Defund the vice squad

In the past, whenever I’ve contacted the police with a problem such as a stolen car, they’ve given me the impression that they are too busy to do much about it. (They did continue to mail me parking tickets, however, as the thief never changed the plates, and the police have no computer to link the license plate for parking violations with the license plate for stolen cars.) Other people I’ve spoken with give me the same impression. See how the cops react if you tell them your house has been burglarized. Perhaps this Reason article explains why the police are so busy:

Kraft gets off [LOL!] while Orchids of Asia workers still face 25 prostitution charges each. After nearly two years, Florida prosecutors are finally giving up on prosecuting New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for twice paying an adult woman in Palm Beach County for a hand job. The state had little choice, since a court said the video evidence of this sex act was illegally obtained.

Florida cops had pretended to be hunting a “human trafficking” ring in order to get a warrant for the secret surveillance cameras—which ultimately showed no signs of forced work, forced sex, child labor, or illegal immigration. What they caught was licensed, adult, immigrant masseuses sometimes providing manual sexual stimulation at the end of a client’s massage.

Two years! Who knew that Inspector Javert worked for the Palm Beach police?

Consider that those perverts in the Palm Beach police force were spying on people taking off their clothes, an activity that would rightly be viewed as a crime if you or I did the same thing. The cops also lied about their motives, falsely claiming they were trying to stop “sex trafficking”:

But authorities went forward with the “trafficking” lie anyway, holding a press conference that garnered a huge amount of media coverage. Readers and viewers across the country were told that an international “sex trafficking ring” forced “girls” to have unprotected sex with 1,000 men a year and did not let them leave. Major outlets such as The New York TimesCNN, and NPR relayed the government’s account.

Many countries have long outlawed prostitution for religious reasons. In the past, the prostitutes were put in prison while the “Johns” got off scot-free. Then feminists began to object, and Sweden pioneered a shift toward viewing the prostitutes as the actual victims and their patrons as the villains. That’s why Kraft was also arrested. Notice that the government is certain that prostitution should be illegal, they are just not sure who is the villain and who is the victim.

Eventually, the courts ruled the surveillance to be illegal and Kraft was let go. But that didn’t stop the police, who remained convinced that some sort of crime had occurred. So they arrested the women that were victimized by Kraft:

Hua Zhang, the 59-year-old owner of Orchids of Asia owner, and 41-year-old Lei Wang—one of two women whom Kraft allegedly patronized—were charged with 22 counts apiece of “soliciting another to commit prostitution,” as well as one count each of maintaining a house of prostitution, deriving support from proceeds of prostitution, and renting space to be used for prostitution. The other woman accused of servicing Kraft, 60-year-old Shen Mingbi, was charged with one count of deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution and 10 counts of soliciting another to commit prostitution.

Trigger warning: The following may be “yucky”.

Let’s contemplate exactly why this sort of massage is illegal. Traditionally, society justifies various “sex laws” on either religious or utilitarian grounds. Many religions view adultery as a crime, whereas utilitarians worry that sex can have negative repercussions, especially for young people and women. In the case of women, there is the danger of pregnancy and also STDs. There is also some risk of violence, especially for “streetwalkers”.

Based on the article, however, it doesn’t seem like this was “sex” in the normal sense of the term. There doesn’t seem to have been much risk of pregnancy, violence, or the transmission of STDs.

So what exactly makes these “hand jobs” so objectionable? Unless I’m mistaken, the exact same activity would be legal if no money changed hands. Is this like the prohibition on the payment of money in kidney transplants?

Or is the actual objection that Kraft should have been home with his wife? What if a lonely paralyzed Iraq War veteran who was stuck at home in a wheelchair had paid a massage therapist for a hand job. Would you feel differently than the way you feel about the Kraft case? What if the hand job were provided for free to the Iraq War veteran? I feel like we need to carefully interrogate our intuitions if we are going to ever be able to figure out which of our views are wrong, i.e. which of our views will be regarded as wrong by future generations.

For instance, today it is considered 100% OK for a 21-year old woman to have sex with a “man” on his 18th birthday. One the other hand, if the same woman has sex with a “boy” who is 17 years and 364 days old, that’s “rape” in many states and the woman would spend a lot of time in prison and have her life ruined. Is there nothing in between? How confident are you that our society’s current moral stance will still be considered true 100 years from today? True beyond a reasonable doubt? Confident enough to put people in prison, the way that Alabama puts pot smokers in prison? I have my doubts, but I also have no idea how our moral intuitions will evolve. During my lifetime, I’ve seen society become first less puritanical and then more puritanical.

And don’t say, “you have to draw the line somewhere”. You also need speed limits, but the penalty for going 150 mph is vastly higher than the penalty for going 5 MPH over the limit. Why is our society so squeamish about admitting that there might be such a thing as “minor sex crimes”—sex misdemeanors? What’s so special about sex? Speeding endangers peoples’ lives. Why is the Kraft case even in the news? Shouldn’t that fact alone make us suspicious?

America is an unusually puritanical society, filled with lots of unimaginative people would would benefit from watching more European films. People fearful that someone, somewhere, is getting more sex than they are.

We are also a society that feels more comfortable imprisoning non-white working class women with odd names than rich white guys like Kraft. And most rich men can pay for sex without getting caught. They do so implicitly, showering their “dates” with expensive “gifts”

Puritanism and class/race bigotry is a toxic mix, and the effects on our criminal justice system are not pretty. Don’t say I didn’t give you a trigger warning.

PS. I know what you are going to say. If we legalized drugs we’d become a hell hole like Colorado, and if we legalized prostitution our society would fall apart like Germany, Australia and New Zealand.



26 Responses to “Defund the vice squad”

  1. Gravatar of Nathan Nathan
    26. September 2020 at 17:12

    I have discovered a new kind of unemployment.

    Hello everybody, I have an article that explains why since 2000: business investment has been weak; the fall in the U.S net labor share; the decline in the prime age U.S labor participation rate vs large gains elsewhere; the rise in deaths of despair. The article is called Skill Stalagmites, Technology Stalactites and can be found here I have split the piece into two parts: a 1500 word article for the general reader and a longer piece for the more sophisticated reader. There is a link to the latter at the end of the first piece.

    The punchline to the article is that the 4-5% gap in the lfpr between the U.S and peer economies is a form of disguised unemployment. And this is a novel kind of unemployment, which is not caused by a fall in aggregate demand.

    The actual cause is that firms are imposing higher effort levels on workers. I can summarize the argument you will find in the main article; it goes like this:

    1. Firms impose higher effort demands on workers; workers have to complete more tasks (for a higher wage) or be fired.
    2. The higher wage does not compensate workers for their lost work leisure; thus workers look for less demanding job positions (or refuse to move up to more senior roles).
    3. If one imagines a skill ladder, then all workers attempt to drop down a rung. This is easy for higher skilled workers, but what happens to workers at the bottom?
    4. The lowest skilled workers compete for job openings with somewhat more skilled workers. Firms prefer to hire the more skilled worker, resulting in the lowest skilled workers being pushed out of employment altogether.
    5. This assumes that employers can always identify the highest skilled worker from their pool of applicants. This won’t always be the case; if the higher skilled worker has a bad interview or the weaker candidate has positive chemistry with the interviewer, then the objectively weaker candidate can win a job offer.
    6. Thus provided the lowest skill workers are willing to keep searching for jobs they will eventually obtain a job offer and regain employment.
    7. This means though that workers on the second lowest skill rung will be unable to drop down to the lowest rung unless they also increase their job search activity. And in turn this forces the workers above them to increase their job search.
    8. Any person wanting a job now has to apply to many more job positions before they can get their first job offer. But after a string of failures, job seekers become discouraged and temporarily withdraw from the search process. It is this temporary withdrawal that is responsible for the drop in lfpr. For those who are the main breadwinners, the period of withdrawal will be short – perhaps only a few months. But for workers who are more marginally attached to the labor force, it could be years or forever.
    9. Evidence for higher effort in the U.S can be found in the higher U.S productivity growth since 2000 vs peer economies.
    10. Evidence of higher job search can be found in the elevated duration of unemployment, which in 2019 was still equal to recessionary levels. The American Time Use Survey also shows higher than normal time spent on job search.

    The questions of why this is happening post 2000 and not before, and why only in the U.S and not elsewhere, are taken up in the full article.

    Hope you enjoy reading and please do spread word of the article around.

  2. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    26. September 2020 at 18:02

    “People fearful that someone, somewhere, is getting more sex than they are.” Scott Sumner.

    For some stretches of my life, I was not “fearful” of this, I was sure of it.

  3. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    26. September 2020 at 19:15

    Prostitution was legal in America up until WW1 when apparently farm boys were put on trains to New Orleans to be shipped out to die in Europe and they ended up going a little crazy in the red light district (known as Storyville) and the progressives (who also made alcohol illegal) did their Carrie Nation routine in red light districts across America. There is a county in Nevada in which prostitution is legal so technically prostitution is legal in America it is just very limited.

  4. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    26. September 2020 at 21:31

    I didn’t know that prostitution is still illegal in the US (except in 11 of 17 counties in Nevada). This seems really ridiculous and totally out of date.

    I usually don’t trust the Reason articles, but this one seems to be largely true. The billionaire Kraft really paid a 60-year-old woman for a handjob. This 60-year-old has to give the best handjob in the world.

    This is probably not the case. So a billionaire from Massachusetts has to go all the way down to Florida to get a handjob from a 60-year-old. If this is not a clear sign that the ban on prostitution in the US is largely “working”, then what is?


    It is true that prostitution has been legal in Germany since 2002, but what has really improved as a result is currently really controversial.

    On the surface everything is dandy, the alleged leaders of the big brothels, which were founded since 2002, are people like you and me.

    Critics and the criminal investigation departments view the matter more skeptically. They say that the “leaders” are only dummy figures, while in the background the brothels are run by pimps and criminal gangs, with close connections to organized crime.

    So the power of organized crime is not broken, the opposite seems to be the case, they earn more money than ever before and they can hardly be prosecuted anymore.

  5. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    26. September 2020 at 21:36


    “if we legalized prostitution our society would fall apart like Germany, Australia and New Zealand. ”

    … or Singapore. Though not considered an “essential service”, ah well:

    “SINGAPORE: A woman who let a customer into her salon for massage and masturbation services during the “circuit breaker” was fined S$22,000 for her actions on Wednesday (Jun 10).
    This is the first prosecution of Regulation 9 of the COVID-19 regulations, which states that non-essential businesses must close their premises during the circuit breaker.”

    She was of course fined for breaking the lockdown, not for offering masturbation services, as ChannelNews Asia calls them, which are legal:

  6. Gravatar of BC BC
    27. September 2020 at 02:34

    CList, one common claim is that legalization makes it easier to regulate prostitution and eliminate criminal elements. Any insights as to why that may not have been the case in Germany?

    Also, is organized crime merely profiting from prostitution or are *criminal activities* (forced prostitution, trafficking, etc.) still rampant? I believe organized crime originally ran many of the legal casinos in Las Vegas, but we don’t really associate criminal activities with those casinos now.

  7. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    27. September 2020 at 03:47

    I don’t think the Bob Kraft should have been at home with wife argument works since she died of cancer 10 years ago.

  8. Gravatar of entirelyuseless entirelyuseless
    27. September 2020 at 04:38

    “Why is our society so squeamish about admitting that there might be such a thing as “minor sex crimes”—sex misdemeanors?”

    The Catholic Church teaches (or least the vastly most common interpretation of its teaching) is that any lack of temperance in sexual matters is “in itself” a grave evil.

    This seems wrong to me — the arguments that are made for why this would apply to sex, but not, for example, to intemperance in food seem really ad hoc — but the parallel with your question suggests that very possibly people in general, and not only “our society”, do not like the idea of minor sexual vice.

  9. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    27. September 2020 at 05:31

    I lived in Gainesville, Florida for over 15 years. It’s a pretty liberal college town, that was very hostile toward the one strip club that existed. Many years, there were hearings at city hall about whether to shut the business down. Opponents to the business consisted of an unholy alliance of fundamentalist Christians and the sort of feminists who don’t respect the agency of strippers.

    We’re not supposed to have laws on the basis of religious beliefs, and feminists should recognize the right of women to make their own decisions.

  10. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    27. September 2020 at 05:34

    I don’t like Robert Kraft, for a variety of reasons, but to harass him over this is absurd.

    Actually, the single best things we could likely do to reduce the sex slave trade is to open our borders and completely legalize prostitution.

  11. Gravatar of Tim Worstall Tim Worstall
    27. September 2020 at 05:54

    We should take our stance here from the insistence of the President of the United States. That is, after all, where all moral guidance righteously comes from, right?

    If, as Bill insisted, a blow job ain’t sex then a hand job most certainly isn’t.

  12. Gravatar of Todd K Todd K
    27. September 2020 at 06:31

    “ne the other hand, if the same woman has sex with a “boy” who is 17 years and 364 days old, that’s “rape” in many states and the woman would spend a lot of time in prison and have her life ruined.”

    This is rarely the case for a 21 year old woman having sex with a 17 year old boy but the reverse is usually true. It seems this double standard has become less extreme in the past 10 to 15 years especially if the woman is a teacher.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. September 2020 at 08:28

    Christian, Yes, it’s too bad the owners cannot be prosecuted for doing something legal.

    dtoh, Then he should have been visiting her grave!!

    entirely, Yes, many societies share this fault.

    Todd, Yes, I was thinking of several stories I read of female teachers being sent to prison for sex with high school boys. Obviously that’s an abuse of their position, but I’d think that firing them from the job would be sufficient. I recall one was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison. Why? I don’t want my tax money going for that purpose. Some murderers serve those kind of sentences. We need a more utilitarian view of sex crimes.

  14. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatrics Cartesian Theatrics
    27. September 2020 at 13:43

    For all the excesses of the recent protests, it’s been surprising to see how much fundamental attitudes towards police have shifted. Defund the police doesn’t seem nearly as outrageous a statement as it was 4 months ago. Idk maybe we should give private policing a try.

  15. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    27. September 2020 at 15:00

    Christian, Yes, it’s too bad the owners cannot be prosecuted for doing something legal.


    everyone here understood what I said except you. What does that tell you? The critics say the official managers and owners are only fake, they are covers, the criminals are still there and critics say that they are doing the same as before: forced prostitution, money laundering, racketeering; only now they have it much easier because there is now a legality sign on their brothels.

    Any insights as to why that may not have been the case in Germany?


    Well, the first question would be why these elements should stop just because you hang a “legal” sign on the door. They are still the same people. It just makes pimping and racketeering easier for them.

    There are still no good studies, if there ever will be any, but one explanation is certainly that the profits are still relatively high. I assume for example because of stigma. You can legalize it as much as you want, the stigma won’t go away. Besides that, brothels require security, and the criminal clans in Germany, I assume in the US as well, have always dominated the security sector, it is their cover for protection racketeering.

    In the high-class escort area some things might have changed, here the criminal clans are possibly no longer dominant, because you don’t need security.

    Nevertheless, many whores there were also not enthusiastic about legalization.

    Legalization means, first of all, absurd bureaucratization, every prostitute has to register at the public order office, a big bureaucratic act that brings nothing but money for the state.

    The second consequence is taxes, the prostitutes now have to pay a lot of taxes, they are not interested in that either.

    The third consequence are the prices. The prices have halved in the escort area from 800€ to 400€, and this money now has to be taxed as well. The ladies are super thankful for the legalization, no question. They get less than half of the money than before, which is just great, I guess.

    I think one has to be aware that drug legalization and prostitution legalization serve mainly the consumers, in other words the junkies and the clients. No problem, but then please call it that way, the rich middle class insists that they get hookers and drugs much cheaper. Okay, but then they should at least be honest about it, and not cloud it in some moralistic bullshit.

    Now I might have understood what dtho meant with consumer punishment, instead of punishing the sellers.

    And second, one has to be honest that the legalization fanatics, just as the prohibition fanatics, and just as BLM, have no idea or plan what they are actually doing.

  16. Gravatar of Thomas Hutcheson Thomas Hutcheson
    27. September 2020 at 15:42

    One needs to apply cost benefit analysis to the expenditure of resources on law enforcement. When the breaking for the law in most circumstances causes virtually no harm (probably net benefit fir immigration infractions) one needs to be be particularly careful.

  17. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    27. September 2020 at 18:53

    I actually agree with this post, and libertarianism, but in the end there is always a nagging feeling that at rock-bottom, libertarianism has feet of clay (I like to mix metaphors).

    OK, se we legalize brothels and opium and cocaine, and meth and have open borders. So, people open up lots of brothels staffed with low-cost Third-Worlders, where dope and alcohol is sold too.

    With plate-glass windows showing wares and action, and in your neighborhood. Perhaps cage-fighting to the death is featured on Friday nights.

    Suddenly, we have no libertarians.

    Here is where libertarians start to show clay feet, and begin to equivocate, and say Libertarianism means you legalizes drugs and prostitution, but perhaps zone it, or maybe we decriminalize, but not actually legalize, etc.

    So…it gets back to an interpretation of the practical limits of libertarianism. So, is my interpretation valid, or yours?

    But like atheists in a foxhole, when it comes to neighborhood property zoning, there are scant few libertarians, if any.

  18. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    27. September 2020 at 20:47

    @Christian List
    interesting comments. I didn’t find anything on organized crime levels pre and post legalization in Germany so I can’t say anything on that. One thing I had heard and not really looked into before was that legalized prostitution reduces violence against women. When I just went to find research on the topic, however, I found a mixed bag of results. This study of the experience in the Netherlands reported a 30-40% drop in sexual assault and rape in the Netherlands after legalization: This study from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, however, found unusually high levels of sexual violence against women in Nevada:

  19. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    27. September 2020 at 21:26

    Personally, I find that the US is a global outlier in sexual mores as it is in many other aspects. Both extremes are over-represented. On one side you have very high permissiveness and sexual freedom in some aspects, commercialization of everything sexual except the act itself, openness about sex and non-mainstream sex, and also a lot of rape, sexual abuse in prisons, what have you. On the other hand, you also have extreme criminalization of things even remotely sexual. Criminalization of teenage selfies as self-produced “underage child abuse”, an absurd concept; criminalized sex work, extreme sex offender laws, age of consent laws, etc. Basically, promiscuity and paranoia side by side. Maybe it’s just that the US is a society where extremes can co-exist? Because the same thing happens with say, individual rights whereby you can complain to the supreme court about basically minor abuses and win, yet there is also a lot of legal overreach, police brutality, and omnipotent FBI / prosecutors.

  20. Gravatar of janice janice
    28. September 2020 at 02:49

    The reason they don’t care about your car, or identity theft, or your home being burglarized (assuming its non violent) is because they have more important things to worry about: like having rocks thrown at their heads by crazy BLM lunatics.

    And if you think their response time, and willingness to investigate (non violent crimes) was bad before, just wait – because in the next few years they won’t be showing up at all.

    Enjoy your BLM social worker, and white privilege tax.

  21. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    28. September 2020 at 02:58

    If the US gave up on its destructive war on drugs, a lot of the current angst over the police would have much less purchase.

    But I am preaching to the choir on that.

  22. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    28. September 2020 at 06:30

    I filed two (non violent) theft reports about forty years ago and one 25 years ago, all of which were ignored. BLM was a non issue in all of them.

  23. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    28. September 2020 at 07:20

    Taxpayers have been questioning the supply side nature of education and healthcare for decades. Why should it be any different for taxpayer funded policing?

  24. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    28. September 2020 at 08:37

    I’ve been reading this blog since 2010 and I never thought I’d see Scott do a piece on handjobs. Never even occurred to me! But he make a lot of good points.

  25. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    28. September 2020 at 09:39

    Defund the Vice squad and the drug squad. Double up on the murder and robbery squad

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. September 2020 at 13:32

    Christian, You said:

    “critics say”

    Yeah, just as the critics said the Palm Beach prostitution was “forced”. Why should we believe these lying critics?

    As for wages falling, you need to get away from zero sum thinking. Fewer people in prison is a boon to society, regardless of the impact on wages.

    mbka, Yes, we are a pretty weird society. Hypocritical too.

    Janice, Don’t give up your day job for a career in stand up comedy. You are not very funny.

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