Secret Service Scandal Moves Advocates to Call for Legal US Prostitution

PHOTO: Carol Leigh
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Never mind the use of taxpayer dollars, the potential threat to national security, the embarrassment brought to the U.S. government. In one regard, at least, "Hookergate" was a good thing, at least to sex workers in the United States: It called attention to the plight of sex workers here, where prostitutions is illegal and practitioners have no rights.

"If it had happened here, the woman couldn't have gone to the police and said, 'These guys are trying to cheat me out of money.' Instead, she would have been hurt and cheated, and Mr. Agent Man would have gone home and patted himself on the back for having gotten one over on her," said Maggie McNeill, a former New Orleans call girl and the founder of The Honest Courtesan.

Last week, 11 Secret Service agents were recalled to the U.S. from Cartagena, Colombia, where they had been on assignment to help protect President Obama at the Summit of the Americas. They were placed on administrative leave after allegedly bringing prostitutes back to the Hotel Caribe, and their security clearance was later revoked. Ten U.S. military personnel are also being investigated for their role in the affair.

Interestingly, hiring a prostitute (and related adultery issues) was never specifically outlawed in the military until 2006, when the Bush administration made changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Today, it's banned even if prostitution is legal in the country. Military personnel who patronize prostitutes can receive up to a year in jail, get a dishonorable discharge, and lose all pay and allowances.

McNeill and others say the policy is ridiculous,and that criminalizing prostitution is not only a human rights violation, but also a safety and labor issue. Now is a perfect time to call attention to the plight of sex workers—which includes prostitutes, escorts, as well as adult film models and actors—in the U.S., where prostitution is illegal except in some pockets of Nevada. The repercussions of underground sex businesses can be dangerous, if not deadly.

"We've found in New York that when sex workers are criminalized, they are afraid to go to police when they are victims of crime, including theft, rape and human trafficking," said Sienna Baskin, co-director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York, which advocates for sex workers and survivors of human trafficking.

"They are also subject to bad policing practices and police brutality," added Baskin, who recently returned from a day of lobbying in New York's state capital, Albany, to pass Bill A1008/S323, which would prohibit police and prosecutors from citing possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution.

Not only are Americans outraged by the use of taxpayer dollars in connection with Secret Service extracurricular activities, but there is concern that the agents, most of whom are married, violated their top-secret security clearances by boasting to the women about their affiliation with the president and that sensitive information could be passed to terrorists or drug cartel leaders.

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