Friday, November 1, 2013
High on my list of contemporary heroes are Donna Hughes, a professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Rhode Island, and lawyer Melanie Shapiro. These two fearless and determined women have done more than anyone I know to fight the unspeakable evil of human trafficking. They don't just talk, they act. And that means taking on the powerful and well-funded sex industry, and the "respectable" people wh directly and indirectly profit from it. Sometimes it has also meant taking on the National Organization for Women and the ACLU, as Donna and Melanie did in the fight against the legalization of prostitution in Rhode Island. (These women know what the actual consequences of legalization would be for women trafficked in from southeast and central Asia and eastern Europe and for American teenage runaways.) Today they have an op ed in the Providence Journal. It directly concerns recent incidents in a "gentleman's club" (a minomer if ever I saw one) in Rhode Island and a prosecution following from those incidents, but its message against the "culture of impunity" in which exploitation thrives is one that is relevant across the country.
The officials of Rhode Island need to end the culture of impunity for the big pimps, the pimps that operate inside the state, the pimps who call themselves businessmen and have well-connected lawyers and associates. The Providence Police charged that Tapalian was “permitting prostitution” in his Cheaters Club. To Police Commissioner Steven Paré’s credit, he wanted the licensing board to shut down the club. Instead, Tapalian got a penalty that is little more than a cost of doing business. Paré said he will appeal the decision as well.
The Department of Business Regulation should deny Tapalian’s appeal and the Providence Board of Licenses should revisit its decision. The City of Providence should revise its ordinance to prohibit private booths in strip clubs. These can be the first steps to ending the culture of impunity for sex trafficking in Rhode Island.