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Indoor prostitution still legal in R.I.
Officials hustle to close so-called spas and loophole that allows sex for cash

The Associated Press
updated 11:42 a.m. MT, Thurs., June 18, 2009

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The undercover police officer paid $60 to enter the Midori Spa just blocks from Providence city hall. A massage therapist rubbed the officer's back, then simulated a sex act with her right hand.

"You want more?" she asked, explaining it would cost an extra $20.

"Next time," the cop said, according to court documents, then walked out. A short while later, the woman and five others were arrested in a prostitution sting.

This encounter would be an open-and-shut prostitution case in any other state besides parts of Nevada. But in Rhode Island, a legal loophole allows sex for cash, if it's done in private. The women in the Midori case were acquitted.

Now there is a push to close the loophole created by a legislative mistake 30 years ago.

Taking on spas, parlors
Gov. Donald Carcieri is joining lawmakers, police chiefs and others Thursday at a news conference to press the state Senate to pass legislation that would make any prostitution illegal — effectively putting out of business the so-called massage parlors and spas that proliferate in Rhode Island. The bill passed the House last month.

Rhode Island's loophole went mostly unnoticed until Providence police raided several spas in 2003, including the now-defunct Midori, and then lost their cases in court because of the loophole. Police can arrest prostitutes operating on street corners, but they struggle to make charges stick against those operating indoors because the current law — passed when street prostitution was rampant — specifies outdoor solicitation.

Since then, lawmakers repeatedly have tried — and failed — to change the law but faced opposition from civil libertarians, advocates for sex workers and even the state chapter of the National Organization for Women. They say permitting the arrest of prostitutes could end up punishing human trafficking victims.

They doubt these trafficking victims — mostly Asian will open up to police after a raid, and they say a criminal record could make it more difficult for prostitutes to leave the sex industry.

"We would never arrest a domestic violence victim in the hope we could get her to cooperate against her abuser," said Andrea Ritchie, director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York, who has lobbied against the bill.

'Dubious distinction'
Rep. Joanne Giannini, who sponsored the legislation to close the loophole, argues many of the women who work in the Rhode Island sex shops are coerced victims of human trafficking. Without a stronger prostitution law, police lack the tools to intervene.

"We're going to become a safe haven for the sex industry," she said. "I don't think that Rhode Island should have this dubious distinction."

All states beside Rhode Island and Nevada have laws forbidding the solicitation of prostitution, although police and prosecutors have discretion over how to enforce them, said Ron Weitzer, a sociology professor who studies the subject at George Washington University.

Some police departments tacitly operate under the Rhode Island model, only targeting prostitutes and customers who become a nuisance in public.

"If they publicized it, for one thing, they'd get criticized by the public, the media or politicians for not enforcing the laws against indoor prostitution," Weitzer said. "Or it might lead to a flux of indoor workers into a particular city."

Giannini's bill would give police discretion in making arrests and includes specific protections that allow human trafficking victims to be acquitted by arguing they were threatened, restrained or had their immigration papers stolen.

Those changes have not satisfied the state branch of the National Organization for Women or the Rhode Island Commission on Women, which withdrew its support. The commission wants a guarantee that trafficking victims won't be charged in the first place, said Shanna Wells, the commission's executive director.

"You're arresting her and she'd have to go through this whole legal process before she could even defend herself," Wells said.

Rhode Island's current prostitution laws are the consequence of a 30-year-old legislative accident.

In 1976, a group called Call Off Your Old, Tired Ethics — or COYOTE — filed a lawsuit arguing the state cannot ban purely private sexual activity between adults, even if money is involved. The group also claimed that police were unfairly targeting women prostitutes while largely ignoring their male customers.

The disputed statute was so restrictive that a federal judge found it could potentially ban even some forms of consensual sex between adults.

Around the same time, residents in the West End of Providence complained to police that outdoor prostitution was so rampant that customers were randomly soliciting women on the street. So legislation was passed that outlawed only paid sex and cracked down on those making solicitations outside.

A federal judge who later analyzed the statute ruled it also had the effect of decriminalizing indoor prostitution.

Former House Speaker Matthew J. Smith said lawmakers never meant to draw a distinction between indoor and outdoor prostitution. Even so, he wants state lawmakers to eliminate any ambiguity.

"There's no choice," Smith said. "We're the laughing stock of the country."

In the years since, spas sprouted in Rhode Island's urban communities and a few suburban ones, too. Their advertisements run alongside those for strip clubs and adult stores and offer services described as "body shampoo," "table shower" or "relaxing body rub."

Other notices are less subtle: "Hot Asian Girls!"

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Senate Thursday night approved a bill to make indoor prostitution illegal and hold landlords who "knowingly" allow prostitution on their property criminally liable.

The vote was 35 to 0.

The Senate bill (S-596) introduced by Sen. Paul V. Jabour, D-Providence, is one of two bills pending before the General Assembly that seek to close a nearly 30-year-old "loophole" in the state's prostitution law.

The other bill (H-5044 A), introduced by Rep. Joanne M. Giannini, D-Providence, was approved 62 to 8 in the House last May.

In order to become law, the Senate and House must both approve one, identical bill.

Jabour said yesterday that he hopes that his colleague in the House, Giannini, is willing to work with him to get a prostitution bill passed this session.

"Representative Giannini has done a tremendous amount of work on this,'' Jabour said Thursday. "If she wants something passed, I want Joanne to consider amending her bill."

The Senate bill's approval Thursday night followed a series of negotiations throughout the day Wednesday by Jabour, the bill's sponsor, the Senate president and members of Senate Judiciary Committee, who approved the bill just 90 minutes before the Senate floor vote.

Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, who previously opposed the prostitution bill because she said she feared it was victimizing prostitutes, was among those who voted for it Thursday night.

Both the House and Senate bills seek to give the police the tools they have said are necessary to investigate and prosecute cases that could involve sex-trafficking. The lack of a criminal statute against indoor prostitution, the police say, has fueled the expansion in Rhode Island of brothels masquerading as "spas.''

But the House and Senate bills differ in several key respects. For example, the Senate bill includes penalties for landlords who "knowingly" allow prostitution on their property.

Under Sen. Jabour's bill, landlords who are repeat offenders would face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

"You get caught shoplifting three times, you're an habitual offender'' subject to a felony charge, Jabour, a lawyer, said. "Why should it be any different for prostitution?"

The penalties--which are much lighter for first- and second-time offenders--are designed to encourage landlords to take action to remove tenants whom they know or suspect are using the premises for prostitution, said legislative counsel lawyer Richard K. Corley, who helped draft the Senate bill.

For landlords, the punishment for a first offense is a misdemeanor "violation" subject a $100 contribution to the Victims' Indemnity Fund; a second-offense is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Jabour had said last week that property owners are the "silent force" against his bill, adding that he wanted to "smoke out the skunks and see who's against it."'

Jabour's bill also include identical penalties for prostitutes and "johns."

Other than certain counties in Nevada, Rhode Island is the only place in the country where indoor prostitution is not a crime.
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So i guess legally you could be an outdoor prostitute in Rhode Island? LOL Seriously I thought 49 states have outlawed prostitution period.
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Right - you could have legally been an "indoor" prostitute in Rhode Island but they JUST outlawed it lat week. 
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