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Legislators grapple with changing bawdy place, prostitution laws

The General Assembly passed measures this session repealing restrictions on sex before 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 Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, said he is considering updating another “outdated” Virginia law next year.

Capital News Service

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By Conor Lobb

The General Assembly passed measures this session repealing restrictions on sex before 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 Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, said he is considering updating another “outdated” Virginia law next year.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.

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% of prostitution arrests were for keeping, frequenting, or residing in a bawdy place. Five percent of arrests were for being a prostitute, while 23% 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.

Levine was inspired to update bawdy place law after discussion that centered around House Bill 251, introduced this session by Del. Vivian E. Watts, D-Fairfax.

Watts’ bill would make it a Class 6 felony for an adult to bring a minor to a bawdy place. Her bill passed the House 96-1 last month, with Levine casting the lone opposing vote because of the bill’s inclusion of the bawdy place language.

Those two words prompted a Senate committee to carry over the bill into 2021. The committee had a 15-minute discussion about how a person could be criminalized for visiting a bawdy place.

Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Richmond, said that a couple could become felons for having a secret meeting in a seedy hotel.

“We know what you’re trying to get at, but here’s the problem: two lovers, 30 years old, go to a seedy motel for an assignation; they are now felons,” Morrissey said.

Watts pointed out that Morrissey’s example was already illegal under bawdy place law, and the purpose of the bill was to criminalize adults who visit known bawdy places with minors.

Of the arrests made in the past decade, Henrico County charged five juveniles with keeping a bawdy place, and one with frequenting a bawdy place. There were three juveniles charged in the past decade for prostitution.

Watts suggested a new law redefining bawdy places.

“I think another bill, another year might modernize this long-standing reference to bawdy place,” Watts said

Morrissey proposed an amendment that would remove the words lewdness and assignation from the bill, but this would require removing them from the bawdy place code.

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said that the amendment could impact existing case law.

Michael Feinmel, Henrico County deputy commonwealth’s attorney, said that repealing the bawdy place law could have a negative impact on law enforcement’s ability to provide victim services to sex workers, such as human trafficking residential programs.

“If you take away certain laws, prostitution and bawdy place laws, then that’s going to reduce our ability to connect people with services,” Feinmel said.

He said that a prostitution case cannot be made without a substantial act in furtherance.

“Something further has to happen, whether it’s opening up a condom, whether it’s taking off clothing, whether it’s touching somebody in a private part — something along those lines,” he said. “Something else has to happen rather than just the agreement.”

Feinmel said that rather than placing undercover police officers in a situation where a substantial act in furtherance would take place, Henrico County law enforcement uses the bawdy place law. He said that if law enforcement can prove someone is using a hotel room to perform sex acts for money, it is easier to initiate the criminal process

Feinmel was unaware of any cases in recent years where the lewdness and assignation terms in the bawdy place law were actively used to enforce the statute. He suggested that the bawdy place law could be fixed, but it would take a change to state prostitution law.

“If our prostitution code section was amended to say an agreement [verbal] for a sex act in exchange for money constitutes prostitution, then it would be unnecessary to have that bawdy place code section,” Feinmel 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,” Levine said.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Crime

Richmond Police, Mayor Stoney apologize after tear gas deployed before curfew on protesters

Protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday night and were met with a forceful response and the deployment of tear gas by Richmond Police – an action for which the department and Mayor Stoney later apologized.

RVAHub Staff

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Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday afternoon and evening to speak out after the death of George Floyd. The group organized near both the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart Monuments on Monument Avenue and remained mainly peaceful until police approached demonstrators at the Lee statue and deployed tear gas, as can be seen below from the below Twitter video from VPM.

Around the same time, reports began coming in that protesters at the Stuart monument were attempting to bring it down. A young demonstrator scaled the base of the statue and took what appeared to be a hack saw to the leg of the monument’s horse in an effort to bring it down. Police responded by calling on protesters to stand down, citing the weight of the monuments and their potential to crush bystanders.

Richmond Police and Mayor Levar Stoney later apologized for the deployment of tear gas on peaceful protesters – well below the 8:00 PM curfew – saying it was uncalled for and inviting protesters to City Hall at noon Tuesday to “apologize in person.” For its part, RPD said the officers involved had been “removed from the field” and would be subject to disciplinary action.

The protesters then continued marching down Franklin Street, then W. Broad Street, where things fizzled out around 10:30 PM near 14th Street.

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Downtown

PHOTOS: Protests continue for third day around Richmond, tear gas deployed as marchers ignore 8PM curfew

Hundreds of protesters rallied at sites around town Sunday as the third day of protests in response to the death of George Floyd took place in Richmond.

RVAHub Staff

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Hundreds of protesters rallied at sites around town Sunday as the third day of protests in response to the death of George Floyd took place in Richmond. Protesters gathered at peaceful rallies on Brown’s Island and at the 17th Street Farmers Market downtown on Sunday morning.

Later in the day, another group formed at the Lee and Jackson monuments on Monument Avenue in the Fan. As dusk approached, the group made their way east on Franklin Street, turning onto W. Grace Street and then Broad Street near City Hall and Children’s Hospital at VCU.

An 8:00 PM curfew put in place by Mayor Levar Stoney did not deter most protesters, who continued marching and chanting until Richmond Police deployed tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd. Slowly, over the course of an hour, protesters dispersed.

Many businesses along W. Broad Street from Arthur Ashe Boulevard to the Arts District, already left cleaning up broken glass and graffiti Sunday morning from Saturday night’s protests, were left on edge, though there were far fewer reports of property damage Sunday.  Many of the businesses affected were small or minority-owned. By Sunday, many showed their support for the protests, spray painting “Black Lives Matter” or “Small/Minority-Owned” on their window coverings to both show solidarity and deter further damage.

Photographer Dave Parrish caught much of the Fan/Downtown protest Sunday afternoon and files these photos.

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Downtown

Must-See RVA! — John Marshall Courts Building

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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May 2020
  • 800 East Marshall Street
  • Built, 1978
  • Renovated, 1994
  • Architects, C. F. Murphy & Associates; Helmut Jahn, project architect (1978). Hening-Vest-Covey (1994)

Straight out of Alphaville.

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

Designed by a nationally known Chicago-based architectural firm, the John Marshall Courts Building was intended to provide a neutral background to the John Marshall House. In this it succeeds. it is a slickly detailed glass box with rounded edges. The building is the best example of the “glass box” genre in Richmond.

(Montage) — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, undated

(Montage) — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, undated

C. F. Murphy & Associates are among the more skillful followers of Mies van der Rohe, who was the most influential architect of the 20th century. Their Richmond building has been controversial on both functional and aesthetic grounds. [ADR]

Designed to respect the Marshall House next door, the sleek, black glass box of the John Marshall Courts Building sets off the house, emphasizing its iconic, welcoming facade. This is perhaps its only success, because the court building has been plagued with criticism for its dysfunction. Recent alterations have attempted to correct traffic and security issues. (SAH Archipedia)

May 2020

May 2020

When your lead architect likes to wear capes as normal outerwear, and his detractors call him “Flash Gordon”, there’s a chance you might not get what you were expecting. Before you know it, you might be throwing around emotional terms like controversial and dysfunction and find yourself spending money to correct gaps in the original design.

(The Architect’s Newspaper) — McCormick Place, 1969-1971

(The Architect’s Newspaper) — McCormick Place, 1969-1971

After graduating from the Technische Hochschule in Munich in 1965, (Helmut) Jahn moved to Chicago to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a school long associated with the Modernist aesthetic of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his followers. On the basis of this solid design background, Jahn was hired by Chicago architectural firm C.F. Murphy Associates to work on the Miesian design for McCormick Place in Chicago.

(YouTube) — screencap from Helmut Jahn, FAIA Lifetime Achievement Award

(YouTube) — screencap from Helmut Jahn, FAIA Lifetime Achievement Award

In the late 1970s and ’80s Jahn made his mark, designing extravagant buildings that combined historical and contextual references—the central tenets of postmodern architecture—with high-tech engineering solutions. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

May 2020

May 2020

Jahn certainly has his admirers and adherents. He has completed over 90 building projects during his long career and has been widely recognized for his efforts, earning a Ten Most Influential Living American Architects award from the American Institute of Architects in 1991.

(Newspapers.com) — Helmut Jahn’s MetroWest building in Naperville, Illinois —Chicago Tribune Sunday, March 2, 1986

(Newspapers.com) — Helmut Jahn’s MetroWest building in Naperville, Illinois —Chicago Tribune Sunday, March 2, 1986

However, in the early days, his critics considered him “that postmodern enfant terrible who rocketed to stardom on the supercharged fireworks of the State of Illinois Building in 1985.” (Architecture Week)

A 1986 Chicago Tribune article about his MetroWest design in Naperville, Illinois called him a “flamboyant postmodernist, who adorns himself in capes and Porches.” It went on to observe that the building produced nausea in a nearby office worker, and concluded with relief that “at least nobody has dubbed it the Starship Naperville.” [CHIT]

May 2020

May 2020

With context like that, perhaps it’s not surprising that issues were found with the courts building. Not everyone digs the glass box thing, that’s easy to grok, but the functional issues are something else. The building opened in 1978 and just four short years Robert Winthrop was calling it controversial, so whatever problems existed must have quickly found a voice.

May 2020

May 2020

The precise nature of the complaints is obscure, but the building does not appear to respect the available space. Together with the John Marshall House, the courts building complex consumes the entire block, yet there is a large, empty plaza along Ninth Street.

May 2020

May 2020

It certainly looks nice, but by 1994 the City would find itself coughing up $2 million dollars for a renovation to create additional office space and another courtroom. [RTD1] At such cost, there probably weren’t a lot of plaza enthusiasts still hanging around.

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — John Marshall High School

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — John Marshall High School

Adding to the sense of injury, the new courts building came at the price of the beautiful old John Marshall High School. It too sat quietly behind the John Marshall House at the corner of 9th and Marshall and was considered a state-of-the-art facility when it opened in 1909, with large classrooms, elevators, and science labs, as well as modern plumbing, heating, and ventilation. [RTD2]

Alas, this sacrificial lamb was razed, and the school had to scoot to a new location in North Side.

(John Marshall Courts Building is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Note

  • A shout-out to Ray Bonis & Harry Kollatz for their tips and input on the courts building!

Print Sources

  • [ADR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert P. Winthrop. 1982.
  • [CHIT] Chicago Tribune. Sunday, March 2, 1986.
  • [RTD1] Richmond Times-Dispatch. December 8, 1994.
  • [RTD2] Richmond Times-Dispatch. August 16, 1909.

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