New York City: Cabbies, Better Not Pick Up Ladies In Short Skirts!
It isn't enough to tell adults they can't drink big sodas; in NYC, they've passed a law that will surely make it harder for any woman not dressed like she's got an appointment at the convent to get a cab.
From the WSJ, Evangeline Morphos writes:
Defining who is a prostitute may be "complicated" as Weiner suggests. But the New York City Council seems to have an answer. It has just passed a law that will fine taxi drivers up to $10,000 for picking up a prostitute. Drivers will be required to take a course that will aid them in spotting what a hooker looks like.
Mayor Bloomberg, responding to a protest by women, expressed skepticism about the law. "I started to think for a second, if I were a young lady and dressed in a sporty way--or how you'd want to phrase it--and there's nothing wrong with that. Maybe it's not appropriate to go to the workplace, but at night, sometimes sure, why not?"
Other than the rather unsettling visual image--now burned in my brain- of Mayor Bloomberg dressed in a "sporty way," he's right.
Can you really identify someone by how they dress? Journalists, analysts and pundits spent hours analyzing the effect on the jurors of the Hermes bag Martha Stewart carried on the first day of her trial or the significance of the presidential cuff-links Jamie Dimon wore during the first day of his testimony.
But can we really ask taxi drivers to get involved in the semiotics of fashion signifiers?
Michelle Chen writes at InTheseTimes:
Two quintessential cliches of New York City street life are heading into more trouble with the law: yellow cabs and prostitutes. To combat the sex trade, the city is pursuing pimps via taxi. But some civil rights advocates fear the measure targets the wrong kind of traffic.
The newly signed legislation aims to punish cab drivers who abet prostitution, with a focus on those who "knowingly engage in a business of transporting individuals to patrons for purposes of prostitution, procuring and/or soliciting patrons for the prostitution, and receiving proceeds from such business in collaboration with traffickers and pimps." The law imposes new criminal penalties, including fines or the loss of a license, for various forms of "promoting prostitution" while using the taxi. It also mandates trainings to inform drivers about the legal consequences of "facilitating sex trafficking" and about social services available to trafficking victims. The evidence of cabbies' involvement in the sex trade is anecdotal at best--there was recently a high-profile trafficking case in which livery cab drivers were nabbed in connection with a "brothel on wheels." But the ubiquity of taxis, popularity of paid sex services, and lack of parking space in the city has apparently led lawmakers to focus on yellow cabs as a critical link in the crusade against trafficking.
The reality of sex work in the city involves far more than dramatic stereotypes of pimps, johns and their drivers. First, advocates for sex workers point out that prostitutes are not necessarily trafficking victims, and that the language of the legislation threatens to blur the line between voluntary prostitution and trafficking, which generally involves coercion and economic exploitation.
Kate D'Adamo, an organizer with Sex Workers Outreach Project New York City (SWOP-NYC) and Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK), said in a correspondence with In These Times that the legislation "inappropriately conflates all prostitution with human trafficking" by focusing on the vaguely defined "promotion of prostitution" by drivers, rather than drawing a clear distinction between coerced and non-coerced commercial sex. "Criminalization of the people around sex workers and trafficked persons alike will do nothing to support trafficked persons," she added, "and will only further marginalize those populations."