Month: January 2020

Over the past few years, online dating applications, such as Tinder and Hinge, have become increasingly popular among teenagers and young adults. These apps allow avenues for meeting potential partners by “swiping right” on people you’re interested in and starting a conversation if there is mutual interest. While many have met their significant others on these apps, for women, there is an increased risk of becoming a victim of assault and burglary.

The DMV area has been hit with dating app violence, and it is rising. Demitrious Harriott was arrested in Silver Spring, Maryland, and charged with raping a woman he met on a dating app. The young lady met Mr. Harriott late at night at his apartment complex, where he pushed her into a stairway and proceeded to sexually assault the victim. 

Earlier in July of 2019, Colin Black was found guilty by a jury of two counts of second-degree sex abuse in Rockville, Maryland. Black met his victims on Tinder and Bumble dating apps. While some of the acts that came out at trial were consensual, the jury ultimately concluded that many acts fell outside that scope. In October, Black was sentenced to 20 years in prison. 

These dating apps don’t require a background check or any proof that you are who you say you are. This opens an easy avenue for predators to target and victimize women who use these dating apps, either posing as themselves or by “catfishing,” creating a fake online persona to lure someone to you. There are several steps you can take to increase your safety when using dating apps.

Exchange selfies

As a subtle way to see if you’re being catfished, you can suggest the two of you exchange selfies. This way, if the person is not who is actually in the photo, they will not be able to send you a selfie, or the picture they send may seem strange due to an unusual background or an unnatural pose.

Look them up online

When you plan to meet-up with someone you met online, look their name up online and check out their social media profiles. Most people have some form of social media profile, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or even LinkedIn. This can help you determine if the person is lying about their looks or any personal details they may have given you.

Meet in public

When you meet someone for the first time that you met on a dating app, you should always meet in a public place that you know well. This increases safety by preventing unwanted interactions, allowing for easier escape, and making sure the person you’re meeting does not know where you live.

Don’t rely on your date for transportation

Being in control of your own transportation allows you to leave whenever you want, especially if you start feeling uncomfortable. Either have extra money for public transportation or download ride-sharing apps ahead of time to make sure you don’t have to rely on your date for a ride. This way, you can avoid getting in the car with someone you don’t trust.

If you were victimized by an individual on a dating app and would like to file a civil lawsuit against the individual, contact Bruckheim & Patel for a free, confidential evaluation of your case. 

This past Fall, the District of Columbia, was placed center stage on one of the most divisive topics – the decriminalization of sex work. D.C. proposed the Reducing Criminalization of Commercial Sex Amendment Act of 2019 to D.C. Council.

The controversial topic is being viewed as an alternative solution for mitigating the negative impacts prostitution has on communities. In Washington D.C. specifically, the rates of sex-related charges have nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018, with a jump from 228 cases to 551 cases, respectively.

Different Models

When it comes to combating prostitution, there are three main schools of thought within the context of modern society. The first is what most of the world, including the overwhelming majority of the United States, operates under, which is complete criminalization. This applies to those providing the service, as well as those who are attempting to purchase the service.

Currently, in Washington D.C., the law states that the first offense results in a $500 fine, 90 days imprisonment, or both. A second offense carries the weight of a $1,000 fine, 180 days imprisonment, or both. If there is a third offense or more, this will result in a $12,500 fine, two years imprisonment, or both. These values and term sentences are relatively on par with the rest of the country when it comes to sex work-related cases.

Another model used is the Nordic Model. Named for its regional origin, this model was first implemented in Sweden before being propagated to many other countries in the European Union. The Nordic Model attempts to take a feminist, victim-centric arc on sex work by decriminalizing the sale of services, but continued criminalization of its purchasing.

The idea is that sex work is a trade that victimizes its participants, by legalizing its sale, sex workers do not have to worry about their work being held against them as they move on in their lives. On the flip side, it disincentivizes the continued facilitation of this trade via the act of soliciting sex workers.

Since being implemented in Sweden, its Interior Ministry has reported a near halving of prostitution. The nation represents the country with the highest cost for prostitution.

The third most common system is complete decriminalization. This model, used in places like New Zealand and Denmark, is an attempt to bring the practice more above ground. It has allowed sex workers to organize for higher pay and benefits such as health insurance. This has legitimized the practice as a true industry and trade within the economy. By decriminalizing, this provides less incentive for trafficking because the trade itself can be conducted above board.

Decriminalization is far from a perfect system. It perpetuates a narrative of sexism within society that not just normalizes but codifies the right men have over women by extending legality towards the purchasing of their bodies simply for gratification.

Additionally, there is no substantial evidence indicating decriminalization lowers the amount of prostitution or lowers the amount of sex trafficking. Instead, its nature simply changes. Now, the law provides cover for brothels to open and bring in women from abroad under the perception they are independent entrepreneurs who come to work willingly.

Washington D.C. Current Situation & Proposed Amendment

Almost identical to an attempt made by Councilmen Grosso in 2017, this most recent bill attempts to tackle the rise in sex-related crimes in D.C. by taking a decriminalization approach to both those selling and purchasing sex work.

Known as the Reducing Criminalization of Commercial Sex Amendment Act of 2019, this second attempt comes with 3 co-authors, raising the profile and legitimacy of this attempt.

The bill comes at a time when the rate of sex-work arrests is rising inside D.C. As a response, the Mayor’s office has attempted to stem the tide through the establishment of the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. The organization is designed to implement arrest diversion programs for those convicted of sex work.

Metropolitan Police, in conjunction with federal authorities, have also been cracking down on various web services commonly used in soliciting prostitution, including sites like Backpage, and even Craigslist. Some believe these actions are in poor judgment and are making the situation worse for many involved in the trade.

Sex Workers Advocates Coalition, a special-interest group working in the D.C. area, has expressed concerns regarding such an approach. Alicia Gill, a spokeswoman for the group, expressed issue with the underlying nature of the diversion program, as it relies on people being arrested and entered into the criminal justice system with a sex-work related crime on their record. This practice harms both consenting adults engaged in sex work but also penalizes victims of trafficking.

Instead, the group is in support of decriminalization, but they are not in favor of this current bill. The coalition, along with various other groups and individuals, even those who approve of decriminalization, have been disappointed in the lack of services provided to those victimized under the current version of the bill. The bill does not include provisions to automatically expunge the criminal records of those involved in sex work, which is a crucial factor the organization feels needs to be included.

Dissenting Special-Interest Groups

Sex Workers Advocates Coalition is far from the only dissenting special-interest group opposing the bill. Courtney’s House and Rights for Girls, two other highly vocal and relevant organizations, have expressed their opposition to the bill.

Felicia Henry, a spokeswoman for Courtney’s House, noted the bill proposes nothing substantive to provide support for those harmed by the industry, nor does it adequately stem the tide of the growing sex industry in the District.

Yasmin Vafa of Rights for Girls prefers partial decriminalization paired with support programs for trafficking victims as an alternative. In either case, it is clear the Reducing Criminalization of Commercial Sex Amendment Act of 2019, remains highly unfavorable among both the constituents and special-interest groups of Washington, D.C.

Over the past decade, an unconventional method of dating, known as sugaring, has become more and more popular. Sugaring is when a younger woman and an older, wealthy man form a relationship where the man, the sugar daddy, gives the woman, the sugar baby, money and gifts in exchange for the time they spend together.

The phenomenon often draws comparisons to prostitution. Both prostitution and sugaring involve exchanging money for intimate services. While sugaring does not always include sexual acts, it is often part of the arrangement. Those who are involved in sugaring often differentiate between prostitution and sugaring by emphasizing the dating aspect of sugaring. They say that prostitution is flat out exchanging money for sex, and being a sugar baby is more similar to being in a consensual, adult relationship where your partner supports you financially.

Can you be charged with prostitution for engaging in sugaring?

This grey area begs an important question: Can you be charged with prostitution or solicitation for engaging in sugaring? 

Many websites that facilitate the formation of these mutually beneficial relationships ensure to use specific language to skirt legal liability and have strict policies against advertising sex in exchange for money. Despite this, the main investor behind RichMeetBeautiful, a sugar daddy dating site, was convicted of promoting prostitution in Belgium where prostitution is legal, but related activities, such as soliciting and pimping, are illegal.

According to Washington D.C.’s legal code, prostitution is defined as a sexual act or contact with another person in return for giving or receiving anything of value. Under this definition, it would not be difficult to charge someone with prostitution or solicitation due to the broad parameters for what acts are prohibited and what can be exchanged in the relationship to constitute a violation of the law.

In Maryland’s criminal code, prostitution is defined as the performance of a sexual act, sexual contact, or vaginal intercourse for hire. Here, the use of the term “for hire” could insinuate a clear and strict contract between the two parties, which may make it more difficult to successfully prosecute someone for prostitution or solicitation for engaging in a sugaring relationship.

FOSTA and SESTA

Fosta (Fight Online Sex Traffic Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) was signed into law by President Trump in 2018. Previously owners of websites were not legally responsible for the actions of their site users. However, under this new law, every site or online platform will be held liable for hosting anything on their website that the law describes as prostitution. 

Sugaring - Prostitution or Dating?

The law will affect how sugar daddy sites operate, but this will not be the end of sugar dating. The sites will need to prove that they are taking significant measures to prevent sex trafficking and prostitution. It’s not just sugar daddy sites, but also other dating sites that will have to implement security to screen for prostitution-related language.

If you’re involved in a sugar relationship and concerned that it could be perceived as solicitation, ensure that the relationship develops naturally and includes aspects other than sexual encounters to emphasize the differences from prostitution.

If you have been charged with solicitation or prostitution based on a misunderstanding of your sugar relationship, contact Bruckheim & Patel to have one of our criminal defense lawyers in Maryland and the District of Columbia provide a free, confidential evaluation of your case.

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