A case brought in part by a Sonoma County woman who used to work as a prostitute and wants to legalize the sex trade in California was dismissed by a federal judge in Oakland this week.
The case was filed by the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project, a San Francisco advocacy group, three women who worked as prostitutes and a would-be client. One of the prostitutes, a woman identified only as J.B., is a Sonoma County resident.
The suit cited a 2003 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found sexual activity between consenting adults was constitutionally protected. It was considered a landmark ruling in the Gay Rights movement, as it offered privacy protections to intimate relationships under the due process clause of the Constitution.
The sex workers’ attorneys argued that intimate relationships between prostitutes and clients should be offered that same protection. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White disagreed and dismissed the lawsuit.
“...The intimate association between a prostitute and client, while it may be consensual and cordial, has not merited the protection of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” he wrote. He cited a Ninth Circuit definition of the relationship between a prostitute and client that said “the relationship between a client and his or her paid companion may well be the antithesis of the highly personal bonds protected by the fourteenth amendment.”
Maxine Doogan, president of Erotic Service Providers and a prostitute herself, disagrees with the interpretation.
“Your relationship should be protected regardless of the time that it lasts — whether it lasts 15 minutes or 15 years or 45 years,” she said.
In his opinion, White also noted that “moral disapproval is not an adequate or rational basis for criminalizing conduct.” However, he upheld California’s 144-year-old ban on prostitution, siding with the state’s arguments that the law promotes public safety and prevents injury and coercion.
Louis Sirkin, a Cincinnati-based lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they were planning to file an appeal in the next few weeks.
“We’re not totally surprised (by the ruling), and there was some language in the opinion that was very, very good. Judge White recognized ... that morality is not a basis for making something criminal conduct. And that’s a really a good start.”
Sirkin also, though, took umbrage with White’s assessment that prostitution should be an illegal act because it’s dangerous.
“If you want to protect people, then you should ban football; you should ban boxing; you should ban a lot of things because people get hurt,” Sirkin said.
Defendants in the case included Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch and three other Northern California district attorneys, as well as state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Ravitch, who was named as a defendant because of her role in the county in which one of the plaintiffs lives, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Doogan declined to offer any more information about the Sonoma County plaintiff, who previously worked as a prostitute in the Bay Area and now works in an unrelated field. The woman would like to work as an erotic service provider again if California’s ban on prostitution is lifted, according to the lawsuit.