PROVIDENCE—Garnering both House and Senate approval, the General Assembly finally closed a loophole that has been present for more than three decades allowing indoor prostitution to thrive in Rhode Island.
After months of dialogue and debate and hard between Rhode Island House and Senate, the Governor’s Office, state police, and human rights advocates, a bill criminalizing indoor prostitution was successfully passed.
"It's been four years and I'm glad that we were finally able to get a bill," said Rep. Joanne M. Giannini. "It's been a long hard road, but I am happy that we were able to get a bill through and hopefully we will be able to combat the problem of human trafficking and prostitution."
Separate bills sponsored by Rep. Giannini and Sen. Paul V. Jabour were integrated to create a compromised bill that includes criminal misdemeanor penalties for “Johns,” prostitutes, their customers, and landlords who willingly allow prostitution on their property.
“The bill was a compromise of all parties,” said Sen. Jabour. “Although it is not perfect, it is a start. It will give law enforcement the necessary tools to effectively enforce the law.”
In the State of Rhode Island, outdoor prostitution is prohibited and now the same penalty will apply to indoor prostitution. Previous to the approval of this bill, Rhode Island was the only U.S.?state, outside of a handful of counties in Nevada, to allow indoor prostitution.
Pimps and landlords who knowingly allow prostitution on their property would face strict charges including one to five years in jail and up to $2,000 to $5,000 in fines for a first offense. For multiple offenses, three to 10 years and $5,000 to $10,000 would be the punishment. The penalty for prostitution would be up to six months in jail along with possible fines ranging from $250-$1,000 for a first offense and up to a year in jail and $500-$1000 for multiple offenses.
This new legislation will allow many of those prostitutes who are victims of sex trafficking and forced into lives of prostitution to have their record erased one year after the completion of their sentence. This does not apply to pimps or landlords.
“An expungement would be allowed but a first offense would be treated like any other misdemeanor,” said Sen. Jabour. “For a multiple offender, the sentencing is a bit more severe, just like in any other crime.”
Beginning Jan. 15, 2010, biannual reports, as established by the bill, will be conducted by law enforcement, creating a state monitoring system on the number of arrested, charged and convicted in prostitution crimes.
Gov. Carcieri was active in joining police, human-rights advocates and the Diocese of Providence in an effort to criminalize indoor prostitution. The governor signed the bill into law on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Capt. David Neill, detective commander of the Rhode Island State Police, who had testified in support of the bill, said that state police are encouraged that law enforcement officials now have been provided with the tools to effectively and efficiently answer the concerns of citizens about indoor prostitution.
“The most positive thing we can all hope for is the eradication of prostitution and all the negative things it brings with it,” said Neill. “I think it goes to show the youth of Rhode Island that it is a crime. It is not a profession and it will not be tolerated."
Donna M. Hughes, professor and Carlson Endowed Chair of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Rhode Island, and co-founder of Citizens Against Trafficking worked diligently to encourage legislators to help stop sex traffickers in Rhode Island.
“The next step is that the citizens have to make sure there is political will to enforce the law,” said Hughes. “We will see the effects of this bill when they start arresting the sex predators, the pimps, traffickers and ‘Johns.’ These bills will provide more protection for women and children in Rhode Island.”
Father Bernard A. Healey, governmental liaison for the Diocese of Providence, said that thanks to the efforts of Citizens Against Trafficking, prosecutors from the R.I. Attorney General’s office, State Police Colonel Brendan Doherty and the law enforcement community, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and other religious leaders and Rhode Island citizens, the loophole in the law has been closed.
“Common sense has finally prevailed in the debate surrounding the criminalization of prostitution," Father Healey said. “The outrageous situation that has embarrassed our state for many years and caused us to hang our heads in great shame has ended. Without Rep. Joanne Giannini’s powerful leadership on this issue and her persistent voice expressing the outrage of Rhode Islanders we could not claim this victory against the scourge of prostitutionand human trafficking. I commend her on a leading the charge to victory. She, along with the leadership of the House and State Senate, have led Rhode Island in the right direction. We no longer need hold our heads in shame.”
Another similar bill, H 6441, that was passed last week, banned minors from working in any adult entertainment business. This bill was also sponsored by?Rep.?Giannini.
“Children should not be publicly performing in any sexual way, ever,” said Representative Giannini in a recent press release. “It’s called ‘adult entertainment’ for a reason. Minors aren’t supposed to be admitted to those clubs, so they certainly shouldn’t be working in themHaving underage girls or boys performing in this way is child exploitation and corruption. We’re fixing this law to make it clear that it’s not allowed.”
Amendments to the current law on human trafficking were also unanimously passed by the General Assembly in order to strengthen human trafficking penalties. Those trafficking minors for sex would face up to 40 years in prison and up to $40,000 in fines. Rep. Giannini and Sen. Rhoda E. Perry sponsored this legislation
Rep. Giannini said that the police will finally have the tools to combat the sex trafficking of women and children.
“Rhode Island will no longer be the only state in that nation without a prostitution law,” said Rep. Giannini. “We will no longer be a safe haven for the sex industry that exploits young women, children and men.”
Senate roll call: 36 - 2
House roll call: 58 - 9
DID NOT VOTE: