They still run "sting" operations to catch transvestites soliciting? An undercover cop sits all night in a car and waits to snare unwary prostitutes so they can be charged with a misdemeanour? Is this really the wisest use of police resources?

2. You can get arrested for loitering?? Wow. I thought that was a joke about how in LA you can get charged with walking, but I guess not.


Cecilia said...


Firstly. Although I have been unable to locate the exact statute Tamahori was charged under, I understand he was charged with "loitering with intent to commit prostitution" rather than just "loitering". Statutes that prohibit merely loitering run into First Amendment problems, so cities need to narrowly tailor them to prevent a certain harm.

Sceondly. I also get irked sometimes that police lurk in the red light district, waiting to get propositioned so that they can arrest prostitutes. What about all the other problems out there? Rapes! Burglaries! Drive-by shootings! Poor women (and men) are just trying to make a living like everyone else. However, the reality is that cities have very legitimate interests in policing prostitution, especially in places where it is most prevalent (like where Tamahori was picked up). If it were just transactions between consenting adults, there would be little harm but this is unfortunately not the reality today in US cities (or in most cities around the world). Sadly, there is a roaring trade in what is essentially human trafficking. LA and Miami, in particular, are hot spots for forced prostitution involving ridiculously young women who come from all corners of the world seeking the bright lights and then end up beholden to the people who brought them there - usually pimps and drug dealers. Throw in a high association with hard drug addiction and the fact that a lot of street prostitution is organized and run by gangs in LA and you've got some pretty compelling social concerns. In my opinion, the much greater issue here is whether it is fair that some of society's most vulnerable citizens get criminally charged for being the face on a social affliction when most of them work out of necessity or under duress, even if it is just a misdemeanor. But, that's something I could write a whole paper on, so I'll leave it here...

Now obviously, Tamahori doesn't fall into these categories and was clearly there of his own volition. However, I guess my ppoint is that his arrest isn't necessarily the "moral policing" that it might initially seem.

Simon Bidwell said...

Thanks, Cecilia. I figured there may be some kind of coherent defense of this situation, and you've provided it. I agree that the issue is the unfairness of addressing exploitation by busting the exploited person.

It's not entirely clear whether the Netherlands/New Zealand solution (legalisation) is the answer. I doubt that would fly in many (or any) parts of the US in any case, but even a raving Euro-liberal such as me doesn't presume to claim that it's unproblematic.