Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Study: 3% of tricks by sex workers without pimps are 'freebies given to police'

The national hoo-ha over New York Governor Elliot Spitzer's prostitution scandal has inevitably generated renewed debate in the blogosphere regarding the oldest profession. Doc Berman points to an academic paper studying prostitution in Chicago (pdf) that found:
There is a surprisingly high prevalence of police officers demanding sex from prostitutes in return for avoiding arrest. For prostitutes who do not work with pimps (and thus are working the streets), roughly three percent of all their tricks are freebies given to police.
That statistic reminds me of a post about snitching on Grits in 2005, where an officer accused of having sex with prostitutes who were his confidential informants said that relationships as police snitches "are what keep escort services in business."

The study Berman referenced also estimates arrest and imprisonment rates for prostitution in Chicago:

We estimate that prostitutes are officially arrested only once per 450 tricks, with johns arrested even less frequently. Punishment conditional on arrest is limited — roughly 1 in 10 prostitute arrests leads to a prison sentence, with a mean sentence length of 1.2 years among that group.
So for a pros with no pimp, if it's true that 3% of tricks are with police in exchange for avoiding arrest, then for every 450 tricks, a prostitute will be arrested once and have sex with an officer 14 times! For every prison term given to a Chicago prostitute, following these estimates, a prostitute would have had sex with police officers 135 times! It would be difficult given that personal background, while sitting out your 1.2 years in prison, not to view the criminal justice system as indulging in blatant, enormous hypocrisy.

In practice, prostitution is "regulated" in Chicago but extralegally and informally. The "tax" paid is not money to the government but sex to beat cops in exchange for not enforcing the law - essentially it sounds like a protection racket perpetrated by law enforcers, if the study's figures are accurate.

Those are some eye popping estimates, though the research only examined Chicago. I wonder if similar ratios hold up in other jurisdictions?

In the same post, Doc Berman pointed to another batch of research on prostitution that listed a dozen things one must understand to think about prostitution. I found the list incomplete and ideologically skewed, and offered some satirical additions in the comments.

RELATED: From the Miami Herald, "Internet escort sites rarely policed." From AP, "Prostitution advances in a wired world." From Australia, "Brothel madam was police informant," Samar O'Shea at The Huffington Post asks "Is it time to legalize prostitution yet?" And giving the story an international flair, This is London informs us that the Duke of Westminster allegedly was client #6 among the ten clients discovered in the wiretap that nabbed Gov. Spitzer. CNN has an interview with the young lady in question.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

When cops arrest someone holding drugs, they have the option of keeping the arrest off the official record, pocketing the drugs and money, and letting their victim go with a warning.

Cops always 'keep two sets of books', being very careful about documenting anything they do. The vast majority of actual arrests never make it to official records.

Ron in Houston said...

I'm really not surprised. I hear stories all the time.

Anonymous said...

The prosecution of prostitutes should be matched with prosecution of their clients.

Unfortunatele, the men are very seldom prosecuted. While the Gov. of New York has resigned, I doubt he'll ever do a day in jail.

Think Martha Stewart, this is not equal justice!

Anonymous said...

Discuss amnong yourselves, grits publisher and commenters...
Are the cops raping the prostitutes? Why or why not.

Anonymous said...

A policeman or woman can not obtain "consent" without the question of duress.

A policeman should just get married and be faithful. Anything less is rape as far as I'm concerned.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It should be rape, because the person at a traffic stop is in custody and sex with someone in custody is by definition coerced under the statutes (e.g., there' no consensual sex with guards in jail or prison, under the law).

In my experience, though, even with hard physical evidence, prosecutors can't can't rape convictions against cops for this, and the charge is usually Class A misdemeanor official oppression.

Anonymous said...

What a pile of steaming Bullsh#t. You cite a paper- fairly well written and cited- and use it to base your new-low rant that sex with police is rape because of duress.Yes there have been too many well documented cases of sexual assault by police and others in positions of authority. You paint all with the same broad brush, and demean all by association. A new low even for you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I think you misunderstand me, and I certainly don't understand you.

My point was that, under Texas law (not in my opinion) there is no consensual sex between an officer and someone in custody. However, I added that typically such cases are not prosecuted as sexual assaults (though they sometimes are) and for the most part you see them go to court on Class A official oppression charges - I could cite several specific examples offhand.

Why is this a new low? Do you disagree that that is the law?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
When cops arrest someone holding drugs, they have the option of keeping the arrest off the official record, pocketing the drugs and money, and letting their victim go with a warning.
Cops always 'keep two sets of books', being very careful about documenting anything they do. The vast majority of actual arrests never make it to official records."

Dollar to a donut you have no evidence to support this spurious remark. No large group of individuals "always" does anything.

"Ron in Houston said...
I'm really not surprised. I hear stories all the time."

Ah yes, we hear stories, therefore let's not worry about stupid things like facts.

Does the study offer any empirical evidence to support the statement that "There is a surprisingly high prevalence of police officers demanding sex from prostitutes in return for avoiding arrest." other than the totally objective statements of 160 hookers, most of whom are illicit drug users?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@10:10 - If the study based its conclusion on one prostitute's word, or a handful, you might have a point. Interviewing that many and finding consistent results tell me they're likely not ALL making it up. Prosecutors and police rely on illicit drug users' word all the time to secure convictions in court. If that were the criteria, there'd be a lot fewer convictions in the world.

Besides the study, if you pay attention to police misconduct cases this scenario arises with some frequency, see here and here, just in recent news.

Mark's Dad's Brother said...

Come on Grits, you can do better than that. Your 1st link is not only another jurisdiction, it's another country on another continent in another hemisphere. As for your 2nd example it's not much better. While it does cite misconduct by a cop involving a prostitute, the officer was not acting in any official capacity, and that is far from the same scenario as in the study, where the cops are on duty and are being malfeasant.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Those are just the first two I found without even scrolling down the page typing in "police and prostitution" in Google News. This isn't an issue I track, though I see such cases frequently when I'm researching other topics. (Also, you say the second one wasn't on point, but a cop in uniform having sex with a pros, in my opinion, qualifies as belonging in this discussion, unless you think he was going to later turn her in.)

I challenge you to set those phrases on a Google News alert and see how many of these cases crop up over time. I'll bet it's a lot more common than you think.

Prostitution, like graffiti, is an international problem and the issues are nearly everywhere the same. I linked in the post to a similar case in Seattle. It's happening in Australia. The study says it's happening in Chicago. Only you say it's not happening, and you've no evidence but indignation.

Give me something to hang my hat on here. What makes you think the Chicago study is flawed other than that some prostitutes use drugs?

Mark's Dad's Brother said...

More assuming facts not in evidence. "in uniform" - I think not, therefore not on point.

Where did I say it's "not happening"? Of course it happens. Everything happens. My indignation started with with 09:27:00's "Cops always 'keep two sets of books", a total fabrication on his part, and "Ron in Houston"'s remark "I hear stories all the time."
In 22 years of being a cop, I never once heard of even 1 guy keeping 2 sets of books, much less all cops doing that.I also heard "stories all the time", many involving unetheical practices of defense attorneys. I choose, however, to take them with a grain of salt, rather than accept their validity on face value.
Those were my original points. They were not taking issue with your post, but then you decided to defend 09:27:00's and Ron's post and that my points were invalid and here we are.
Have you even looked at the empirical evidence in the Chicago study? I have, and nowhere in the charts, indices, or appendices did I find any facts to support their contention that "There is a surprisingly high prevalence of police officers demanding sex from prostitutes in return for avoiding arrest." Perhaps you would be so kind as to point it out.

Believe me when I say that I'm aware more than most of improper behavior of police officers, but to use a broad brush, as zealots and extremists on both sides of any issue frequently do, is just not fair.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ mark's dad's brother:

3% of prostitutes' tricks seems "surprisingly high" to me for "freebies" to police. Actual professionals do a fair amount of volume! At some point, given those rates, it becomes just a de facto extortion scheme.

I certainly don't accept the commenter's statement about "two sets of books," etc., and if I misread your criticism I'm sorry.

When I first started looking at the Tulia case, I heard "stories all the time" about problems at other task forces. Then for about two years once a week I went to www.newslink.org/texas and went through all the regional dailies looking for other scandals at drug task forces, and by late 2002 had identified around 20 of them. The evidence was being reported as each incident happened locally, but nobody had caught on that there were patterns across jurisdictions.

IMO that's what's happening on this, with a subset of police tolerating prostitution in exchange for "freebies," I just haven't put in the study time to prove it. (This is, after all, a blog - I can have an opinion.)

The Chicago study puts a number (in that town) on the frequency, from which I calculated that their subjects may have had as many as 135 sexual encounters with police officers for every prison sentence issued by the state. I find that shockingly high. I also suspect that some version of a similar de facto extortion scheme operates in more than a few other jurisdictions, including in Texas.

BTW, over the years my position has consistently NEVER been that most cops are engaging in misconduct, much less keeping two sets of books, etc.. I think a small few account for most of the misconduct that occurs. However, I do blame for the larger group for protecting the troublemakers, both with their individual silence, frequently, and more formally through their unions' (IMO undue and usually negative) influence at the capitol.

Thanks for your comments, and sorry if we rubbed each other the wrong way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Whoops, Newslink changed their URL on me. Their list of TX papers is here.