Legal Prostitution in Rhode Island
An example that works that could be used to change other State Laws

Dave says:
In June 2007 the Rhode Island Assembly passed a very good anti forced prostitution law that unlike the Federal Trafficking law is ONLY about forced sexwork, not consenting adults. The law leaves off the street prostitution legal in RI, the only state in the U.S. other than the high priced brothels in Nevada where private consenting adult sexwork is legal. This could be the example to try and show other state legislatures what should be done to allow private consenting sexwork yet be tough against forced trafficking. Forced trafficking is made a larger than life issue by the media and anti sexual rights groups as an excuse against any sexwork decriminalization.

Press Release by RI State House

6/26/07 Assembly passes Perry’s human trafficking bill
STATE HOUSE – Human trafficking will soon be a felony punishable with steep fines and jail time under a bill sponsored by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry and approved by the General Assembly during its final session last week. Senator Perry said the legislation is a victory for human rights in Rhode Island, and will help police in their effort to crack down on the prostitution industry in Providence, which is fed in part by a steady flow of women who are brought from other countries, held captive and forced to work as prostitutes.

“Sex trafficking is an egregious crime against humanity, and it’s a black eye on our state that it is going on right here. It’s about time that we addressed this problem. This change to our laws, and the serious penalties we’re establishing, will send a message that Rhode Island is not going to tolerate this horrible abuse of human beings,” said Senator Perry, a Democrat who represents District 3 in Providence.

The legislation (2007-S 0692B), which is backed by Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, is designed to crack down on brothels masquerading as spas in Providence and surrounding communities. Police have raided them many times in recent years, and each time most of the people working there were Asian women, many of whom are illegal immigrants who police say are essentially being held prisoner in the buildings, where they eat, sleep and serve as prostitutes.

The bill would make it a felony to participate in human trafficking – defined as transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, or obtaining another person for transport – for the purpose of making the victim perform prostitution. The crime would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Penalties would increase if the victim is a minor; for those 17 years old, the prison time would be up to 30 years in prison and $30,000 in fines, and when the victim is younger than 17, perpetrators could get up to 40 years in prison and $40,000 in fines. People who don't directly force someone into involuntary servitude but otherwise participate in it for their own profit or benefit would also be guilty of a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Perpetrators could also be made to pay restitution to their victims.

“I'm amazed that in 2007 in Rhode Island we are still fighting against barbaric practices like slavery and prostitution, but for the sake of the women and the other victims, I'll be back with this legislation,” said Representative Giannini.

The bill received its final passage in the Senate in the early morning hours of Saturday and has been transmitted to the governor. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Warwick) and Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence). Identical legislation (2007-H 5881A) introduced in the House by Rep. Joanne M. Giannini (D-Dist. 7) of Providence also passed both chambers and will be transmitted to the governor.

Dave Notes: Again this is ONLY about forced trafficking. Very different from the Federal law that outrageously includes consenting adult private prostitution as "trafficking" in its definition. That is outlandish as I've reported many times. See

Article "Last Call for Sin" June 2007 Rhode Island Monthly - Just before new forced trafficking law passed
Prostitution behind closed doors is not illegal in Rhode Island. Police can arrest a worker for giving a massage without a license, but they can't bust her or the customer for a sexual transaction. According to the Loitering for Indecent Purposes statute of the Rhode Island General Assembly, “It shall be unlawful for any person to stand or wander in or near any public highway or street, or any public or private place, and attempt to engage passersby in conversation, or stop or attempt to stop motor vehicles, for the purpose of prostitution or other indecent act, or to patronize, induce or otherwise secure a person to commit any indecent act.”

The legislation was originally drafted to address prostitution at the street level, so only pimps, streetwalkers and the customers soliciting them as a passerby or from their cars can be charged. Singer and other Johns can evade the law by arranging indoor dates with streetwalkers or escorts; posters private message one another with women’s phone numbers. The offense is nebulous if a driver solicits from his car but there is no business talk or transaction until the couple is behind closed doors.

Last year, a bill that would have banned indoor prostitution was rejected by the Senate after criticism that it would punish the women, who — the Rhode Island ACLU objected — are already victims. Meanwhile, officials work to shutter the spas for massage license and building code violations.

Earlier this year, city officials presented revised legislative language that would make indoor prostitution illegal while addressing concerns of victim status. The proposal is pending General Assembly action. (passed late June against "forced" prostitution)

Until then, Rhode Island remains an adult amusement park, an I-95 exit for New Englanders seduced by the wink of something illicit yet legit.

Providence has at least ten “spas” or massage parlors that operate as brothels and are scattered across the city. The workers are mostly South Korean women, rotated every couple of weeks among parlors along the East Coast. Streetwalkers bristle at the public’s perception that they are willing sex workers but massage parlor employees have been forced into the industry.

“Few women will enter prostitution if they have other choices,” says Donna Hughes, a women’s studies professor at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and an expert on sex trafficking (defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act). “So the women don't make a choice, but there’s no debate that the Johns make a choice.”

Older article:
Legislators drop bid to outlaw brothels in RI
Providence Democrats abandon their bills strengthening the state's prostitution laws after critics say the language unfairly targets women.
June 16, 2005 Highlights of longer article
PROVIDENCE -- Prostitutes who work behind closed doors will be able to dodge the law for at least another year. Pressure from local civil-rights groups has killed efforts by the police and City Hall to criminalize prostitution in brothels, escort services, and illegal massage parlors. The Providence Democrats sponsoring legislation that would have strengthened the state's prostitution laws are abandoning their bills. Rep. Joseph S. Almeida said yesterday he was withdrawing his bill after getting calls from activists and others that the measure unfairly targets women. His decision came three weeks after Sen. Rhoda E. Perry chose to drop her version of the bill for the same reasons. "They don't feel going after the girls is the answer," Almeida said.

Rhode Island is the only state whose prostitution law doesn't outlaw sex-for-money indoors -- and those involved in the prostitution business know it, he said. "Several years ago, there were one or two [massage parlors]. Now we're up to 10," Verdi added. "Unless we find another avenue, what's to say it can't go to 20?"

The state's law criminalizing prostitution was changed then after a group of female prostitutes sued in federal court with claims that the Providence police were discriminating against women in their arrests. The law at the time made prostitution a felony. The General Assembly amended the law to the current version of loitering for indecent purposes, a misdemeanor. The law targets the streetwalkers, their pimps, and customers who solicit them from their vehicles. But there is no provision for prostitutes working for escort services and brothels.

The illegal massage parlors aren't licensed by the state, so the police arrest the prostitutes for "massage without a license," a misdemeanor. The police also charge the managers with pandering or harboring, and arrest pimps for deriving support from the prostitutes. The latter charges are difficult, Verdi said, because they require some cooperation from the prostitutes. The pandering charge isn't applicable to a prostitute working out of a home or a hotel room, he said.

Using the attorney general's nuisance task force, the police can pressure the landlords to evict the brothels. However, without the record of arrests, the police have little to make their case. Verdi says the current law discriminates between arresting the street prostitutes, who are often poor and drug-dependent, and leaving alone the high-class call girls working for escort services or brothels. By not changing the law, Verdi said, more women will end up in prostitution in Rhode Island -- working by the dozens in the brothels.

Dave notes again the only change in the 2007 law was against "forced" prostitution. Private consenting adult prostitution remains legal in RI as it should be in all states. My question is could the Feds come in a enforce the new Federal Trafficking law that does make in private consenting adult prostitution a FEDERAL crime?