TIME Religion

Immigration Laws Should Serve People, Not Politics

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

Was the law made for people or people for the law?

Throughout both legal history and Judeo-Christian scripture, there has always been tension between the “letter” and the “spirit” of the law. In the gospels, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for focusing too much on legalism instead of grace. He famously said, “The Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath.”

In light of what’s been happening in our political systems, it’s clear that we need to ask: “are our laws made for people?” Or do we believe that people were made for our laws?

I have worked alongside many Republicans who have helped lead the battle for immigration reform. These Republicans care about the 11 million undocumented people in this country who have gotten stuck, stranded, marginalized, and jeopardized in a broken immigration system. These are Republicans who don’t want to deport millions of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants and who don’t want to break up their families. These are Republicans who believe that legalizing those immigrants would be good for the country and the economy and support an earned path to citizenship for those who want to wait at the back of the line to become American citizens, pay a fine for breaking the law, submit to complete background and criminal checks, learn English, and pay American taxes for the good work they do. These are Republicans who believe that helping vulnerable children supersedes ideology. And these are Republicans who want their party to be open and inclusive and ready to welcome the Hispanic American community into their party.

But then there are Republicans who have blocked immigration reform even though a majority of Republican party members across the country now favor it, who want to physically deport or make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they will “self-deport,” and who either themselves accept or are willing to accommodate to what even other Republicans call “racial factors” in their white constituencies. And there are, cynically, Republicans who simply refuse work with the President or Democrats on any issue. And there are some Republicans who are helping to fuel the alarmists that are rising up across the country to attack immigration and immigrants, and now even children from Central America who have recently come as desperate refugees.

The same voices that have blocked immigration reform are now trying to distort a very serious refugee crisis of children fleeing for their lives from the escalating violence in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador into an immigration problem, and are using those desperate and vulnerable children as political pawns in the debate around immigration reform. That is morally reprehensible. In Congress, with their consistent commitment to block anything President Obama proposes, the GOP is refusing to spend the money necessary to care for and carefully process the children who are seeking safety and asylum in America. Children are sitting alone away from their families in processing centers without the adequate resources to care for them.

And most shockingly—and absurdly—instead of doing what’s right and working to address the crisis we’re facing at the border, the leader of the Republican party would rather sue the President over failing to execute the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After a year of political maneuverings and a shutdown of the government in protest over the ACA, Speaker Boehner preferred to sue the president for not enforcing the letter of a law he opposes, than to vote on immigration reform which might have humanely addressed the crisis at the border. I fear the actions on health care and the inaction on immigration reform proves that in Congress scoring a political victory is far more important than alleviating the suffering of people. This is a matter of moral leadership and doing what’s right that should transcend ideology.

Because Congress has defaulted on its moral leadership in favor of political maneuvering, President Obama is considering what options his administration can take to fix particular aspects of our broken immigration system or at least reduce the suffering. But any steps he takes will far fall short of the ideal – because the only sustainable solution is legislative. We should the support the President’s attempts to offer compassion until Congress has the courage to act. He should start with ending the deportations of law-abiding people that would break up their families.

While any action the President takes will certainly be within his constitutional and legal authority, the fact that it will be the executive branch providing relief instead of the legislative branch enacting reform again raises the age old question of what purpose the law is supposed to serve? Too many of our supposed leaders seem to have forgotten that they were elected to serve people not politics and parties. This is a moral test of leadership that John Boehner needs to retake.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME

Herbalife Hires Biden’s Former Chief of Staff

Herbalife Ltd. signage is displayed outside of Herbalife Plaza in Torrance, Calif. on Feb. 3, 2014.
Herbalife Ltd. signage is displayed outside of Herbalife Plaza in Torrance, Calif. on Feb. 3, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Alan Hoffman will oversee the company's vast lobbying effort in Washington, DC. as it fights allegations that its business model is a predatory pyramid scheme

In yet another chapter in what has become a real-life, Wall Street-D.C. soap opera, the nutritional supplements company Herbalife announced today that it has hired Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief of staff, Alan Hoffman.

Hoffman, who left Biden’s side in 2012 to join Pepsi Co., will start in August as Herbalife’s new executive vice president in charge of everything from “public policy” to “government affairs”—a title that translates, in layman’s terms, to the person who will oversee the company’s vast lobbying effort in Washington, DC.

It’s a big job. Herbalife is reportedly under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and at least two state attorney generals over allegations that the company’s business model is a predatory pyramid scheme.

Herbalife’s arch nemesis, the billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, gave a three-hour presentation on Tuesday this week outlining his case against the company, which he describes as a “criminal operation” that fleeces poor people by promising, but not delivering, lucrative rewards for selling Herbalife’s nutritional supplements.

But Herbalife’s all-star team of backers, which includes former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the activist investor Carl Icahn, and soccer celeb David Beckham, have dismissed Ackman’s allegations out of hand as “completely false and fabricated.”

Ackman has led a lonely crusade against the company for the last 18 months, spending $50 million of his investors’ money hiring a battalion of investigators to prove that the company is misleading distributors, misrepresenting sales figures and selling its products at inflated prices. Ackman became tearful Tuesday describing the company’s practices, which he compared to those used by the Mafia, the Nazis, and Enron.

Ackman’s hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management LP, has also bet against Herbalife in the market and stands to gain $1 billion if the company’s stock collapses.

Herbalife’s stock has soared and plummeted, roller coaster-like, since December 2012, when Ackman first vowed to take the company down. Since January 2013, Herbalife has thrown itself into the battle, dumping roughly $2 million on official lobbying efforts in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That kind of spending marks a major increase for the company, which shelled out about the same amount on lobbying over the course of a decade between 1998 and 2008.

This week, the company suggested that it may sue Ackman for defamation — something public companies seldom do, in part because the legal barriers are very high and in part because such an action could give Ackman the power to demand access to some of Herbalife’s non-public records. (Ackman responded Tuesday to a question about the possible lawsuit: “Bring it on.”)

Hoffman, who has worked for all three branches of government, has close ties with officials within the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, Congress, and the Obama administration. “I look forward to ensuring that the public more clearly understands the critical role the company plays in advancing good nutrition,” Hoffman said in a statement today. “I also look forward to promoting the economic opportunities that this global nutrition company provides for hard-working people in communities everywhere.”

During Ackman’s presentation this week, which he promised would be a “death blow” for the company, Herbalife’s stock actually rose, ending the trading day 25% higher than where it had started. Ackman alleged that the company had bought its own stock to make its price rise.

Herbalife’s retail strategy depends on hiring salespeople who do not draw an independent income, but instead share in revenues generated by the salespeople they recruit, and those of their recruits’ recruits. Herbalife does not dispute that model.

But Ackman alleges that many of Herbalife’s “customers” are purchasing the company’s products in an effort to qualify to open a branded “nutrition club,” which the company bills as a lucrative business opportunity. Ackman says his investigators’ analysis of a sample of Herbalife’s “nutrition clubs” lost an average of at least $12,000 a year, and that fewer than 2% of its salespeople made more than $5,000 last year. Herbalife says those numbers misrepresent its model, where many customers sign up as “salespeople” to get discounts on the products for themselves, their friends and family.

“I’m an extremely, extremely persistent person. Extremely,” Ackman said Tuesday. “And when I believe I am right, and it is important, I will go to the end of the earth.” Whether he’s right or wrong, he’s up against a formidable team in Washington, DC.

TIME politics

Montana Senator’s Plagiarism Scandal Has a Silver Lining

John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., speaks during an event in the Capitol Visitor Center on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, July 23, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Sen. Walsh's mental health may have nothing to do with lifting from other scholars, but the acknowledgement of PTSD and depression reveals a changing moment in politics.

Sen. John Walsh (D – Montana) is being accused of plagiarism for failing to properly cite the work of others in the master’s thesis he wrote while at the Army War College in 2007. Indeed, it has been widely reported that as much as a quarter of what the senator wrote—and presented as his own work—may have been the ideas and/or words of other prominent experts on Middle East policy.

When asked about this apparent transgression, Sen. Walsh stated that he believed he had done nothing wrong. He didn’t recall using sources improperly, but he is considering apologizing to scholars he failed to cite. A campaign aide for the senator acknowledged the plagiarism, but indicated that Sen. Walsh did not intend to deceive anyone and that his actions should be viewed in the context of a successful military career during which he was a highly decorated officer who served with distinction in the Montana National Guard. The aide noted that Sen. Walsh was going through a difficult period in 2007. One of the soldiers from his unit in Iraq had committed suicide during this time. The senator has acknowledged that he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He is currently taking antidepressant medication as part of this treatment.

We can’t know what Sen. Walsh intended when he failed to include citations for ideas that were not his when he wrote his thesis seven years ago. One indication of whether this act represents a flaw in the senator’s character, a lapse in judgment, or a failure to understand academic standards and practices is to look for a similar pattern of behavior—or lack thereof—across his life and career. Those on both sides of the political spectrum will be doing just that as this story unfolds.

Some are asking if there is a relationship between PTSD and plagiarism. There is none—at least not a direct one. There is, however, a clear relationship between the experience of trauma and possible impairment across a number of areas, including cognitive and emotional functioning. The relationship is even stronger if you experience repeated trauma. Imagine driving to work and having a head-on collision on the highway. Miraculously you walk away with no physical injuries, but others around you die. Imagine that this happens to you not once but several times over the course of several months or a year. You begin to have difficulty sleeping, concentrating and focusing. You might feel depressed, you might have flashbacks, and you most certainly will have guilt and possibly shame. Could this experience of repeated trauma affect your judgment or your ability to process information critical to your success in your relationships, at school, or in your career? Absolutely.

Though the consequences – if any – of Sen. Walsh’s actions in 2007 are yet to be determined, it is important that we continue to have conversations and discussions about the very real impact that trauma can have on someone’s long-term functioning. We need these discussions not because we should excuse behavior that is inappropriate, unethical or criminal, but because one in four Americans suffer from diagnosable mental health conditions, along with the trauma that often creates those conditions. Sometimes war causes these injuries, sometimes a natural disaster, or a rape, or an assault. Sometimes it is a bad role of the genetic dice that leads to significant impairment. Isn’t it better to discuss these issues openly and, by doing so, encourage appropriate care and relieve unnecessary suffering?

Perhaps one silver lining resulting from the last 13 years of war—and many tragic stories of those who have struggled upon their return from battle—is that we as a nation are becoming a bit more comfortable with the topic of mental health. Until now, few if any politicians or other public or military officials have been willing to admit they have a mental health issue, let alone suggest it may have clouded their judgment. Perhaps we are more willing to entertain the possibility that the cause of someone’s behavior just might be a bit more complicated than we think. After all, mental health is a part of the human condition. We all experience it, and sometimes the difference between being mentally sharp and healthy or not depends on whether we swerve the wrong way, are born with the wrong DNA or watch a buddy die in combat.

Barbara Van Dahlen, named to the TIME 100 in 2012, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour. A notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families, Dr. Van Dahlen has become a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans and their families.

TIME

Andrew Cuomo Meddled With His First ‘Independent’ Commission, Too

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during an economic development news conference at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, N.Y. on July 15, 2014. Mike Groll—AP

The New York Governor pressured members of a utility commission to vote for privatization of the Long Island Power Authority, sources say

Before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set up a supposedly independent commission to investigate political corruption in Albany—a commission he later shut down after it began poking around his own operations, a commission that is now causing him serious political headaches that could become legal headaches—he set up a supposedly independent commission to investigate the state’s electric utilities.

Mark Green, Cuomo’s fellow Democrat and onetime political opponent, says he was surprised when Cuomo tapped him to serve on the utility commission in November 2012. He says he was less surprised when Cuomo’s aides quickly began pushing the commission to propose privatizing the dysfunctional Long Island Power Authority, which was still struggling to get the lights back on after Superstorm Sandy. Several sources confirm the governor’s office pressured the commission to issue a report recommending privatization less than two months after its creation, and that Green threatened to resign when a Cuomo press release incorrectly suggested the recommendation had been unanimous.

“Independent?” Green said. “They tried to ram privatization down our throats. I told them I wasn’t going to be a fig leaf for Andrew.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo declined to comment.

Green, who lost to Cuomo in a Democratic primary for attorney general in 2006, was the commission’s most strident opponent of gubernatorial interference. But sources say members with no axe to grind—notably Peter Bradford, who had led the state Public Service Commission under Cuomo’s father Mario, and former attorney general Robert Abrams, a co-chair of the commission—objected as well.

“Several of us felt we needed to get further into our investigation before settling on one particular recommendation,” Bradford said. “There was definitely back-and-forth with the governor’s office about that. They had a viewpoint, and they wanted us to endorse it so quickly, we risked being perceived as a rubber stamp.”

Still, Bradford believes that Cuomo’s first Moreland Commission—the name comes from the state’s century-old Moreland Act—did good work without too much meddling. “It’s fair to say the governor didn’t have a truly independent process in mind,” Bradford said. “But nobody stopped us from issuing subpoenas. Nobody shut us down. The interference wasn’t as heavy-handed as it seems to have been later.”

Bradford was referring to Cuomo’s second Moreland Commission, the one that was supposed to root out corruption in state politics, the one that Cuomo disbanded in April. The New York Times reported this week that Cuomo’s aides forced it to withdraw a subpoena issued to the governor’s media-buying firm, and “objected whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo.” Federal prosecutors are now investigating what happened with the commission.

The response from Cuomo’s office, laid out in this 13-page letter to the Times, has been rather novel: The commission was never intended to be truly independent, because it was a creature of the executive branch. “You know that’s f-cking ridiculous, right?” Jon Stewart asked on The Daily Show.

In fact, Cuomo, who’s running for reelection, aired a campaign ad bragging about the “Independent Commission” he established to fight corruption, but apparently, independence is a matter of degree. The letter to the Times argued that a commission created by the governor that reported to the governor and had the power to investigate the governor “would not pass the laugh test.” In fact, Cuomo said last August that the commission would investigate “anything they want to look at—me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general,” and so on.

It’s an awkward position for Cuomo, but he’s still an overwhelming favorite to beat his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, who recently lashed out at Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie for suggesting the race was a lost cause, as well as a liberal Democratic challenger, Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo has governed from the center on economic issues, working with Republicans to cut spending and cap property taxes, while tacking left on social issues, passing gay marriage and gun control laws. He lacks his father’s flair for rhetoric, but he’s seen as a more effective political operator, transactional rather than inspirational, pursuing the possible rather than the ideal. Albany has seemed a bit less dysfunctional during his tenure; politicians are still getting hauled off to jail but they’re at least finally passing budgets on time. Cuomo is often talked about as a potential presidential candidate—presumably not unless Hillary Clinton passes on the race in 2016, but quite possibly in 2020 or beyond.

The corruption commission could put a serious dent in that talk. It plays into the dark side of Cuomo’s reputation, persistent since he served as his father’s top aide, as a control freak and a bully. Several sources who declined to talk on the record cited fear of retribution. “I don’t want to poke that bear,” one official said.

On the other hand, Cuomo’s defenders say his aggressive approach has helped him break through the usual chaos of Albany to get things done—including, incidentally, the privatization of LIPA. Bradford said he was uncomfortable with the idea at first, and with Cuomo’s efforts to claim phantom unanimity. But by the time the commission finished its work, Bradford no longer felt uncomfortable.

“In the end, privatization seemed like the best way to shake things up,” he said. “Things worked out.”

TIME Outer Space

What’s Next For NASA? Asteroids!

NASA aims to continue their space exploration with their Asteroid Redirect Mission.

+ READ ARTICLE

NASA has not sent astronauts to the moon since 1972. While that remains a historic event, President Barack Obama’s cancellation of the Constellation Program back in 2010 ended hopes indefinitely of the United States returning to the moon any time soon.

Still, that program’s death did not mark the end of NASA’s work and planetary exploration overall. The agency is currently working on its next target: catching an asteroid, pulling it into the moon’s orbit and sending astronauts to its location in order to study it.

The purpose of the mission, according to NASA, is for planetary defense, as the Earth has had instances of asteroid interference in very recent history. Scientists claim that in changing the orbit of an asteroid and studying its composition, Earth could protect itself from another asteroid crashing into its atmosphere.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission, should it be successful, could also be used as a testing ground for a possible mission to Mars in the near future.

TIME republicans

Governor Rick Scott Shows What a Real Scandal Looks Like

Rick Scott, Will Weayherford
Gov. Rick Scott, left, and house speaker Will Weatherford speak at a news conference after session on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Steve Cannon—AP

The Florida governor has been questioned about his investment in a natural gas company and his aide's involvement in a rail project.

A few months ago, I wrote about an epidemic of fake Republican scandals that Democrats were hyping for 2014, starting with a nothingburger of a whatever-gate involving Florida Governor Rick Scott. My point was that political scandals rarely get traction, and shouldn’t get traction, without a semi-plausible link to significant public policies. Let me put it a different way: Damaging scandals look more like the two latest messes involving Governor Scott.

The first involves Scott’s support for a controversial Miami-to-Orlando rail project known as All Aboard Florida, when the company pushing it had financial ties to his chief of staff. The second involves Scott’s support for a controversial natural gas pipeline to North Florida, when he owned a stake in the company building it. You probably haven’t heard about these messes, because they’re pretty obscure. They’re also mini-messes, especially for Scott, who was once CEO of a hospital chain that paid a record $1.7 billion fine for fraud committed on his watch.

What could turn these messes into scandals is their potential link to public policies—in particular, to lame and unpopular policies that could look even worse if Scott’s probable opponent, Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, can frame them as corrupt policies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with government support for a train linking Miami and Orlando—though my pal Carl Hiaasen is not an All Aboard Florida fan—but it looks pretty sketchy after Governor Scott (at the urging of his conflicted chief of staff) rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project that would have eventually linked Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Similarly, there’s a case to be made for a natural gas pipeline to Florida, but it’s hard to square with Scott’s support for utilities waging an outrageous war to prevent homeowners from going solar in the Sunshine State.

Asking questions about an opponent’s record can be good politics, but answering them can be even better politics. It’s one thing to ask why Scott rejected federal money for a shovel-ready high-speed train that promised 27,000 jobs and enjoyed strong support from Florida’s business community; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott was clearing the way for his crony’s speculative slow-speed train. It’s one thing to ask why the Sunshine State is intentionally skipping a nationwide solar revolution that is reducing carbon emissions while saving ratepayers money; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott has a personal interest in pushing gas instead.

Scott will have a dramatic financial advantage in the fall, and it’s not clear whether voters will accept Crist’s latest political change of clothes, especially in what’s shaping up as a Republican year. But Scott is unpopular—he’s still best known as the Medicare fraud guy—and so are his policies. The challenge for Democrats is to link the personal to the political. Real scandals can do that.

 

TIME language

Russia’s Spin Job of the MH17 Crash Brings Back Soviet Memories

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia, July 16, 2014. Alexei Nikolskyi—Ria Novosti/Reuters

Moscow's response to the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is a return to the ham-handed ways of the Soviet days — and that portends bad things

A Russian disaster is almost never followed by Russian candor. This is true of most countries, but most countries are at least adept at explaining themselves — even if disingenuously — as the George W. Bush Administration showed with its flood-the-airwaves spin campaign after the weapons of mass destruction that were the casus belli of the Iraq War turned out not to exist. Not so Russia, and — as TIME’s Simon Shuster reports — its response to the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the murder of the 298 people on board is one more illustration of that fact. Even after what are purported to be recordings between a pro-Russian rebel and a Russian military officer discussing the destruction of the airliner surfaced, Moscow remained in defiant denial — even flipping the script to blame Ukraine. “This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took a lower road, going for the ad hominem: “With regard to the claims raised by Kiev, that it was almost us who did it,” he said to a Russian state-run news channel, “in fact I haven’t heard any truthful statements from Kiev over the past few months.” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described this response with elegant understatement, labeling it “deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.” Soviet Russia was even more ham-handed in its defense of itself. A few days after the April 26, 1986, explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Soviet Ambassador Eugene Pozdnyakov appeared with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline. When Koppel asked him why Russia initially covered up the accident, coming clean only when radiation readings in Europe revealed the truth, Pozdnyakov blamed the calendar. “It happened on Saturday,” he said, “and the governments of proper countries are usually on holidays on weekends.” Koppel responded with frank incredulity, scolding the diplomat with a simple, “Oh, come on!” In the current crisis, Moscow could at least call on experience, since — depressingly, remarkably — it’s not even the first time Russia has been implicated in shooting down a civilian passenger plane. That first time occurred on Sept. 1, 1983, when a military interceptor jet blew Korean Airlines Flight 007 out of the sky, killing 269 people, after the plane accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace. Moscow hedged and fudged and blamed the Korean pilot for being where he wasn’t supposed to be, and finally decided to fake transparency, releasing what were said to be air to ground transcripts between the interceptor plane and the base, intending to show, if nothing else, that the pilot seemed confused about what was happening. At one point during the attack, he was said to have exclaimed “yolki palki,” which TIME described then as “an exceedingly mild oath,” and indeed it is. Its literal translation is “sticks of the fir tree.” And it’s English equivalent? “Fiddlesticks.” The fighter pilot has not been born who speaks that way when engaging the enemy. Wordplay amounts to little for the 298 people killed in the new attack — or for the 298 grieving families. But it amounts to a lot as the rest of the world tries to reckon with Russia’s new aggression and its return to its old, opaque ways. The attack on the plane was over quickly; the aftermath promises to play out slowly and uncertainly.

TIME politics

What the Swedish Model Gets Wrong About Prostitution

TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'Norway-prostitutio
A prostitute working on the street in central Oslo. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

Making the purchase of sex a crime strips women of agency and autonomy. It should be decriminalized altogether.

Prostitution is known as the “world’s oldest profession,” and whether it should be criminalized – or not – is one of the oldest debates among social reformers. Today, a growing consensus around the world claims the sex trade perpetuates male violence against women, and so customers should be held as criminals. On the contrary, it’s decriminalizing prostitution that could make women—in and outside the sex industry—safer.

This modern debate has roots in Victorian England, which branded prostitutes as wicked, depraved and a public nuisance. Yet a shift in social thought throughout the era introduced the prostitute as a victim, often lured or forced into sexual slavery by immoral men.

Today, we’re seeing a global shift in prostitution attitudes that looks startlingly like the one in Victorian England. Many areas have adopted or are considering what’s known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic Model,” which criminalizes the buying, rather than the selling, of sexual services (because, as the logic goes, purchasing sex is a form of male violence against women, thus only customers should be held accountable). In this nouveau-Victorian view, “sexual slavery” has become “sex trafficking,” and it’s common to see media referring to brothel owners, pimps, and madams as “sex traffickers” even when those working for them do so willingly.

The Swedish model (also adopted by Iceland and Norway and under consideration in France, Canada and the UK) may seem like a step in the right direction—a progressive step, a feminist step. But it’s not. Conceptually, the system strips women of agency and autonomy. Under the Swedish model, men “are defined as morally superior to the woman,” notes author and former sex worker Maggie McNeill in an essay for the Cato Institute. “He is criminally culpable for his decisions, but she is not.” Adult women are legally unable to give consent, “just as an adolescent girl is in the crime of statutory rape.”

From a practical standpoint, criminalizing clients is just the flip side of the same old coin. It still focuses law enforcement efforts and siphons tax dollars toward fighting the sex trade. It still means arresting, fining and jailing people over consensual sex. If we really want to try something new—and something that has a real chance at decreasing violence against women—we should decriminalize prostitution altogether.

How would this work, exactly? “Decriminalizing” may sound like a less radical step than “legalization,” but it’s actually quite the opposite. Decriminalization means the removal of all statutory penalties for prostitution and things related to its facilitation, such as advertising. It does not mean there are no municipal codes about how a sex-work business can be run or that general codes about public behavior do not apply, explains Mistress Matisse, a dominatrix, writer and prominent sex-worker rights advocate. Legalization, on the other hand, is a stricter regime, wherein the state doesn’t prosecute prostitution per se but takes a heavy-handed approach to its regulation. “This is how it works in Nevada, for example, where legal brothels exist, but one may not just be an independent sex worker,” says Matisse. Under both schemes, forcing someone into prostitution (aka sex trafficking) and being involved in the sale or purchase of sex from a minor would obviously remain a crime.

But other crimes supposedly associated with the sex trade could be reduced if prostitution were decriminalized. Research has shown incidences of rape to decrease with the availability of prostitution. One recent study of data from Rhode Island—where a loophole allowed legal indoor prostitution in 2003-2009—found the state’s rape rate declined significantly over this period, especially in urban areas. (The gonorrhea rate also went down.) “Decriminalization could have potentially large social benefits for the population at large–not just sex market participants,” wrote economists Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah in a working paper about their research.

In New Zealand, street prostitution, escort services, pimping and brothels were decriminalized in 2003, and so far sex workers and the New Zealand government have raved about the arrangement. A government review in 2008 found the overall number of sex workers had not gone up since prostitution became legal, nor had instances of illegal sex-trafficking. The most significant change was sex workers enjoying safer and better working conditions. Researchers also found high levels of condom use and a very low rate of HIV among New Zealand sex workers.

The bottom line on decriminalization is that it is a means of harm reduction.

Keeping prostitution illegal is done in the name of women, yet it only perpetuates violence against them while expanding the reach of the carceral state. Decriminalization would end the punitive system wherein sex workers—a disproportionately female, minority and transgender group—are being separated from their families, thrown in jail, and saddled with court costs and criminal records over blow-jobs. It would also allow them to take more measures of precaution (like organizing in brothels) and give them access to the legal protections available other workers (like being able to go to the police when they’ve been wronged). Yet for Swedish Model advocates, only the total eradication of the sex trade will “save” women from the violence and exploitation associated with it.

Certainly some in the sex trade – like minors, for example – are exploited, abused and forced into prostitution, while others aren’t literally trafficked but feel trapped in the industry by economic necessity. These are the people who should receive attention, and resources, from social reformers. And there would be a lot more resources to devote if we left consenting adults to exchange money for sex in peace.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a staff editor for Reason.com. She blogs often at Reason’s Hit & Run and enjoys covering food issues, gender, Gen Y, reproductive rights, intellectual property, sex work and things people are talking about on Twitter. This piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Opinion

Todd Akin Still Doesn’t Get What’s Wrong With Saying ‘Legitimate Rape’

Todd Akin
Then-U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO)) address the media on September 24, 2012 in Kirkwood, Missouri. (Whitney Curtis--Getty Images) Whitney Curtis—Getty Images

He says it's a law enforcement term. It's not.

Former Missouri Congressman Todd Akin went on MSNBC Thursday morning to try to explain his much-maligned comments from 2012 in which he said abortions wouldn’t be necessary for rape victims. “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” he told a St. Louis TV station in 2012.

Akin was on MSNBC to promote his new book, Firing Back, but he also took it as an opportunity to explain his earlier flub. “Legitimate rape is a law enforcement term, it’s an abbreviation for ‘legitimate case of rape,’” he told Chuck Todd. “A woman calls a police station, the police investigate, she says ‘I’ve been raped,’ they investigate that. So before any of the facts are in, they call it a legitimate case of rape,” explained Aiken.

 

But is ‘”legitimate rape” really a law enforcement term? We asked some experts.

“I’ve taught police officers, and worked with police officers on every continent in the world, and that’s something I’ve never heard in my 50 years in law enforcement,” says Dr. James A. Williams, former Chief of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces for the U.S Department of Justice, who also worked in municipal law enforcement in New Jersey. “I’ve never heard of that. Never.”

Richard Lichten, a veteran of the LA County Sheriff’s Department and expert on sexual assault investigations agrees:

“I have 30 years of experience, I’m qualified to testify in federal court on the way to investigate sexual assault crimes, and I’ve never heard of that,” said Lichten. “In all my life I’ve never heard of that.”

Nonetheless, Akin believes that everyone took what he said out of context. “This was intentionally misunderstood and twisted for political purposes. It doesn’t make any sense to say ‘a conservative is saying that rape is legitimate,’ that doesn’t even add up.”

But the real problem isn’t that people think conservatives are pro-rape, it’s that Akin’s comment sounds like victim-blaming. By calling some rapes “legitimate,” he is (perhaps unintentionally) implying that some aren’t. And that has lead his critics to say that Aikin wants to make sure that a woman’s claim of rape is “legitimate” and that they aren’t just making it up to get a free abortion or something.

Once the topic of abortion came up, the interview took an even more controversial turn. When asked point-blank whether rape victims should be allowed to have abortions if they get pregnant, Akin turned it around. “Should the child conceived in rape have the same right to live as a child conceived in love?” he said. “I had a number of people in my campaign that were children…who were conceived in rape.” That assertion was not immediately verifiable.

Chuck Todd (rightly) pointed out that if Akin had staffers who were conceived from rape, then wouldn’t that disprove his theory that women can “shut that whole thing down?” Yes, according to logic, but all Akin had to say was: “I believe that little children are special.”

 

 

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