Male Prostitution & Equal Protection: An Enforcement Dilemma

Article excerpt

I was in my first weeks of law school, desperately outlining, briefing, and constantly studying, when I was first exposed to prostitution. I had just returned home from an afternoon studying and was changing into gym clothes when I heard a knock at my door. I opened the door to an attractive, young African-American woman who I had seen walking in my neighborhood. After exchanging greetings, she asked me if I wanted to "hang out." I thought the question a benign one, and while we had talked once or twice, I was a little confused as to how she knew where I lived, and why she had singled me out. At my confused expression, she explained, "You know, make some heat." Being rather slow, I still must have looked confused, as her tone became exasperated, and she blurted out, "I'm trickin'!" Embarrassed at my denseness, slightly offended, a little scared, and blushing furiously, I told her that I was sorry and I wasn't really interested, but I'd be happy to grab a meal with her sometime. Yes, in my anxious state, I asked a prostitute to join me for dinner. As she walked out the door, she turned, and with a broken look, asked if there was no way that I could help her. I didn't know what to say.

The experience brought into sharp reality the facts that I had heard about prostitution in America. Many have studied the problems surrounding female prostitution and have found just how troubling the conditions are for these women. While it is difficult to find reliable data regarding prostitution, some reports show that, of street prostitutes, 65 to 75% are victims of long-term incest. (1) Of all prostitutes, 75 to 90% were sexually abused during childhood, (2) and 85% of prostitutes working in the United States are addicted to crack, heroin, prescription drugs, or alcohol. (3) Working the street is a bleak prospect for women, according to Dr. Joyce I. Wallace, the founder of From Our Streets with Dignity (an organization which offers free services to women who are often defined as prostitutes in New York City). "Half the time, they're on the street because they had a drug problem and got thrown out of whatever homes they came from, ... [b]ut half are on the street because it's less violent than home. They turn to drugs to make life tolerable." (4) Academic work on the plight of female prostitutes has been extensive. (5)

But women are not the sole purveyors of sexual services in America or the world. Men throughout history have also offered up their bodies for money, with some academics positing that ever since women have solicited, so have men. (6) Ancient Greek acceptance of the practice is well documented, and it was even licensed and taxed in Augustinian Rome. (7) Despite this prevalence, even if male prostitution has occurred on a less grandiose scale to its female counterpart, "social inquiry has been largely limited to women servicing men." (8)

My purpose in this note is threefold: first, to examine the history and present-day social status of male sex workers and the academic understanding thereof; second, to analyze whether historical legislation targeting female prostitution would, in fact, have violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution as it stands today had the statutes remained in their gendered forms; and finally, to assess whether today's current prostitution law enforcement policies, though couched in generally gender neutral language, in fact violate the Equal Protection Clause because of law enforcement's insistence on almost the exclusive targeting of women for the crime of prostitution. While arguments can be made both for and against Equal Protection violation, the existence of the dispute itself brings to light a number of worthwhile questions about the nature of prostitution at large and the way we as a society choose to prosecute and deter individuals from engaging in it. At the same time, the nature of male prostitution as a near-exclusively same-sex exchange affects the comparison itself, as female-male encounters carry their own set of issues. …

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