Sex Work

Wisconsin City Finds New Way to Punish Sex Workers and Their Clients

Anyone advertising as an escort without a license or attempting to hire an unlicensed escort could be charged $5,000.



As it stands, cops who suspect someone of prostitution must actually prove it before arresting them. But that's a lot of work. So Eau Claire, Wisconsin, officials have a new plan: make non-sexual commercial companionship illegal without the proper paperwork. 

To this end, the Eau Claire City Council is considering an ordinance that would require anyone advertising as an escort to get an occupational license from the government.

The term "escort" is a broad and vague one, of course. Escorts may accompany their clients to events or join them for other forms of non-sexual companionship, and this is perfectly legal. Yet most of the time, escorting is a euphemism for some sort of sex work. And when you add sexual services into this equation, the activity then becomes a crime. 

But because being an escort does not necessarily mean one is engaged in prostitution, police can't just go around arresting anyone who advertises as an escort. Not yet, anyway. Ostensibly, cops must still interact with the individual and get them to agree to some sort of sexual activity for a fee. As Eau Claire Assistant City Attorney Douglas Hoffer put it, police are forced to do "intensive investigations" and get their targets to use "explicit language" in order to make charges stick. 

Now city officials want to change that. Under their proposed legislation, escorts and escort businesses would have to be licensed by the city and subject to extensive regulations. Any escort operating without a license would be subject to a fine of up to $5,000. 

But that's not all: the proposed law would also punish customers who contract with unlicensed escorts. Hoffner said the idea is to end "demand" for prostitution. Anyone attempting to hire an unlicensed escort could also be charged up to $5,000, as well.

To get an escort license, Eau Claire residents would have to undergo a background check and pay a $200 annual fee; for escort business owners the annual fee would be $500, in addition to a $500 application fee. Hoffer told local news station WEAU that the city expects to receive "little to no applications" for such licenses. In other Wisconsin cities with similar schemes—including Milwaukee, Gree Bay, and La Crosse—no licenses have ever been granted. 

So what's the point, if no one will actually apply for or be granted an escort license? So authorities don't have to go through the trouble of tricking sex workers into offering sex to undercover cops, of course. Now law enforcement could simply punish anyone who advertises escort services online but is not registered with the city. 

Said Eau Claire City Attorney Stephen Nick: "This is another means, as opposed to actually having evidence of an act of prostitution, pandering, or offering a sexual act for money, so we can follow up" on sex-work suspects. He bragged to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that it would allow the city to bring in more money in fines while using fewer police resources. 

NEXT: US Marshals Shoot Innocent Man While Looking For Someone Else—No Explanation Provided

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

    1. I wish they’d make every college applicant write an essay in response to that. If nothing else, the whiners could be published for everyone else’s amusement, and a few might actually lose their smug attitude.

      Make ’em re-read it and write a new essay every semester. Some of them might actually learn something over the course of their college education, and employers — good god, employers could base their hiring decisions entirely off the progress of those essays.

    2. That is beautiful. Thank you, Pl?ya.

    3. I enjoyed the hell out of that too. I remember making just over minimum wage in SF. Instead of a car and a cell phone, I had 3 roommates and a bus pass. And it was a blast.

  1. police are forced to do “intensive investigations”

    I’m sure everyone really hates those assignments. Poor things.

  2. “To get an escort license, Eau Claire residents would have to undergo a background check and pay a $200 annual fee; for escort business owners the annual fee would be $500, in addition to a $500 application fee.”

    As stupid as this whole thing is, that’s actually pretty damn cheap per annum. And with that fee you get a city sanction to be an escort. Not bad.

    1. It’s free now, so how is that a good deal?

      1. Cause the city has sanctioned the escort biz. You’ve paid your fee, you’ve been licensed.

        1. It’s no more sanctioned now than before, unless you believe they won’t arrest licensed escorts for prostitution.

  3. You don’t need to ban that which you can regulate out of existence . . . sex . . drugs . . . guns . . . etc

    1. I’m pretty sure those things all exist. In fact, I have tangible proof.

      1. To clarify. You don’t need to criminalize every act you don’t like, you can just make the regulatory burden so great that no one can comply so you can seize any asset at any time and imprisonment is still a option.

        1. Yeah, I got it. Just being difficult.

          You don’t need to ban what you can de facto ban through regulation or taxes.

          1. yup.

            guns and abortion are the two leading targets with porno and prostitution not far behind.

            1. with guns hated by liberals; abortion hated by conservatives; and porno/prostitution hated by both, but for different reasons.

    2. Rock and roll. Dancing. Those motherfuckers who say “per say”.

  4. He bragged to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that it would allow the city to bring in more money in fines while using fewer police resources.

    So…it’s not really about protecting sex slaves. Got it.

    1. He said it right in the Nick of time.

  5. “Hoffner said the idea is to end “demand” for prostitution.”

    Too bad we can’t end demand for Know-It-All Busy Body Crapweasels.

  6. Theory: If the number of prostitutes experienced a boom during the Great Recession, then this (suddenly larger) untapped revenue market composed of vulnerable demographics caught the government’s eye. They realized the profits Top Men were leaving on the table.

    Or the dresser. Whichever

    1. I think it’s more that these things go in phases. We have a nice drug panic (reefer madness! Crack babies!) and follow it up shortly thereafter with a prostitution freak out (women shanghaied into sexual servitude in Chinese opium dens! White slavery! Sex trafficking!)

      Of course, the drug panic almost always targets some minority group like blacks or the Chinese while sexual panics are usually about white women getting deflowered, which is also why people worry about rape on white, privileged college campuses rather than in places where rape is much more common. I don’t know what this says other than that people in government share my deeply suspect racial beliefs.

      1. These are not bad thoughts. I would posit that our two theories are not mutually exclusive.

        If the number of prostitutes increased, catching the All-Knowing Eye, at a time when Top Men were in a down-cycle of moral panic….

        It works. This seems like a plausible reason behind the current fappery.

        1. I don’t know how my theory squares with the fact that we also have a panic over bath salts going on.

          1. When panic is incentivized….

          2. Americans are quite capable of multiple simultaneous moral panics, thank-you. There always seems to be some kind of drug panic going on.

  7. Seems to me if the people of Eau Claire need to know who is running escort services, then they need to know the names of their employees (city officials and workers) who employ those services. Perhaps each escort service could release the names every week to the news media of customers who work for the government?

  8. Eau Claire is an interesting town. If you see anyone who isn’t white they’re Hmong.

    1. Let those hmong us who are without sin cast the first stone.

  9. Now law enforcement could simply punish anyone who advertises escort services online but is not registered with the city.

    Have they talked to their legal department? How could they have jurisdiction over online advertising from a company that is outside the city and may or may not service residents of their city?

  10. “So Eau Claire, Wisconsin, officials have a new plan: make non-sexual commercial companionship illegal without the proper paperwork. ”

    This is a heavy blow to those of us who have to pay our friends due to the fact that we smell bad, harbor anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the origins of water fluoridation, and are just really deeply unlikable.

    I don’t know what I or Crusty are going to do.

    1. Don’t pull me into your misogynist, racist web!

      I am almost likable! Right?

      1. I’ve liked you since jump street, but that isn’t exactly a coveted endorsement.

  11. Are there any ‘perks’ to being a sex worker advocate? Asking for Crusty Juggler.

    1. Everyone assumes you’re a real slut.

      So, yes.

    2. There is a nice logic to it. Advocacy for freedom to contract is a never ending struggle against those who know better, know best, or whom believe they are on the “right side of history.”

  12. “We will fight this one,” said Jodi Emerson, director of public policy and community relations for Fierce Freedom. “You can’t fine your way out of this problem of human trafficking.”

    Fierce Freedom’s Jodi Emerson makes sense.

    She contends that fines issued under the ordinance would punish prostitutes, but not those who lured them into that life or the people willing to pay for their services.

    Hmmmmm, not sure I like where this is going…

    “It’s really not getting at the heart of the matter, which is getting rid of the demand,” she said. Though sting operations do consume police resources, Emerson said, they are most effective at combating demand.

    And there it is. Fierce Freedom and Jodi Emerson are part of the problem.

    She suggests that police more often employ asset forfeiture ? seizing property like personal vehicles used to facilitate prostitution ? as a way to defray the cost of these operations.

    what a stupid cunt.

    1. The War on Horny

    2. Yeah, I went though the same process reading this. Oooh, there’s actually opposition! Oh, wait, she’s talking about sex trafficking now, hmmm, and — Oh, yep, there’s the call for civil asset forfeiture. Nevermind.

      So the two “sides” of this issue are really just a difference of opinion on how hard police should have to work to wring money out of prostitution

      1. and whether men should have to pay $5,000 or go to jail, I guess

    3. When I think Fierce Freedom, I think asset forfeiture.

  13. So if I catch a social disease from an escort, can I sue Eau Claire?

  14. make non-sexual commercial companionship illegal

    good. friendzoning should be a crime

  15. So, if I invite a woman on a date and tell her that dinner, movie, etc. are on me, I’m breaking the law? I’m not trying to be silly; how does a cop tell the difference between a date and a hired non-sexual escort, in order to enforce the law against “attempting to hire an unlicensed escort”.

    1. I’m assuming the only way that charge will work is if undercover police post an ad like they would with a traditional “john sting,” only this way they don’t have to get him actually arranging to pay for sex. Not asking for an escort license number or something will be enough

      1. Maybe. It seems dangerously slippery. Granted, I have trust issues where police and the courts are concerned.

    2. There’s a SCOTUS opinion referencing the definition of obscenity which fits neatly here.

  16. police are forced to do “intensive investigations” and get their targets to use “explicit language” in order to make charges stick.

    Due process sucks, eh Dougie?

  17. So, all the hookers change the name of their services from “escort” to something else?

    Talk about an easily evaded regulation.

    1. Apparently the law applies to all “non-sexual commercial companionship,” regardless of whether it’s called an escort service, or something else. However, if they were stupid and sloppy and rushed this through (as they often do), there’s a chance this law could also be construed as applying to things like babysitters, or the people folks hire to go to the old folks home and read to granny. Endless hours of fun embarrassing them.

      1. TFA (the one to which ENB links) does not include the text of the proposed bill. Will be interesting to see what it actually says.

    2. On that note: the sordid activities of pernicious bureaucracy does enhance the creativity of those uninterested in having their assholes brutally plunged by the ideologies and gods of idiots.

  18. Adult worldliness has few advocates which means it can be bullied with impunity deep into the woods, smoky basements, or secretive bedrooms.

    Malignant city councils along with shady lawyers and peckish fanatics strut their viciously-imposed moralities with no kick-back because people just don’t fucking care enough about their adult liberty to collectively take a stand for pleasurable activities that society deems unsavory, edgy, or pernicious.

    Consensual adult sex for ethical profit is being blended with actual rare nightmares and then spewed from the foaming maw of goddamn imbeciles like this shitty city lawyer who sits with greasy fingers on the levers of law and order.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.