Reducing prostitution may be more about compromise than repression

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — In June, New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas proposed a new ordinance that would have created the crimes of licensing premises for prostitution and concealing prostitution. Thomas represents District E which not only has problems with prostitution but also other crimes that come with it.

“Drug sales, some of the shootings,” Thomas listed while speaking with WGNO News about the issue. “How do we get rid of this unsightly event where public prostitution is out there, where women who are basically half-naked, and our children and our families have to see that.”

Thomas’ plan was quite simple. “I don’t want to, say, make it more punitive, but make it more punitive.”

The council never discussed the ideas because soon after they were on the agenda, opponents began to reach out to the councillor. “We learned how double-edged it is,” he said.

One of the opponents of tougher laws is State Rep. Mandie Landry, also a Democrat from New Orleans. Landry told WGNO News that she did not approach Thomas about his proposal, but was contacted by others inside City Hall.

Last year, Landry tried to pass a bill in Baton Rouge to decriminalize prostitution. He didn’t walk out of the committee, but he got a lot of attention.

“Pornography is legal, and it’s sex for money with a camera in front of it. So while most of us don’t engage in this activity, there are people who choose to,” Landry told WGNO News.

People who prefer a tougher approach to tackling prostitution may remember back in 2010, when the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office shut down several motels accused of contributing to the problem. Since then, Airline Drive in Metairie has seen new investment and infrastructure. Thomas also believes that a similar investment in the Chef Menteur highway area could also help reduce the problem of prostitution there.

But Landry says that while the investment is beneficial, it only shifts the problem of prostitution to other areas, perhaps even forcing it further into hiding. She says decriminalizing prostitution for consenting adults will go a long way to protecting those who are trafficked or coerced into participating. Landry says removing the concerns of consenting participants allows them to report other crimes if they don’t have to worry about being arrested themselves.

“When an activity, especially this one, is moved quieter, underground, you have a lot more opportunity for trafficking, for underage involvement,” she said.

Landry says her bill in 2021 was the first time a state legislature in the United States has considered decriminalizing prostitution, but she believes more progress can be made citywide.

Thomas’ proposals are currently on hold indefinitely, but he says work is underway. He also believes there is room for a compromise that is less of a repression.

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