Right now if you were to be stopped by the police for solicitation of a prostitute, you would be fined $75. This is less than the fine for littering. Lawmakers in Colorado are trying to change this imbalance by increasing penalties for prostitution customers, more commonly known as “johns”.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week in a 9-0 vote, one success in its road to becoming a law. The bill would boost the minimum fine to $5,000. And perhaps more importantly, the newly increased fines would go to a diversion program aimed at reducing the demand for prostitution.
Under current laws the providers of sex services (prostitutes and pimps) facing criminal charges in Colorado are penalized far harsher than their customers. Supporters of the new bill say the state can’t expect to make any significant impact on the prostitution trade without also decreasing the demand for these services.
Currently there are diversion programs in place within certain jurisdictions. But this law would make a statewide system of such programs, a first in the nation. By decreasing demand for such a market, lawmakers and supporters are hoping to reduce prostitution overall.
One supporter of the law, a former prostitute herself, now works to reform johns in Chicago. She says the problem won’t go away until the johns are given help. She states “Some think they’re helping women. Many think there’s a rite of passage. Many think women enjoy this experience, which is untrue.”
An opponent, also a former sex trade worker, states the law is a bad idea. She believes shaming the men over their offense will backfire and instead thinks that legalizing prostitution is a smarter move. That, however, is not on the table.
In Denver alone, it’s estimated that $60 million every year is spent on prostitution. A Department spokesperson states that they make about 375 prostitution arrests every year and only 150 john arrests, a significant imbalance.
Under the proposed legislation, the crime of solicitation would remain a petty offense but advocates believe it’s a step in the right direction.
As long as there is money to be made, prostitutes and pimps will continue to provide a service. It’s the age old law of supply and demand. Eliminating demand could impact the trade, but it’s a question of just how effective the proposed diversion program would be at reducing this demand.