VA Legislators Grapple with Changing Bawdy Place, Prostitution Laws

This year’s Virginia General Assembly session has seen quite a few outdated morality laws removed from the books, but Del. Mark Levine still sees more to be done, specifically where Virginia’s “bawdy place” law is concerned.

The General Assembly passed measures this session repealing restrictions on sexbefore marriage, swearing in public, and being a “habitual drunkard,” but Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, said he is considering updating another “outdated” Virginia law next year.

He’s considering changing the statute for keeping, residing in, or frequenting a bawdy place. In Virginia, that means using a building for lewdness, assignation or prostitution. Violating this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Levine takes issue with the words “lewdness,” meaning obscene or vulgar, and “assignation,” or an appointment for a meeting, especially between lovers.

“I want to remove the lewdness part, remove the assignation part, but leave in the prostitution part, because I don’t think Virginians today think being lewd should be a crime,” Levine said.

Levine said his interest in modernizing Virginia code is rooted in a personal philosophy about the government’s role in regulating the private affairs of its citizens.

“I think folks should be free to do what they want if they’re not harming anyone else. And if it’s truly consensual, it’s not any of the government’s business.” –Virginia State Delegate Mark Levine.

This year there have been six arrests in Henrico County for keeping or residing in a bawdy place, and one for prostitution.

A Freedom of Information Act request submitted to Henrico County Police by Capital News Service found that since 2010, 44 percent of prostitution arrests were for keeping, frequenting, or residing in a bawdy place. Five percent of arrests were for being a prostitute, while 23 percent were for soliciting a prostitute.

Mikki Alexander, an organizing member of the Richmond chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, said that the broad definition of bawdy place law heightens the risk that sex workers could be charged with prostitution crimes. Sex work, Alexander said, is an umbrella term that includes any sort of erotic or sexual services in exchange for money or goods, from lap dances at a strip club, to escorting, to modeling or performing in an adult video.

“If you have somebody who has a location that they work out of, their actual workplace, that could be considered a bawdy place,” Alexander said. “If you had somebody who is renting an apartment from somebody and it’s the place where they live and also work, then that could be considered a bawdy place.”

“So it really is this kind of broad definition that basically equates to, sex workers don’t have any place to live or work,” she added.

Alexander said the Sex Workers Outreach Project supports full decriminalization of sex work and prostitution.

More at RVA Mag

559140cookie-checkVA Legislators Grapple with Changing Bawdy Place, Prostitution Laws

VA Legislators Grapple with Changing Bawdy Place, Prostitution Laws

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