Archive for February 26th, 2011

Simply put, commission of what the Legislature determines as an immoral act, even if consensual and private, is an injury against society itself.  –  Judge Chet Traylor, in the majority opinion for State vs. Smith (2000)

In my column of August 17th I wrote about Louisiana’s tyrannical “Crime Against Nature” law and the New Orleans Police Department’s evil game of charging prostitutes under this law so they can be persecuted for at least a decade by inclusion on “sex offender” registries. Since escorts can usually afford lawyers to arrange plea bargains to avoid the “sex offender” status, those convicted under the law are nearly all streetwalkers and the overwhelming majority of them are black or transsexual. The column also discussed Women With a Vision (WWAV), an organization whose “No Justice Project” is dedicated to overturning the convictions of these women so they can begin the process of reclaiming the lives destroyed by the so-called “justice” system.  Well, on February 17th regular reader Joyce sent me a link to this story which appeared in the Times-Picayune the day before:

People who must register as sex offenders because they were convicted of engaging in oral or anal sex for money filed a lawsuit against state officials last night [February 15th], arguing the requirement is unconstitutional and discriminatory.  Only in Louisiana can people convicted of selling their bodies be required to register as a sex offender, according to the lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights…The registration requirement only affects people prosecuted under the state’s “crime against nature by solicitation” law, which is used when a person is accused of engaging in oral or anal sex in exchange for money.  People accused of prostitution, which includes any sex act, are not required to register…

The lawsuit was filed anonymously, but describes the difficulty the plaintiffs have experienced obtaining work and finding housing because they are registered sex offenders.  In Louisiana, the driver’s license of a registered sex offender is inscribed with those words in bright orange letters…[they also] appear in a state database and must notify neighbors of their legal status…attorneys for the plaintiffs said the registration requirement erects “insurmountable barriers” to people who are trying to restart their lives.  In New Orleans, nearly 40 percent of the people registered as sex offenders are on the registry because of a “crime against nature” conviction.  The label…often keeps people from being able to access drug treatment or domestic violence services, said Deon Haywood, director of Women With A Vision…”The toll it takes is devastating,” Haywood said about the registration requirements.  “They did what they did to survive and put food on the table.”

Louisiana is the only state that has separate laws depending on what kind of sex acts a prostitute engages in…The Legislature in the last session changed the penalties for “crime against nature by solicitation” to make the first offense a misdemeanor, which matches the potential sentence for first-offense prostitution.  Previously, a first conviction of “crime against nature” was a felony.  But while a person convicted of prostitution is not required to register as a sex offender, a defendant convicted repeatedly of “crime against nature by solicitation” would have to…plus, people who were convicted…before last year, when the law was changed, still must remain on Louisiana’s sex offender registry…all of the other offenses that require registration…involve some kind of force, coercion, or exploitation of a minor…[such as] rape, aggravated kidnapping of a child or prostitution of a person under 17.

I’m not sure what their chances of winning are; Louisiana has a long history of aggressively repelling all challenges to its 205-year-old sodomy law.  Even after Lawrence vs. Texas struck down all such laws in the United States in June of 2003, the state doggedly held onto its “crime against nature” statute unchanged for a year until a judge specifically invalidated portions of it, leaving intact provisions for prosecuting homosexual groups and those “promoting prostitution”.  Also, Louisiana is the only state to have (since 1982) a separate law criminalizing “Crime Against Nature by Solicitation”, and since this law only applies to prostitutes it remained unaffected by  Lawrence vs. Texas despite being clearly rooted in the same unconstitutional and discriminatory motivations.  However, this is the first challenge in federal court, which could make a big difference.

A week ago yesterday (February 18th) I called Lorie Seruntine, my contact at WWAV, to ask what part the organization had played in organizing the lawsuit (since the news story doesn’t really make it clear), and she explained that WWAV had contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Loyola University Law Clinic and presented the requests for help they had received from the many women involved in the No Justice Project; the case is thus the culmination of about two years of work by WWAV on behalf of these severely oppressed women.  Lorie told me that everyone in the program, both staff and members of the community, is very excited about the case and the attention it has attracted in the national media.  She furthermore let me know that a long-anticipated revamp of the WWAV website had been completed and asked me to provide a link; observant readers may have noticed its appearance in the “Resources” box in the right-hand column last Friday.

Of course the filing of the case is only the beginning of the fight, and WWAV, the attorneys and the plaintiffs have a long and arduous fight ahead.  But regardless of the outcome of the case, you can be sure that WWAV will continue to fight the good fight; Lorie assured me that the organization has developed other strategies toward defeating this terrible law in the event that the court continues the long Louisiana tradition of allowing the government to invade people’s bedrooms and dictate their private activities.

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