NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — In June, New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas proposed a new ordinance that would have created the crimes of permitting premises for prostitution and concealment of prostitution. Thomas represents District E which not only has issues with prostitution but also other crimes that accompany it.
“Drug sales, some of the shootings,” Thomas listed while speaking with WGNO News about the problem. “How do we get rid of this unsightly event where public prostitution is out there, where women who are basically half naked, and our kids and families have to see that?”
Thomas’ plan was fairly simple. “I don’t want to, say, make it more punitive, but make it more punitive.”
The council never discussed the ideas because soon after they were on the agenda, opponents began reaching out to the councilman. “We’ve learned just how double edged this is,” he said.
One of the opponents of stricter laws is State Representative Mandie Landry, also a New Orleans Democrat. Landry told WGNO News that she did not approach Thomas about his proposal, but she was contacted by others inside City Hall.
Last year, Landry tried to pass a bill in Baton Rouge to decriminalize prostitution. It didn’t get out of committee, but it did attract a lot of attention.
“Pornography is legal, and that is sex for money with a camera in front of it. So while most of us many not engage in this activity, there are people who choose to,” Landry told WGNO News.
People who prefer a stricter approach to battling prostitution may remember in 2010 when the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office closed multiple motels that were accused of contributing to the problem. Since then, Airline Drive in Metairie has seen new investment and infrastructure. Thomas also feels that similar investment in the Chef Menteur Highway area could also help reduce the prostitution problem there.
But Landry says, while the investment is beneficial, it only relocates the prostitution problem to other areas, perhaps even forcing it further underground. She says that decriminalizing prostitution for consenting adults will go along way toward protecting those who are being trafficked or forced to participate. Landry says that removing the concerns of consenting participants allows them to report other crimes if they do not have to fear arrest themselves.
“When any activity, especially this is moved quieter, underground, you have a lot more possibilities of trafficking, of minors being involved,” she said.
Landry says her bill in 2021 was the first time a state legislature in the U.S. looked at decriminalizing prostitution, but she thinks more progress can be made at a citywide level.
Thomas’ proposals are currently postponed indefinitely, but he says the work is ongoing. He also feels there’s room for compromise that is less about a crackdown.