ORLEANS PARISH, La.—Like most other states, Louisiana has laws prohibiting soliciting sex acts for money, aka “prostitution.” But unlike other states, if you solicit the wrong kind of sex there, you can wind up on the federal Sex Offender Registry for 15 years or longer—and a diverse group of nine plaintiffs is seeking to repeal that absurdity.
What draws the nine—which include a grandmother, three transgendered women, a guy, and a mother of four, all oddly enough named “Doe”—together is the fact that each was convicted more than once of soliciting either a blowjob or anal sex, and as a consequence was sentenced to spend at least 15 years on the sex offender list, even though, thanks to Lawrence v. Texas, oral and anal “sodomy” are no longer crimes.
But according to the complaint, Louisiana is just a haven for wacky sex laws. Since 1805, even before what was then known as the “Territory of Orleans” was admitted into the Union, it had a “Crime Against Nature” law which criminalized “unnatural carnal copulation.” The law was amended in 1982 to prohibit “solicitation by a human being of another with the intent to engage in any unnatural carnal copulation for compensation”—the first law of its type in the nation.
Trouble is, as noted above, Louisiana already criminalizes prostitution, defined as the solicitation and commission of “indiscriminate sexual intercourse” for compensation, which would seem to include the acts made illegal under the “Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature” (SCAN) law. The difference is, no matter how many times one may be convicted for prostitution, the perp isn’t required to register as a sex offender—but it only takes two convictions under the SCAN law to trigger such a requirement.
And it’s one hell of a trigger. Of all the convicted sex offenders in Orleans Parish who are currently on the registry, 292—40 percent—are there because of SCAN, as compared to 85 for forcible rape, 75 for “felony carnal knowledge” (essentially, consensual statutory rape) and 78 for “indecent behavior with a juvenile.”
“Crime Against Nature by Solicitation is the only offense requiring registration as a sex offender that does not involve use of force, coercion, use of a weapon, lack of consent, or a minor victim,” the complaint charges. “In fact, the offense of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation requires no act whatsoever—only a verbal offer or agreement to engage in oral or anal sex in exchange for compensation. The only possible explanation for the inclusion of the Crime Against Nature by Solicitation statute in the registry law is that it targets non-procreative sex acts traditionally associated with homosexuality.”
“SCAN is the only registrable crime that does not involve force or the victimization of children,” noted blogger Lori of Feministing.com. “To add insult to injury, and perhaps not surprisingly, the law contributes to further discrimination by being applied inconsistently, in effect singling out poor Black women involved in street-based economies, transgender women and gay men of color. According to the WWAV [Women With a Vision] press release, 80 percent of those registered solely because of a SCAN conviction are African American.”
As AVN readers know, being on the Sex Offender Registry is no picnic.
“They all must carry a state driver’s license or non-driver’s identification document emblazoned with the words SEX OFFENDER in bright orange capital letters,” detailed the WWAV press release. “They must disclose the fact that they are registered as a sex offender to neighbors, landlords, employers, schools, parks, community centers, and churches. Their names, addresses, and photographs appear on the internet. They are required to mail postcards notifying every person in their neighborhood.”
Moreover, the law seems to be applied haphazardly.
“Police and prosecutors have complete discretion and are given no guidance whatsoever as to when and who to charge with a Crime Against Nature, and when and who to charge with prostitution,” said Andrea Ritchie, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and co-author of Queer Injustice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. “This leaves the door wide open to discriminatory enforcement targeting poor Black women, transgender women, and gay men for a charge that carries much harsher penalties.”
The defendants here include Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal—once considered a likely Republican presidential candidate in the 2012 elections—as well as the state’s attorney general, the head of the state’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the superintendent and deputy superintendent of the state police, the Commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles and several others. They are accused of various constitutional torts, including violation of the plaintiffs’ Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of due process and equal protection of the laws, and the Eighth Amendment’s bar against cruel and unusual punishment.
Since the complaint was filed just one week ago, none of the defendants has yet responded. Keep checking back with AVN for continuing coverage of this important lawsuit.