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This morning, the mug shot of a woman arrested for prostitution in Wayne County was plastered on Facebook and Twitter.  The comments below her picture:

“Ive been drunk once or twice, however, never THAT drunk!”

“Did men actually pay for that??????”

“she looks like she regularly makes excellent life choices”

“Looks like she banged her head one time too many on the headboard”

Mug ShotThe woman’s arrest appeared in the news after the Wayne County Sheriff sent out a press release. In recent weeks, the Monroe County Sheriff has sent out two press releases about prostitution sweeps in Henrietta. Mug shots of the women were similarly displayed on news websites and social media, as well as in some news broadcasts.

While there’s no question prostitution is illegal and the arrests are public information, there are several reasons police and the media may want to rethink how they report on this issue.

A lot of people are arrested for a lot of things on a daily basis without press releases alerting the media. Rochester police don’t send out releases on prostitution arrests. So why do the Monroe and Wayne Sheriffs offices think prostitutes are so newsworthy? Furthermore, where are the mug shots of the johns and pimps?

There is a movement in New York to treat prostitutes as victims. They are often sexually abused and assaulted. They are often addicted to drugs. There are special courts set up to deal with their charges, while also helping them regain their lives.

Police and the media haven’t caught on. Cops still send out these press releases and the media still parrot them without question. News organizations have policies about not reporting the names of sexual abuse victims, so it’s worth asking why they’re so comfortable showing the mug shots of prostitutes. At the very least, news outlets could be asking themselves what purpose this kind of reporting serves.

I understand that prostitution is not a victimless crime. The women who sell their bodies are hurt. In the case of streetwalkers, the neighborhoods where they do business are hurt. Underage girls and boys are being trafficked in the sex trade.

But most of the reporting of these press releases appears to nothing more than the salacious shaming of downtrodden women.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– A TV reporter writes about his struggle with mental illness.He also discusses how the media does a bad job reporting on mental health.

– Bob Duffy regrets leaving Rochester “when he did” and insists Buffalo didn’t really get a billion dollars.

– Suburban school districts spend nothing on parent engagement. RCSD spends millions. Some say that’s not enough.

– 7 things to know about Common Core tests, which start this week. Also, these tests count for teachers, but not students.

– How the wine industry spread across New York state and grew into a $4.8 billion business.

While driving in the car yesterday, I heard a radio reporter say police were withholding the names of two women charged with prostitution because they may be victims. The women were charged in an investigation of a Henrietta massage parlor.

That raises some ethical questions for the news media, which does not report the names of people who are victims of sex crimes. But it does report the names of criminals.

Are all prostitutes victims? How is the media to know which are victims and which are hooking of their own free will? Should these alleged prostitutes have been charged at all?

Gary Craig of the Democrat and Chronicle did a great series on this issue:

Prostitutes are arrested at a far greater rate than the “johns” who pay them for sex or the men and women who may be collecting the money and demanding they continue working.

Multiple arrests of trafficked prostitutes instill a distrust of law enforcement and add further proof that the individual controlling them is a protective ally, some activists say.

“The worst thing you can do is really victimize the victim,” said Andra Ackerman, a Monroe County prosecutor who previously headed the state’s sex trafficking prevention operation.

The way the Henrietta massage parlor workers were treated was far different than the young woman who appeared on “Wife Swap.” She made headlines around the country when she was charged with prostitution after a night partying with a Rochester lawyer, whom she apparently had known for some time. The news media reported the steamy details of their financial arrangement. I thought the 20-year-old had been terribly exploited by the entire episode.

I commend police for withholding the names of women they believe are victims. But how are they deciding who’s a victim and who isn’t? Some could make the case all prostitutes are victims – of pimps, traffickers, drug addiction, violence, sexual abuse or poverty. I also think news organizations should come up with policies for when to report names of prostitutes, given the new (overdue) sensitivity to their plight.

Links of the Day:

– How many places to do you shop to get household staples, such as food, paper products and pet supplies? Many of us go multiple places, but Wegmans and other chains want you to cut down.

– Did you know Target has an urban model called CityTarget?

– I love this story in the Buffalo News about a woman charged $400 to get her stolen car out of the impound. People stepped up to help in a big way.

A hero dog without a snout arrives in the United States.