Sex Police

John Stossel

7/23/2008 12:01:00 AM - John Stossel

In a desolate public park in Columbus, Ohio, a man responded to the advances of a topless woman. She asked him to "show me yours." When he did, police officers arrested him. Columbus law says her being topless is OK; exposing his genitalia is not.

Why did cops hide in the shadows to arrest a man no one but they could see?

On last week's "20/20", Dr. Marty Klein pointed out that the police weren't protecting children.

"There were no children anywhere in sight. In fact, there were no adults anywhere in sight."

Klein says it's part of "America's War on Sex."

"American society attempts to restrict what adults can do, what adults can see ... more than any other industrial country."

Ken Giles was jogging in a park in Johnson City, Tenn., when, as he put it, "nature called." He went off the trail to go take care of business. Then an undercover agent "put the badge in my face and told me that I was under arrest. I just thought I was in trouble for urinating in public."

It was much more humiliating than that. The park was the site of a police crackdown on gay men using the park for sex. But the police went beyond arrests. Before anyone was convicted, they posted the names, addresses and photos of the men.

Giles's wife saw his picture on the news. Then his employer fired him. "When I lost my job ... my wife was so upset that she had a ... a major heart attack."

Another man named by the police killed himself.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council says he has no sympathy for such sex offenders. "There's not a presumption of confidentiality when you're arrested and charged," he told me.

It's intrusive enough when police arrest someone in a public place, but worse when the police turn their sights indoors, to places where people choose to be exposed to sex.

Chippendales, the male burlesque show, has toured the country for years. Their show is not as racy as you might think. The men dance, show off their bodies and flirt with some women in the audience. There's no nudity.

Chippendales never had a problem with authorities -- until it came to Lubbock, Texas. Ten minutes before their show, the police told the dancers, "Don't ever simulate a sex act."

The dancers did their usual show and then ventured out into the crowd. The police then shut down the show and took the dancers to jail.

The crowd was angry. "City council sucks!" the audience shouted.

Mayor David Miller told me, "In the judgment of our police officers that night, they violated one portion or more of [the city's] ordinance."

What were the police protecting willing adult customers from?

"From these types of activities spilling over into their neighborhood."

Within a week of the Chippendales arrest, three murders occurred in Lubbock. Wouldn't those police officers have been better used elsewhere?

Some states have laws that creep right into the bedroom. In Alabama, legislators banned the sale of sex toys. That upset Dave Smith, whose wife owns Pleasures, "Your One Stop Romance Shop."

"In the state of Alabama I can buy a gun. I can carry it in my pocket. ... But if I buy this [sex toy], someone could get arrested!" Smith said.

The ACLU helped challenge the law. But an appeals court ruled that the politicians have a "legitimate legislative interest in discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex" -- in other words, masturbation -- because that may be "detrimental to the health and morality of the State."

Oddly, Pleasures is still in business because the law makes an exception if a sex toy is sold for a medical purpose. To buy a vibrator, customers need only answer yes to a questionnaire asking things like, "Have difficulty having an orgasm?"

I asked the Family Research Council's Sprigg whom the government protects when it closes down sex shops.

"The government is protecting actually the people who patronize those shops because I don't think it's in their interest to use pornography and sex toys."

Give me a break.