Letter from Norma Jean Almodovar to RI Lawmakers

Norma Jean Almodovar's picture

Honorable Representatives and Senators,

As a retired sex worker and a long time sex worker rights activist, I’d like to address the Rhode Island bill which proposes to criminalize indoor prostitution. I am hoping that reason will prevail and you will not be pressured into signing a piece of legislation which will so negatively impact the lives of sex workers in your state. While I am a resident of California and not Rhode Island, I have been fighting against laws which criminalize consenting adult prostitution- wherever those laws exist- since I left my job with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1982.

I worked for ten years as a civilian traffic officer with the LAPD, primarily at night, and  I witnessed first hand what happens when laws are arbitrarily enforced and used against women to extort sex, money and information. I left the police department because corruption on all levels was so pervasive,  and I became a call girl and a sex worker rights activist so that I could expose the rampant abuses perpetrated by the cops against prostitutes and others. Simply put, bad laws make bad police officers.

I experienced being arrested and incarcerated and I have to tell you, it is far more traumatic than anything a prostitute might encounter at the hands of her clients. Being arrested has quite the opposite effect of being ‘rescued.’ It destroys your life. If indeed prostitutes suffer from PTSD as many anti- prostitution activists allege, this may be a direct result of being arrested and incarcerated, rather than giving pleasure for pay.

Toward the end of my incarceration, I was coerced into giving sexual favors to a male guard if I wanted to remain at the work furlough facility rather than be returned to prison for the remainder of my sentence. Even though I brought this to the attention of his supervisor, this guard was not punished, as it was his word against mine. Eventually he got caught forcing himself on other women and was transferred to work in an all male prison- but he did not get fired or prosecuted for what was most certainly rape. I lived with this for 20 years before I could tell my husband. I was angry and depressed all the time and could not share my pain with anyone until it threatened to consume me.

It is unconscionable that anyone could assert that for police officers to be able to determine whether or not a prostitute is the victim of trafficking, the prostitute needs to be arrested and then interrogated and threatened with incarceration if they fail to comply with a demand to testify against those who gave them employment. If this were in fact a viable solution for dealing with violence and harm against prostitutes, wouldn’t it be equally viable for addressing the horrific problems of domestic violence and rape?  Would you consider a bill to outlaw marriage to protect women from potential spousal abuse? Would you think it appropriate for the police to round up all housewives and interrogate them to see if they were victims of domestic violence and threaten them with incarceration if they did not testify against their husbands even if the husband had not in any way abused them? Is not domestic violence and spousal abuse just as serious an issue as human trafficking? 

Clearly such a ‘solution’ is not rational and those who claim that arresting prostitutes will help them in some way do not have our best interests at heart. Indeed, the most vocal proponent of the Rhode Island bill recently stated she is seeking a “moral victory” in getting the proposed legislation passed, inadvertently revealing her true agenda-- and it is not to help prostitutes as she has always purported. It is simply to punish them or ‘save them’ from  their ‘immoral lifestyle.’ If they are unwilling to admit to being a ‘victim’ or to ‘repent’ and take up the offer of ‘alternative sentencing’ then they will be sent to jail. And going to jail is punishment, not ‘being rescued.’

Many individuals may believe prostitution is immoral, but  there are just as many who believe that abortion and homosexuality are immoral and yet these ‘immoral’ behaviors are no longer against the law. Women can legally have sex with thousands of men if they like and, while many may consider this to be immoral behavior, these women are not subject to being ‘rescued’ (punished) unless they take money for it. In a free society, adults have a right to engage in behavior that others find immoral or objectionable, without the threat of punishment.

Laws which criminalize private consenting adult behavior have historically led to police corruption because such laws must be arbitrarily enforced. There are simply not enough law enforcement agents in the world to arrest every prostitute and every client. Therefore police officers must decide which prostitutes and clients to arrest and which prostitutes and clients will remain free, and it is how they decide that leads to corruption. You can close down every spa in Rhode Island and I guarantee that prostitution will never be eliminated. And the men who will continue to be their clients will include cops and lawyers and judges and possibly even legislators (from other states of course!!!). And as it is everywhere else, it will be the women who will be arrested and rescued/punished.

In the meantime, the prohibition of indoor commercial sex will destroy the lives of those who voluntarily earn a living in the sex industry. Once branded a prostitute, it becomes nearly impossible to do anything else. Women with arrest records for prostitution are unlikely to be hired for anything other than minimum wage jobs- if even that- and yet they are saddled with court fines and legal fees that require them to earn much more to pay their personal bills and still pay for the cost of their arrest.

If you really want to help women who are victims, do not criminalize the work of those who are not. Please do not arrest a woman and tell her it is ‘for her own good.’ Instead, use existing laws to combat trafficking and violence. Strengthen laws and penalties which address violence and coercion wherever it occurs, and create environments where sex workers feel safe enough to turn in those they know to be abusive- whether it be a trafficker or anyone else.

Sincerely, Norma Jean Almodovar
Author, "Cop to Call Girl- Why I Left the LAPD to Make an Honest Living as a Beverly Hills Prostitute" (Simon and Schuster, 1993)
Executive Director, COYOTE LA