The Pulse: Time for new reaction to 'oldest profession'

A policeman on guard outside the Downtowners club in South Philadelphia during a raid Oct. 11 in which 13 people were arrested. As many as 70 people were in the clubhouse at the time.
A policeman on guard outside the Downtowners club in South Philadelphia during a raid Oct. 11 in which 13 people were arrested. As many as 70 people were in the clubhouse at the time. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 21, 2011

At water coolers across the region, two aspects of the Downtowners club frat party have legs: the ages of the 10 women arrested (the oldest was 51) and the fact that no "johns" were charged. Some see an inequity in the fact that the ladies' photos were paraded in the press, while most of the men in attendance remain anonymous and uncharged. (The pictures have also provided plenty of fodder. As a buddy of mine snickered, "You can tell who charged $30 and who charged $100.")

Of the three guys who were arrested, two were club members allegedly acting as bartenders in the absence of a liquor license, and the third was charged with promoting prostitution. As to why no "johns" were handcuffed (at least, not by an officer), The Inquirer's Allison Steele has reported that police believe they lacked evidence to charge the men - the same reason why many of the women weren't arrested either. At the time of the bust (pun intended), there were said to be as many as 50 men and about 20 women in the clubhouse. Dozens of men seen by cops intermingling with the ladies were not charged.

Me? I'm wondering why any of the behavior was criminal.

Nothing's been proven, but for the sake of argument, let's assume it happened the way police allege: that in a South Philadelphia clubhouse for the Downtowners Fancy Brigade, there was a party on the second Tuesday of the month where guys paid a cover charge to partake in some hoagies, beer, and some out-in-the-open sexual activity. I certainly understand the disgust of the neighbors. This sort of thing should not take place in a residential area.

But at its core, the behavior, albeit uncouth in front of others, was among consenting adults. As far as we know, this particular monthly gathering didn't condone sexual violence. The women needed cash and the guys needed carnality. So they negotiated a price and did the deed. Ron Paul would say it's none of our business, and he'd be right.

For all the discussion as to why the gentlemen callers weren't subjected to an online perp walk, I'm willing to bet - speaking of things that should be legalized - that we can come up with some commonalities among them: Physical maladies. Social unease. Lack of money. Lots of lonely days and nights. My hunch is that these guys didn't have a black book or a BlackBerry full of women's phone numbers at their disposal. Why should the government be in the business of denying physical companionship to guys who can't find it for whatever reason?

And why should thinly stretched police departments, like Philadelphia's, entrench themselves in a nearly two-month investigation of a sex club that was so under the radar that neighbors expressed shock when it was uncovered?

Before you deem this column an argument in favor of decaying morals, you should understand that I'm not saying we should stay totally mum on the Mummers club sex-capades and others like them. Quite the opposite, actually. Prostitution should be legal, but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should be heavily regulating it.

For one thing, such enterprises wouldn't be allowed to take place anywhere near residential neighborhoods or where children congregate. Zoning and development are already inherently arduous processes in Philadelphia. I doubt a legalized prostitution operation would slip through the cracks, so to speak, and end up anywhere near a school or youth soccer field.

Like visually or vocally explicit television content, it should be relegated to late-night hours - after 10 p.m. Like California's multibillion-dollar porn industry, its participants should be frequently tested for sexually transmitted diseases. And like cigarettes and most other tobacco products, this behavior should incur a hefty tax. Maybe the haul could be dedicated to state or local health programs.

Indeed, however sickening the physical act of prostitution may be to some, replacing red lights with bright lights could have legitimate benefits for government - most significantly, additional tax revenue and less public-health risk (due to attentive regulation of the industry). And just because something is legal - think cigarettes, hunting, or polluting cars - doesn't mean government accepts it as right.

It just means that those in charge can distinguish between true crime and misdemeanors of passion.


Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com. Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.

 

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