Revisiting Anna Moscowitz Kross's Critique of New York City's Women's Court: The Continued Problem of Solving the 'Problem' of Prostitution with Specialized Criminal Courts
62 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2005 Last revised: 28 Jan 2008
This article examines specialized criminal courts as a means of addressing the problem of prostitution. It begins by chronicling the history of New York City's Women's Court, a specialized criminal court established in 1910 to respond to complaints of vocal anti-prostitution crusaders. It focuses on the well-founded critique of Anna Moscowitz Kross, a contemporary of the institution who, after practicing in the Court and serving on its bench, repeatedly called for its abolition. Kross believed that prostitution, a social issue, could not be meaningfully addressed by the criminal justice system. Over several decades, she questioned the motivations behind the Women's Court, condemned the police practices it encouraged, criticized its day-to-day processes, and argued the institution simply failed to do what it was intended to do - that is, prevent prostitution. In 1967, the Women's Court, which had been plagued by decades of controversy, finally closed its doors.
This paper continues by examining recent renewed interest in specialized criminal courts as a mechanism for addressing the issue of prostitution. It does so by focusing on the work of New York City's Midtown Community Court, which opened in 1993 to address quality-of-life offenses in Manhattan's Times Square area. As with the Women's Court, this article looks at the motives underlying the Midtown Court movement, the law enforcement methods used to bring alleged offenders before that institution, the Court's day-to-day processes, and the results of this most recent attempt to suppress prostitution.
Building upon Kross's critique, this article goes on to compare and analyze the shared features of the Women's Court and Midtown Community Court. In doing so, it suggests that using specialized criminal courts to deal with prostitution may be more problematic than problem-solving. Indeed, this article argues that in operation, prostitution-focused institutions have allowed for special interest control of the criminal justice system, harnessed the power of criminal courts in undesirable ways, failed to meaningfully solve societal problems, and worked to divert attention from the real issue relating to prostitution - that is, whether it should be a crime at all.
Thus, this article concludes by urging modern reformers to step back from the modern specialty court movement and consider the extent to which they are simply repeating history's mistakes.
Keywords: Prostitution, Kross, women's court, midtown community court, problem-solving
JEL Classification: K14, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation