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Problems With South Dakota Prostitution Law

August 15, 2004, 10:05 PM by Whitney Beem

A prostitution sting at a Sioux Falls massage parlor may have exposed a flaw in South Dakota law. In July, police arrested a Sioux Falls masseuse for prostitution. After an Investigator says she offered an undercover agent more than a backrub. The Minnehaha County State's Attorney's office dismissed this charge this week, because the alleged crime didn't fit South Dakota's definition of sexual activity. But that could soon change.

If you open a state law book you'll find the definition of prostitution as any person who works at of a house of prostitution, engages in sexual activity for a fee, or loiters in a public place with the purpose of being hired for sexual activity. While the law may sound specific, some lawmakers say it doesn't cover what allegedly happened inside this Sioux Falls massage parlor.

State Rep. Joni Cutler from Sioux Falls says, "People think, if it says sexual activity than wouldn't it certainly be what they say she's doing."

But this week, South Dakota prosecutors and lawmakers discovered a loophole in the state's prostitution law. The way it's worded now, Cutler says sexual activity is only a crime if a person has engaged in sexual penetration.

Cutler says, "You would expect the law to cover, and this situation it being an old statute it doesn't, in this situation we are going to have to change the definition of what sexual activity is."

That change will happen this fall. Cutler is on a special criminal code review committee that'll look at all South Dakota criminal laws including those involving sex crimes. Cutler says the review is necessary because while a law may look good on paper, you never know how it'll work until it's put to the test.

She says, "As time changes situations present themselves you learn the weaknesses in the law."

Cutler says as the board prepares it's critique in two weeks, they are finding many weaknesses in laws. She says this is only the second time in South Dakota's history that there's been a formal criminal code review.

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