Nothing makes a splash for an ambitious prosecutor like announcing a huge initiative to rid the streets of evil people, and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice is nothing if not ambitious. When she announced that was going to after “johns,” the men who patronize prostitutes, It was called “Operation Flush the Johns,” a nifty headline-grabbing name that was sure to put her loveliness in the public eye.
And there is was, 104 men arrested, and a huge chart with picture, suitable for framing.
See the small print at the bottom of the black box? “All are presumed innocent until proven guilty.” There are 104 pictures that prove that to be a lie. But they made for a fabulous press conference for an ambitious prosecutor. Her statement extolled how she did this to save womanhood.
“Sex workers are often vulnerable victims of traffickers and pimps, yet they often remain the prime targets in prostitution investigations, while the johns who fuel the exploitation are treated as mere witnesses,” Rice said in a statement released just before the news conference. “My office and the police department are turning the tables on the illogical and immoral nature of that equation.”
Saving the victims of traffickers and pimps is certainly a cause that no right-minded person can oppose. But what if this is a trope, promoted by the forces of Puritanism who oppose sex work because it offends their squeamish ethic? What if sex workers choose sex work because that’s what they prefer to do with themselves, their bodies, their lives? It couldn’t be possible?
My friend, Maggie McNeil at the Honest Courtesan, would disagree. I could explain, but she does it so much better.
But our protestant ethics condemns the sale of sex and vilifies those engaged in it, regardless of whether it fits within the paradigm of loose, evil women or victims of evil sex trafficking. While the former was long in fashion, gender politics has made the latter a more appealing justification, and it gave Kathleen Rice the perfect opportunity to play to the ignorance of the crowds and score points all along the spectrum. Here she was, cleaning the sex trade, saving women and putting the onus on the evil men who enable this nightmare to succeed.
A judge has tossed the case against a Manhasset restaurateur charged with patronizing a prostitute, the fifth such dismissal in the prosecution of 104 men arrested earlier this year in a Nassau sting operation dubbed “Flush the Johns.”
So far, there have been six guilty pleas and five dismissals. Not a very good average, given that Rice gets to cherry pick her prosecutions. In fact, it’s a total disaster. But don’t fret if you think these accused johns got away too easy.
The restaurateur was not only publicly humiliated by the arrest, the detention, his face on Rice’s poster, the cost of hiring a lawyer and appearing in court over and over, until his case was finally dismissed. His wife is divorcing him as well. While it’s unclear what this means in terms of his home life and family, this is rarely a good thing. Most people, including those who cling dearly to their Puritanism, don’t think breaking up families is an appropriate goal of the legal system. As always, you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride.
But Rice got her mileage out of the ride.
The use of public shaming is nothing new in Nassau County, as it makes for such a great hit with the media. It’s funny how Rice didn’t hold a press conference to announce how her latest shaming opportunity was a fiasco. But as long as there is that lie in small print at the bottom, the one where it says the people whose pictures are smeared in the media to show how Kathleen Rice is saving the world, she gets all the benefits of public adoration with none of the responsibility for destroying the lives of the innocent.
And really, who cares that the innocent are harmed as long as it makes for a good graphic? After all, the restaurateur and the four others won their cases. Isn’t that the way the legal system is supposed to work, even if after their lives were destroyed it doesn’t quite feel like a win?