Legally Lewd: A Right Reserved Only For Cops

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Spotsylvania county, Virginia seems like a quiet place; the kind of place where cops get pretty bored. The population for the entire county is just over 100,000. Needless to say, in between harassing harmless motorists and arresting the occasional drunk in public, cops in Spotsylvania probably have lots of time on their hands. Perhaps that's why, over the past three years, they've decided to really get tough and take down some of the county's most vile and dangerous criminals — prostitutes.

After all, someone's got to stop consenting adults from paying and receiving money for acts that are perfectly legal if no money is exchanged. I mean, if two strangers meet in a bar or at a party and want to get it on that's fine, as long as all they want is physical and egotistical gratification. But if one of them wants money and the other is willing to give it to them, well that's downright criminal. It's good to know there are selfless men out there willing to sacrifice their virtue to put a stop to this villainy.

Getting to first or second base isn't enough for the dedicated officers of Spotsylvania. They want to make sure they get convictions and the only way to do that is to round third and come on home. But that's not all. It isn't enough to catch these girls in the act once. In order to build up a rapport with these malefactors, they evidently need to round the bases three or four times over the course of a month. Of course this kind of important operation costs money. That's why Spotsylvania detectives spent over $1,200 at the Moon Spa massage parlor last month alone. And being the gentlemen they are, they of course tip very generously ($350 on one occasion). When you're willing to throw other people's money around like that it really shows your level of commitment to maintaining law and order.

All joking aside though, this is a sobering story. Police officers repeatedly engaging in sex acts with prostitutes using tax dollars I mean where do these guys get off? Okay, maybe that was a bad choice of words, but something is seriously wrong here. If ever there were a case where the perverse logic behind the idea of victimless crime was evident, this is it. Prostitution, however morally repugnant and socially abhorrent we may think it is, is still a consensual act. No one's rights are violated, no property is stolen or destroyed and no contracts are broken (except perhaps marriage contracts). Laws against this kind of behavior are destructive of the very foundation of law itself. They violate the fundamental right that law is supposed to uphold: the control and use of private property.

As CNN reports, these undercover operations have recently been suspended due to a public outcry over the methods used. The public is right to be upset, but wrong about the reason. The methods used are merely a symptom of the faulty foundation upon which laws such as prostitution and drug prohibition rest. The fact that no actual crimes (in the property-rights-based sense of the word) are being committed means that rather than responding to the complaints of those wronged, police must actively seek out such activity by descending into the dark alleys and dimly lit hotel rooms where these things occur. Rather than protecting people from real crime, they must in effect become criminals themselves and perform the very acts normal citizens are prohibited from doing due to their supposedly corrupt and degrading nature.

When law is permitted to operate based purely on moral sentiment, it is torn from its anchor and we are adrift in an angry sea without a compass. It comes to be based on opinion, fad, religious sentiment, bias, envy, and prejudice rather than the universal concepts of contract and the right to property. As Rothbard wrote in For A New Liberty. "It is not the business of the law…to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright."

This is the business of mothers, fathers, preachers and friends, and is dependent on individual integrity. Relegating this role to the police leads to the mindset that it is the purpose and duty of the law to define right and wrong. The law becomes a stamp of moral approval or disapproval. Once it takes root this idea is difficult to eliminate. People begin to think that if they "legalize" a previously prohibited act they are somehow implicitly endorsing it. If we were to legalize drugs for instance, many people feel that would be tantamount to telling kids that there is nothing wrong with using them. The absence of legal prohibition is not a moral green light.

If you abhor prostitution, if you feel (as I do) that it is socially destructive and morally degenerate, then good. Use those feelings as motivation in trying to convince others to feel the same. Teach it to your children, your friends and your coworkers. Start a blog and rant about it online or get involved with charitable and educational organizations trying to combat it. In short, use the liberty you possess to find a way to persuade people. But don't undermine that same liberty by resorting to the use of force. As Frederick Douglas once said, "No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck."

I'm reminded of two excellent quotes by Ludwig Von Mises on this subject, the first from his classic work Liberalism and the second from Bureaucracy.

“A free man must be able to endure it when his fellow men act and live otherwise than he considers proper. He must free himself from the habit, just as soon as something does not please him, of calling for the police.”

"He who wants to reform his countrymen must take recourse to persuasion. This alone is the democratic way of bringing about changes. If a man fails in his endeavors to convince other people of the soundness of his ideas, he should blame his own disabilities. He should not ask for a law, that is, for compulsion and coercion by the police."

What happened in Spotsylvania County is a symptom of a much larger problem. If we condone the use of institutionalized violence against those who have done nothing more than harm our moral sensitivities, we endanger the very foundations of a free society and of civilization itself.

Aaron Singleton [send him mail] is an economics student at Brigham Young University. Visit his website.

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