By Frank Juliano
Sex workers in Connecticut are arrested more than twice as often as their customers — and are convicted nearly seven times more often.
Those were the findings released Monday by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, which said “systemic sexism” may account for the disparity between the treatment of sex workers, “who are mostly women, and their largely male clientele.”
“Currently, arrests concentrate first on the sex workers, and secondarily on the buyers of sex. It’s a basic premise of supply and demand: if you reduce the demand, you reduce the supply, which in this case, is the purchase of women and children for sex,” said Jillian Gilchrest, PCSW senior policy analyst.
The commission is recommending tough new laws — aimed at prostitutes’ clients, or so-called “johns” — to address the disparity.
The PCSW based its analysis on the annual report, just released, of the Trafficking in Persons Council, a statutorily created body convened and chaired by the PCSW.
The TIPC report recommends the state Legislature remedy the gender imbalance in commercial sex transactions by making the “johns” subject to forfeiture of money and property if convicted, as pimps and prostitutes are currently.
“We’re recommending much-needed focus on the demand side,” said Gilchrest, who also is TIPC chairwoman, in a prepared statement. “The Legislature can do this by considering policies to help widen culpability of those buying sex.”
There were 1,841 prostitution convictions, compared to 269 convictions for buying sex from a prostitute during the past decade in Connecticut, the report found. Of the people arrested for the crime, 3,577 were prostitutes and 1,378 were buyers.
In September, two women were arrested at a Monroe massage parlor, following an investigation. One of the women was charged with prostitution, the other with the unlicensed practice of massage therapy. No customers were arrested.
A year ago in Bridgeport, police raided and closed down 11 massage parlors that were allegedly operating as houses of prostitution, including two near popular bars and restaurants. But the landlords of those buildings were not charged, and several denied knowing the nature of their tenants’ business.
Area police departments do arrest men for allegedly patronizing prostitutes, including conducting “reverse sting” operations. Bridgeport police several years ago arrested 11 men, many of them from out of town, for soliciting an undercover officer posing as a prostitute.
Another proposed law change would remove the “mistake of age” defense, in which a buyer of sex can receive a lesser penalty by arguing that he or she didn’t know the provider’s age. The council wants to strengthen current state law to ensure that when people purchase sex with a minor, they be charged with a felony.
“Having sex with a child is sexual abuse, plain and simple,” said TIPC member Tammy Sneed. “The ‘mistake of age’ defense completely contradicts our efforts to protect children from predators.”
Another law change proposed by the council would ensure that minors are treated as victims of commercial sexual exploitation, rather than as prostitutes. The council wants the Legislature to prohibit Connecticut hotels and motels from renting rooms hourly, and to maintain records of room renters for a minimum of six months.
The TIPC’s research has shown that trafficking of minors often takes place in hotels and motels, the council said in its prepared statement.