The Zumba Instructor’s List and Public Shaming In Maine: Choose Your Ethical System

What those Zumba ads never told you…

Kennebunk, Maine’s popular Zumba dance instructor Alexis Wright and her “business partner” are being charged with solicitation and prostitution. Now the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is about to decide whether  Wright’s substantial client list should go on the public record, as it will unless the court agrees to put it and its names under seal.  Defense attorneys will argue that the harm that will result from allowing Wright’s “johns” to be outed to their families, employers and neighbors is too great. “We think there’s a really important principle at stake here: These people are presumed innocent,” defense attorney Stephen Schwartz said. “Once these names are released, they’re all going to have the mark of a scarlet letter, if you will.”

We begin, on Ethics Alarms, at least, with the premise that prostitution is damaging to the fabric of a healthy society, and should be prohibited by law. I’m not going to debate that issue again here, not today. My position is that prostitution  is not a “victimless crime,” that it exploits and traps women and destroys families and lives, and government has a legitimate interest in forbidding it. I know the libertarians disagree. That’s not the issue here.

The issue is whether, in a community that accepts that premise, the men who engage in the criminal activity should be shielded from the consequences of their conduct, which they knew was illegal and that their community disapproved of it, while the woman who they engaged in it with them is publicly prosecuted and shamed. Finding the most ethical solution requires choosing the right ethical system. An absolutist approach would hold that the truth is always desirable, conduct should have clear consequences, and wrongdoers should never be shielded from the consequences of their wrongdoing.. Reciprocity, a.k.a. The Golden Rule, is simpler still: if you were one of the men on the list, wouldn’t you want the courts and the community to apply kindness and mercy? Nobody will be hurt if the names aren’t released, and many will be harmed if they are.

The situation doesn’t fit absolutism or reciprocity, however. To meet Kant’s requirement ( “the Rule of Universality) for a desirable absolute rule, one must conclude that it will always work for the best, that the best society is one that always reveals the details of legal breaches to all. I don’t think that universal shaming is a good idea; I think we should have a right to our secrets, and that sometimes the government should help us maintain our privacy. Reciprocity, meanwhile, is a very flawed ethical system when one is building a coherent system of laws, enforcement and punishment. Looked at subjectively, punishment is always undesirable, and mercy, kindness and forgiveness are always what we hope for, even when we don’t deserve them. If I were Jerry Sandusky, I’d want the legal system to give me another chance. He doesn’t deserve another chance, however. Society is best served by locking Sandusky up and soldering the cell door so it will never open again.

That brings us to ethical balancing, or Utilitarianism. There are a set of predictable desirable and undesirable results that will come from releasing the names, and another set that will result from not releasing them:

Release the names: Pro.

  • It’s fair, since woman involved already has had her identity made public.
  • The shaming will help enforce the law, and discourage violators.
  • The violators have no right to keep their sexual infidelity from spouses and lovers. They are accountable and responsible for their actions, and this is a completely predictable and reasonable consequence that they knowingly risked occurring.
  • Public officials particularly should be exposed when they break laws and defy community standards of conduct.
  • If family members are adversely affected, that is not the proper concern of the law, the courts or society. Whatever harm they suffer is the result of the lawbreaker’s anti-social conduct.
  • If society protects wrongdoers from the natural consequences of their conduct, it encourages wrongdoing.

Release the names: Con

  • The harm is vastly disproportionate to the conduct.
  • Those whose names are revealed will lose jobs; families will be disrupted, careers and reputations will be destroyed.
  • There will be no degrees of shame. One time clients will be as humiliated as regulars.
  • The presence of the name on the list is insufficient evidence, on its own, to justify the degree of harm that will result from the list’s release. They will be pronounced guilty without trials or due process.
  • Making such lists public will encourage prostitutes to seed their clients lists with the names of prominent individuals as leverage in the event of their arrest.

Close one. It’s a tough call.

I think, however, the best of the arguments are on the Con side. I think more harm will be done to the community, on balance, by releasing the names. There is a lot wrong with sealing them too, but that is how it always is with decisions made in utilitarian systems. The ends, in this case, justify the means, with the ends being protecting privacy and innocent parties, and the means being allowing wrongdoers to get away with fewer adverse consequences than they deserve.

____________________________

Pointer: Rick Jones

Facts: Christian Science Monitor

Graphic: eBay

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

 

15 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Family, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

15 responses to “The Zumba Instructor’s List and Public Shaming In Maine: Choose Your Ethical System

  1. Joe Fowler

    Con side also. How are we certain that any name on the client list is really a client? Unless each has been investigated and charged, there is only a list of names, supposedly clients. “John lists’ such as those sometimes published in the papers, consist of the names of those arrested for solicitation, not of those whom a prostitute chooses to name as a previous client.

    • I think Joe’s comment here is right on the money. The previous “Name and Shame” Johns were put out there because those in charge of publishing this list were sure about the facts and could withstand a charge of libel. Can this list withstand the same?

      Also, can these men all be said to be “solicitors” or perhaps it’s a different scheme? What if it was more of a “seduce and extort” scheme? Are Johns who are victims of the latter supposed to be named and shamed under the law/rule?

  2. wyogranny

    There will be consequences for every wrongdoer in this scenario. Whether they are public or not is the question. This is always the problem, isn’t it? On balance, I agree the names should not be officially made public. I suspect the names will be known anyway.

  3. Bill

    It should only be released if they are going to charge the people on the list with a crime.

  4. Pingback: The Zumba Instructor's List and Public Shaming In Maine: Choose … | Defensive Lawyers

  5. Arthur in Maine.

    As might be imagined, this one has had tongues wagging here in my beloved home state for some time now (when does Maine get a Fark tag the way Florida does?).

    Reading through the reader comments on the newspaper websites and various Maine-focused boards, it seems pretty clear that most of those urging release of the names aren’t particularly interested in the legal, moral or ethical aspects, and are primarily interested in the scandal itself – and who might be involved.

    If Maine was a the size of California, this could almost be considered an ethics train wreck. But we’re small, quirky and at the end of the road – so it’s more like an ethics tricycle collision.

  6. On balance and reluctantly I think I would be a con too. Bit off topic, but on the subject, what do Jack and his readers think of sex workers and the disabled. This local organisation has done some great work with people I know http://www.touchingbase.org/.

  7. This Guy

    Use the Klosterman standard: anything involving sex is only punishable if a Republican’s doing it.

  8. Mike Martin

    A couple of things to consider… I have seen nothing to indicate that the names on this alleged list are the names of real people, and if they are, these people were the ones actually involved. There is a long history of people giving incorrect identification when engaging in things they wish to keep secret.

    And, not knowing the intricacies of Main’s criminal code relating to such things — as I do of California’s — I wonder if there is actually evidence that would support either a charge or a conviction on such charge of any of the people on that list. There are seldom any uninvolved, third party witnesses to these crimes, and this is another one of those areas of the economy where “cash is king”.
    Whoever holds that list had better be damn sure that any name released is absolutely, positively that of an offender.

    I am just enjoying the fact that while, in Maine, some people are wanting to keep this secret while out here there are cities wanting to buy billboard space to make the names (and even photos) very public.

  9. Arthur in Maine.

    A couple of things to consider… I have seen nothing to indicate that the names on this alleged list are the names of real people, and if they are, these people were the ones actually involved. There is a long history of people giving incorrect identification when engaging in things they wish to keep secret.

    Well, the news reports appearing elsewhere aren’t quite as thorough as they are here. There is little doubt locally that these are real people. In fact, the charges against the hooker and her alleged partner aren’t limited to prostitution – they include numerous counts of invasion of privacy. The gal had hidden video equipment in her “workroom.” She liked to make tapes. The cops have seen them.

    I am just enjoying the fact that while, in Maine, some people are wanting to keep this secret while out here there are cities wanting to buy billboard space to make the names (and even photos) very public.

    Well, like I said – Maine is a quirky place. And it’s not like this is a case of crack hos giving hummers in the park (we have some of that, too). There have been some small prostitution rings broken up here in the past, sometimes with the release of the identities of some of the johns, sometimes not, so one could could argue precedent for the release of names either way. And this was a high-end operation, which certainly gives it higher visibility – especially the fact that it happened in Kennebunk, which most of us who live here actually consider to be part of Northern Massachusetts, but which is believed by many tourists to be iconic of Maine (by accident of geography, it lies within the state’s borders).

  10. tgt

    You didn’t list the premises right. Society doesn’t necessarily agree “that prostitution is damaging to the fabric of a healthy society”. Otherwise. I’m with you on the logic.

  11. Pingback: Zumba, Libertarian Style

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