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Sarah Skaluba: A not-so-sexy solution

By Sarah Skaluba, Senior Editorial Page Editor
Published February 21, 2013

To start things off on a rather bleak note, yesterday, an independent review team officially declared the city of Detroit to be in a state of financial emergency. And, unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising. Our economy remains stagnant, the job market dreary and unemployment continues to plague millions of Americans.

It’s clear there’s no miracle solution to this never-ending dilemma. If there were, President Barack Obama would have our country back on its feet and leading the global economy with a snap of his fingers. However, Detroit City Council hopeful Attie Pollard believes he knows otherwise. The magic fix to all our fiscal problems is not economic reform or higher taxes, but prostitution. Yup, Pollard believes a practice banned in every state besides Nevada — and Lord knows what they’re doing over there — will be the cure to the city’s crumbling economy.

In a radio interview last week, Pollard explained this novel solution: “For instance, starting off with a strip club district … Once the time goes on, we can see if brothels or other means of sexual entertainment are needed.” How lovely, right?

I can already picture the conversations this project would spark on campus:

“Guys, let’s go to Detroit this weekend!”

“Why would we visit that dump? The Tigers haven’t won a game all season.”

“No, man, to visit the new red-light district, duh.”

And to be honest, the young men and college students that would inevitably be attracted by the change of venues would be the least of the city’s worries. Has Detroit really become so desperate that City Council leaders are throwing around ideas involving brothels and a possible red-light district to get the economy back on track and increase tourism? Maybe it’s just me, but a project like this won’t be attracting your everyday, family-friendly tourists looking to spend a casual weekend in one of America’s favorite rust-belt cities. Nope, I’m thinking it will instead attract a dangerous mix of individuals involved in serious crime including sex trafficking, drug trade and the like.

Maybe Pollard was just desperate for a new idea to garner support for his campaign. Regardless of his intentions, prostitution is an extremely dangerous practice. It has ruined thousands of lives across the United States and is often connected to illegal drug use, rape, assault and sex trafficking. So why would anyone in their right mind want to use prostitution as a means of tourism and economic incentive?

In the United States, prostitution is the most dangerous job a person can come by, with 204 murders per every 100,000 individuals working in the field. Moreover the average American sex worker begins at the extremely young age of 13 years. Not only would a proposal like Pollard’s prove detrimental to poor women and children living in Detroit and the surrounding neighborhoods, but it would provide strong economic incentives to adopt a destructive lifestyle that otherwise wouldn’t prove practical.

By making the naïve assumption that all women involved in sex work “know what the risk is, and … what the hazards are,” Pollard manages to ignore the fact that many of these women are brought to America via transnational sex trafficking. Sex trafficking, a major human rights violation, uses coercion and threats to force women into exploitative situations like prostitution. Not only do these women have no safe way out, but they are often brought thousands of miles away from their homes and families as well. The destructive costs of human rights violations, intense violence and widespread rape will never outweigh the profits of a select few.

Sure, prostitution brings in massive amounts of money for certain individuals involved — a.k.a. the pimps, sex traffickers and drug dealers — but in no way is it a serious solution to the greater issue at hand. Rather than encouraging sex trafficking in an already violent, economically wounded city, Detroit leaders and state officials should be looking for viable answers that will create jobs and bring in much needed funding. As for Pollock’s proposition, it’s just not sexy.

Sarah Skaluba can be reached at sskaluba@umich.edu.