Why Weren’t Mummers Arrested in the Prostitution Bust?

PPD makes the women pay, but lets the boys be boys

I don’t think that Philadelphia police and prosecutors are intentionally sexist. But the prostitution bust at the Mummers’ Downtown Fancy Brigade clubhouse sure makes them look that way.

After the snarky comments and reports of “shocked” neighbors subside, we’re still going to be left with a problem of math: Thirteen people were arrested. Ten were women. Of the three men, two were charged only with liquor violations. Just one guy, Lawrence Crovetti, was charged with a prostitution-related offense.

By and large, though, it’s the women who are being punished. Not the men who allegedly paid them for sex. It takes two to tango: You can’t sell sex without a john. So where are the johns?

Deputy Police Commissioner William Blackburn tells the Inquirer the charges were just an accident of how the investigation developed. His undercover officers inside the club saw men and women interacting, he said, but “we weren’t privy to the conversations between the males and the females, where there was a price and a particular act that was identified. Our main targets were the females.”

The main targets were the females? Why? If the police are correct, Tuesday night’s prostitution party was a monthly event. Investigators went to the trouble of getting the undercover officer invited into the club. They couldn’t take the time to develop a case against the people who were facilitating the prostitution parties, or taking advantage of the services?

It’s not as though the illegal arrangements were secret. The Inquirer quoted police sources describing “a man pulling his pants up near a naked woman in one room, and others engaging in sex acts in view of the bartenders and others.”

“It was just so out in the open,” Lt. Charles Green said, “and so obvious what was going on.”

Open and obvious. Not just in the moment, but to the point that it sparked a two-month police investigation. Yet: Not open and obvious enough for men to be charged with paying for sex. Something is amiss.

This particular Mummers club has received a very public black eye it may not recover from. There are probably a few husbands having to make confessions to wives this week, or sleeping on couches. But—again—it is almost entirely women who went to jail and will go to court. It is almost entirely women who will have these arrests (and any resulting convictions) on their permanent record.

With due respect to the difficulties of developing a prosecution-worthy case: It is simply wrong that the criminal burden of this situation falls so heavily, so exclusively on the women involved.

There’s also a social burden. The men who sought blowjobs—and who knows what else—from these women won’t have their pictures published in a photo gallery at Philly.com, forever viewable by anybody able to use Google. (Be sure to look at those photos, how bedraggled and worn most of the women appear. It should put the lie to any media-fueled fantasies we have about Julia Roberts-style glamorous hookers.) The men paid for sex, but it is the women who are paying the price. Philadelphia police and prosecutors can do better than that.

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. He blogs regularly at Cup O’ Joel.