In designing an approach to combat street prostitution, first ascertain the extent of the problem. Are there other crimes (drugs, robberies, assaults, etc.) associated with the street prostitution? Are community activities like churches and day care centers negatively affected? What effect does the street prostitution have on local legitimate businesses? How concerned is the community with the problem?
Assemble profiles of the clients. Research has shown that about 10 to 20 percent of men have paid for sex and about one percent do so on a regular basis. Establish if the offenders are local residents or if they travel to the area.
What are their occupations? What are their socio-economic and marital status? This information will be invaluable in developing effective sanctions. Are the same clients re-arrested or is there a constant influx of new clientele?
Research what sanctions are available and what sanctions are usually imposed on prostitutes and their clients. It is generally easy to make arrests for street prostitution, but an effective sentencing program is required to ultimately reduce the problem. Though sentencing obviously falls outside of your purview, you can make recommendations to the appropriate sentencing bodies.
If your department finds that sanctions for prostitutes and their clients are generally lenient, you may want to show the court how widespread the problem is. One tactic is to schedule all first appearances on the same date. Instead of having offenders trickle into court on different days, having many prostitutes and their customers in court at the same time will help the judge see the magnitude of the problem.
One traditional sanctioning strategy has been to shame the offender. Most good citizens do not want to be associated with the tawdry business of street prostitution. This technique is more likely to be effective with a client than a street prostitute. Many clients are family men with good jobs and respectable ties to the community. They are ashamed of their behavior and fear their public reputation will be hurt.
Another successful sentencing option dealing with clients has been "john schools." These court-ordered education programs mandate that clients of street prostitutes spend time in class learning about the legal and health consequences associated with their criminal behavior.
Research has shown that the recidivism rate for those attending "john schools" is two to seven percent. If the interesting curriculum of the "john school" is not enough to motivate attendance, clients are threatened with driver's license suspension if attendance is not completed. Another sanction imposed on non-completion of the class is publication of the john's name in a local newspaper or Website.
Your department may want to use creative methods to explain the dangers of prostitution. Pamphlets that outline the dangers of paying for sex can accompany motor vehicle warnings for minor offenses in high crime areas. You can mail similar notices to the owners of vehicles whose cars are found in high crime areas. You can also contact high-risk groups via e-mail prior to their arrival in town to warn of strict enforcement of prostitution laws and the health risks associated with street prostitution; this works best in cities that host conventions.
Cut down on the opportunities to conduct illicit sex acts by reporting abandoned buildings used by those in the sex trade. Work with the city council to secure such buildings and to restrict or eliminate motel rooms that are available by the hour. Motels could also be required to obtain positive identification from anyone staying in a room.
In dealing with the prostitutes themselves, set up programs that present apprehended offenders with opportunities to get out of the sex trade. Serve restraining orders to repeat offenders to prohibit them from returning to certain high-risk areas. Place curfews on certain prostitutes to make sure they do not work during certain peak hours. With their ability to earn money in the sex trade severely impeded, prostitutes will look for alternative forms of income.
The community policing arm of your department can work with social services to make available resources to help prostitutes quit street prostitution, including mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The prostitute trying to get off the street will need help with food, housing, job training, and employment placement. Many street prostitutes are single parents, so child care should be considered. Only by providing a street prostitute with a viable alternative to the sex trade will we begin to see a reduction in habitual offenders.
These solutions require resources outside the scope of the criminal justice system. Anything more than a temporary solution will require a concentrated effort by several different organizations. The time to start organizing the resources is in the dead of winter when street prostitution is slow. By summertime, when the streets are teeming with sex workers, it will be too late to design and implement a program to combat street prostitution.
Det. Joseph Petrocelli is a 20-year veteran of New Jersey law enforcement. You can comment on this article, suggest other topics, or reach the author by e-mailing the editor at david.griffith@PoliceMag.com.