A little detail in this story about a vice bust last week in Chi. caught my eye.
A guy was pinched by the Cook County Sheriff for running a house of prostitution. The operation was located in an apartment near the northwest side’s intersection of Lawrence and Pulaski avenues, long a locus for sex businesses. There’s the Admiral Theatre, just east of Pulaski, where women have been taking their clothes off on stage for decades now. It’s one of those joints that like to refer to themselves as “gentlemen’s clubs,” something I’ve always found sadly humorous, sort of like calling civilian war deaths “collateral damage.” And then, just down the block, there’s Lovers Playground, formerly known as L’Amour’s. The place sells erotic toys and videos, mostly as a cover for its real meat and potatoes — back room booths known in the trade as “glory holes.” Furtive men frequent such establishments where apertures in the walls separating the booths have been placed very strategically so said men can…, well, use your imagination.
So the news that some enterprising young dude is managing a brothel on that very block isn’t exactly earthshaking.
But this line in the Sun-Times story of the nab nagged at me:
The apartment was one of three locations that [were] searched over the summer by sheriff’s police and Homeland Security Investigations….
W-wait a minute. Homeland Security? I thought its job was to protect us from furrin terrorists. Now, it’s getting in on cheap, sleazy, local sex raids?
Being an average dope who’s not conversant on every aspect of governmental agencies, I’d have figured the Department of Homeland Security spooks mainly sniffed around looking for furriners carrying miniaturized H-bombs in their backpacks.
I never imagined it’d be big on brothel busts.
A quick glance at the DHS website shows that among the organizations it umbrellas are the likes of US Customs and Border and Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, both law enforcement agencies whose officers carry guns and badges and can do actual police investigations.
Well, sure, the alleged operator of the joint, as well as some of his staff may be furriners themselves, here in this holy land on phony papers — or no papers at all. Still, the whole thing stinks of federal overreach, of a kind that Republicans who regularly throw the term around can’t be bothered about normally.
It reminds me of how the Post Office (the USPS’s old moniker) busied itself in the latter part of the 19th Century and well into the 20th, prying into people’s sex lives. See, there’d been this fellow, Anthony Comstock, who’d made a name for himself as the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice back in the 1870s. He was so good and thorough at calling out people who wrote steamy love letters to each other or advised each other on how to use seditious instruments like condoms that the US Postmaster General under President Ulysses Grant named him special agent in charge of making sure every American citizen remained chaste.
Comstock was so devoted to his duties that a whole raft of statutes written to criminalize normal sexual acts and paraphernalia became commonly referred to as Comstock Laws. Among the things Comstock Laws proscribed included:
- [E]very filthy book, pamphlet, picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character
- [E]very article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for preventing conception or producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral use
- [E]very article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing which is advertised or described in a manner calculated to lead another to use or apply it for preventing conception or producing abortion
Falling under these rubrics were:
- Spermicidal jellies
- Any other prophylactic device
- Substances or devices that could result in an abortion
- Penis extenders
- Artificial vaginas
- Butt plugs
- Personal letters containing any reference — no matter how oblique — to sex
- And much, much more
None of the aforementioned articles, writings, or images could be sent through the US mail. Comstock and his deputies were allowed to open any suspected package or envelope sent through the Post Office at their discretion. He would brag in public that his enforcement efforts had resulted in some 3600 American being sent to prison and another 15 committing suicide.
Anthony Comstock died, thankfully, in 1915. A period of wild abandon in American morals and behavior follow his years-too-late death.
I mention this merely to point out that uber-powerful federal agencies, in times of sexual, gender, and thought repression can very well become as tyrannical as, say, the old Soviet Union’s KGB or Nazi Germany’s Gestapo.
And, babies, these are times of sexual, gender, and thought repression.