New Orleans: Prostitution On Rise In Louisiana Famous City

In a land that champions free enterprise, and in a recovering city with one of the highest murder rates in the country, some locals are questioning the use of the city’s limited police resources to pursue prostitutes plying their trade in the French Quarter.

The process of arresting sex workers in 2006 is rather more arduous than it used to be, with many using new technology to their advantage in a bid to avoid arrest. It was recently reported in The Times-Picayune that the use of business cards with email and web site addresses means that detectives now have to jump through more hoops and work twice as hard just to get to first base with their suspects.

The increase in prostitution is one indication that New Orleans is making a comeback. There is a good deal of reconstruction activity going on, and the male-dominated workforce is obviously making and spending a fair amount of money in the city. A substantial proportion of these men have migrated from interstate to help the city rebuild and, after a hard day’s work in relative social isolation, they hit the town and welcome ‘working girls’ with open arms.

Prostitution has a history of following concentrations of men with high disposable incomes. During the 19th century, ‘harlots’ were always the first women on the goldfields from California to Western Australia, and the contemporary sex trade is known to follow the crowds to landmark sporting events such as the Superbowl and the America’s Cup.

Still, many people believe that prostitution is immoral – a social evil and a scourge on society that should not be tolerated. These people support police efforts to arrest, convict and jail prostitutes. Others argue that separation of church and state is a founding principle of our democracy, and thus police should not be used as moral troops to impose one group’s beliefs on the entire population.

Regardless of which side of the fence one stands on this issue – it seems clear that, at a critical time when violent crime is terrorizing the local population and hampering the recovery of New Orleans, that is where the focus of the police force needs to be.

Local attitudes towards vice have tended to be fairly relaxed in America’s most European city, renowned for its ‘laissez les bon temps rouler’ culture. In New Orleans, the history of prostitution also has a close association with the history of jazz.

A city ordinance allowed legal brothels to operate from 1898 to 1917, in the feted red-light district that became known as Storyville. Although perhaps not the birthplace of jazz, Storyville certainly provided a cradle for the new sound to grow and flourish. Legendary musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton, Tony Jackson and Clarence Williams first thrilled audiences with their red-hot jazz piano performances in the swinging Storyville bordellos. Then in 1917, when the US Navy forced the closure of Storyville to protect WWI sailors from ‘moral danger’, Mayor Martin Behrman made a mercy dash to Washington to try to persuade the feds to reverse their decision.

When the mayor returned to New Orleans dismayed and empty-handed, he made a now-famous observation that has lost none of its relevance over time: “You can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular.”

Ultimately, prostitution boils down to personal choice and private behavior. And given the NOPD’s motto, ‘To Protect and Serve’, police authorities would better serve the city by making the protection of life and property their unwavering priority.


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