Wednesday 27 November 2013

An Open Letter to New Port Richey

Dear New Port Richey, Florida,

Hey there, it's been a while since we touched base. Soz about that. I've been away writing books and getting up to no good in the UK; you've been busy increasing your suburban sprawl to the point where there is now no clear boundary between you and the rest of the West Central Florida region (a.k.a. "the bit too far west of Disney").

Anyway, I thought we should probably catch up after you recently announced a new plan to arrest sex workers in the city limits. As I am arguably the city's best-known export, and certainly its best-known prostitute export, I'm surprised you didn't run this by me first. Because this plan of yours? I'm telling you this now, it ain't gonna work.

Just to catch up the rest of the folks reading this - the grandees of New Port Richey got tired of rigging elaborate stings to entrap sex wokers, so are giving cops free rein to arrest people who tick any three of eight "behaviours" off a list. These behaviours include asking if someone is a cop, getting into and out of cars at the same place by the road, trying to attract attention of drivers, and more.

You know who else asks if you're a cop? People who are trying to get help in an emergency. You know who else gets into and out of cars by the road every day? Students and workers waiting for their carpool. You know who tries to attract the attention of people driving by on US 19? Anti-abortion protestors. Last time I checked, New Port Richey had all of these in abundance.

That's the problem with these kinds of laws, you see. Profiling has a false positive rate greater than zero, and some of those false positives will no doubt lawyer up. Also, picking up people because you think they might possibly commit a crime in the future is not the same as detecting people who are actually breaking the law. It is - hm, how you say? - oh yeah, now I remember the word. "Unconstitutional." (My time in Florida's schools did not go to waste, as you can see.)

And while we're on the topic of what's legal and what's not, please explain to me what the point of criminalising sex workers is again? Because harassing people over a victimless crime seems like a pretty poor use of resources.

Back when I lived in Florida I knew a few women who were out there selling sex on the streets. Not one of them ever said, "you know what would change my life in a positive way? A mandatory minimum jail sentence and a thousand dollar fine." For the most part they were just trying to get by day to day, put food on the table, hoping maybe for something better someday. Jail is not that something better.

Remember how that Prohibition thing worked out with booze? The War on Drugs with drugs? Yeah, this is bound to backfire, too. The people you're trying to target - some of whom really are vulnerable - will be getting criminal records instead of a helping hand.

Meanwhile, the indoor sex workers like me who can easily dodge these ham-fisted vice moves will continue making money, because the truth is you can't stop the world's oldest profession.

Florida's an odd place, I'll grant you that, and it can be tough to set yourself apart when virtually every other town and city in the state has attracted international attention for doing strange stuff. Why, just down the road we have Clearwater, a place that's both the spiritual HQ of Scientology and the world HQ of Hooters restaurants. It's hard to compete with that kind of weird.

But this approach is not the way forward. Becoming well-known for something you didn't exactly plan on is kind of a bummer. I feel your pain. You know what? Sometimes you have to roll with the hand you're dealt. Like, maybe offering the sex workers passing through the Pasco County law enforcement system options other than going to jail? Or - if you're feeling like pushing the boat out a bit - letting adults mind their own business.

New Port Richey, you and me parted ways a while ago. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a part of you with me, and a part of me with you. I'd really appreciate it if you could do me a solid and reconsider this ill-thought idea. Otherwise I'm going to have to keep telling people I'm from this town, and from what I gather, that would probably rub you up the wrong way.

Sunshine and kisses,