Responses to the Problem of Street Prostitution
Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors that are contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's particular problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do to better address the problem: carefully consider who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. The responsibility of responding, in some cases, may need to be shifted toward those who have the capacity to implement more effective responses. (For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems).
General Principles for an Effective Strategy
You should consider a few general principles when developing your response strategy. Which particular responses you adopt should depend on what you learn from a careful analysis of your local problem. The responses selected should be carefully focused on the angle of the problem that you are trying to resolve. Strategies seeking to reduce the harms caused by and experienced by prostitutes are more likely to work than those seeking to eliminate prostitution altogether. Strategies focused exclusively on arresting prostitutes are unlikely to be effective.  At a minimum, both prostitutes' and clients' conduct should be addressed. An effective strategy not only must force prostitutes off the streets and get them to stop their offensive behavior, but also must give them viable alternatives: either to get out of prostitution altogether, or to operate in less-offensive locations, times, or ways. This usually requires greater cooperation between the police and various service organizations.  The most effective responses to the problem of street prostitution rely heavily on social services for prostitutes to encourage their permanent exit from the street. Police must work closely with service providers to ensure the various enforcement- and treatment-based responses are well-coordinated.§ The transient nature of street prostitution and the fact that some responses may lead to displacement mean that jurisdictions must share information to make a significant regional impact on the problem.
§ The Charlotte-Mecklenburg (North Carolina) Police Department's multiagency response to street prostitution required social service providers to ride with police officers in the patrol districts implementing the program. These ride-alongs helped to create mutual understanding and appreciation for each stakeholder's role in the program (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department 2003).
Specific Responses to Address Street Prostitution
Deterring Prostitutes and Clients1. Enforcing laws prohibiting soliciting, patronizing, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The main strategy police use to control street prostitution is enforcing laws prohibiting soliciting, patronizing, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution. Enforcement strategies are expensive; each arrest costs thousands of dollars to process. By themselves, they are ineffective at either controlling street prostitution or protecting prostitutes from harm.  Increased police enforcement temporarily reduces the number of prostitutes on the street, but they usually reappear in new areas.§ This may actually increase street prostitution in the long term by creating new opportunities for prostitutes and potential clients to meet. While the severity of the penalties against prostitutes does appear to affect the volume of prostitution, modest fines against prostitutes may actually force them to commit more prostitution to pay the fines. Prostitutes who are prosecuted are usually convicted, but many of them fail to show up for court hearings. Most prostitutes consider the costs of being arrested as a business expense and an inconvenience, and not as a significant deterrent.
§ See Response Guide No. 1, The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns, for further discussion of how crackdowns work.
However, street prostitutes can provide valuable information to police about other crimes, and the threat of enforcement gives the police leverage for information. In some jurisdictions, controlling street prostitution is left to the vice squad. Limiting patrol officers' involvement is intended to reduce corruption, but it can give the public the impression that only corrupt officers would ignore the problem. Whether using patrol or specially trained vice officers, police agencies should properly train, supervise, and monitor officers' performance to reduce the likelihood of misconduct.
Historically, the police have arrested far more prostitutes than clients, although many police agencies have shifted toward a more balanced enforcement strategy, targeting clients as well as prostitutes. To promote a consistent response and improve the chances for successful prosecutions, police agencies should prepare written guidelines governing how and under what circumstances they will enforce prostitution laws.§§
§§ The Cleveland (England) Police's Middlesbrough Police District scheduled all defendants charged with soliciting for court on the same day. Concentrating the cases in this way helped judges to become aware of the problem's scope, ensured consistent sanctions, and raised media interest and, as a result, public awareness (Cleveland Police, Middlesbrough Police District 2000).
Intensive arrest campaigns may inadvertently increase the risk of harm street prostitutes face.  To avoid police detection and to compensate for the reduced number of men soliciting services, prostitutes may work longer hours in more isolated, unfamiliar, or unsafe areas. The clientele in these areas may be unfamiliar, and yet the prostitutes may not take their usual safety precautions. As a result of increased competition for fewer clients, some prostitutes lower their prices, and thus must work in these conditions for longer periods to earn the same amount of money.
§ See National Research Council (2004) for further discussion of the effectiveness of so-called "hot-spots policing." See also Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. Understanding and Responding to Crime and Disorder Hot Spots for further information.3. Relaxing the regulation of indoor prostitution venues. Whether changes in enforcement levels against indoor prostitution (e.g., massage parlors, call girls, bar girls, and escort services) will affect street prostitution depends on how easily prostitutes can move back and forth between the streets and indoors. The conventional wisdom is that there is little movement between them, mostly due to the high proportion of street prostitutes who are heavy drug users and thus not likely to be hired by indoor venues.  But, within limits, prostitutes do have some mobility. The laws related to indoor prostitution are likely to affect the degree of mobility (it is legal in the United Kingdom, and illegal in the United States). Indoor prostitutes seem more easily able to work on the streets when they have to than street prostitutes can move indoors.  Relaxing the regulation of indoor prostitution may be perceived as condoning prostitution; in addition, indoor venues are of serious concern to police because of their role in the sexual exploitation of trafficked women.§
§ See Problem-Specific Guide No. 38, The Exploitation of Trafficked Women.4. Enhancing fines/penalties for prostitution-related offenses committed within specified high-activity zones. Some communities have enhanced penalties for prostitution-related offenses committed within specific areas. These penalty enhancements are intended to move the street prostitution market to other locations so the target area can be redeveloped. You should be careful that the problem is not displaced to areas where the impact will be even worse. Research evidence about this response's effectiveness is lacking.
§ In San Diego, California, men charged with soliciting are required to appear before a panel consisting of community members, prosecutors, public health workers, social service staff who work with prostitutes, and police (San Diego Police Department and San Diego City Attorney's Office 2003). Men charged with soliciting in Indianapolis, Indiana, are required to return to the community in which the offense occurred to publicly face area residents and to perform community service work there (American Prosecutors Research Institute 2004).7. Enlisting community members to provide surveillance or to publicly protest against prostitutes or clients. Direct community activism in the form of organized marches, rallies, or confrontations of prostitutes and clients has proved effective in disrupting and moving street prostitution markets.  Neighborhood associations can also post warning signs on buildings and utility poles indicating their intolerance for street prostitution in their community, warning prostitutes and potential clients that the area is under surveillance, and indicating the applicable penalties.  This response is intended to intimidate prostitutes and clients, and to demonstrate the community's resolve against street prostitution. You must guard against overzealous community conduct that violates prostitutes' rights. In addition to the risk of vigilantism, police should recognize that some community protests do not necessarily reflect the attitudes of the entire community, but instead represent the preferences of those who participate.  Police should maintain close involvement with community groups to ensure proper oversight and supervision.
Local street patrols conducted by community members can also provide valuable information to police.§ By recording the nature and volume of activity, these patrols can help police decide where to target their efforts. Effective patrols are difficult to establish and maintain without a highly committed leader to recruit, organize, and mobilize members. 
§ See Campbell (2001) for specific guidance on developing community leadership skills to address prostitution and a variety of other nuisance problems.8. Educating and warning high-risk prostitute and client populations. Working with other institutions, you can target education and warning messages to groups especially likely to become involved in prostitution, as either prostitutes or clients.
Certain groups are especially vulnerable to being recruited or drawn to street prostitution, among them juvenile offenders, juvenile runaways, and juveniles in group homes (residential custody). Young people at high risk for being recruited into prostitution usually have multiple critical social and psychological problems that require attention if they are to be kept out of prostitution. Addressing them requires that police develop effective partnerships with schools, the juvenile justice system, and child welfare systems.
Among the high-risk client groups are male conventioneers, male soldiers, and previously arrested clients. The education and warning information can be conveyed through letters, lectures, video presentations, billboards, warning signs, or media outlets. A growing number of jurisdictions have established court-ordered education programs for convicted clients. These so-called "john schools" confront prostitution clients about the consequences of their behavior.  They usually include information about the legal and health consequences for clients, the impact of street prostitution on the community and local businesses, and the negative effects of prostitution on prostitutes. Many programs have led to positive changes in attitude among participants and enjoy substantial support from participants, stakeholders, and the public. The program fees charged to clients are often used to support services designed to help prostitutes to leave the trade. Recidivism rates for clients who participate in court-ordered education programs are low (around 2% to 7%).  It is less clear what added deterrent value there is in the education program beyond what is achieved by any official intervention, from a warning to an arrest.  Further, official recidivism statistics may not reflect actual behavior because they are driven by the enforcement level, which varies over time.  Finally, "john schools" do not specifically target potentially violent clients and therefore may deter only those least likely to victimize the prostitutes they solicit. 
Targeting Prostitutes9. Serving restraining orders/civil injunctions against habitual prostitutes. A small percentage of prostitutes and pimps may be responsible for most of the complaints in a prostitution area. If you can establish this, you might more productively target your efforts at those few, rather than at the larger population of offenders. In the United Kingdom, Antisocial Behavior Orders (ASBOs) are used against habitual prostitutes to forbid a range of prostitution-related behaviors.  ASBO violations carry stiffer penalties than prostitution charges.
In several jurisdictions, the police have coordinated with merchants whose business is negatively affected by street prostitution to obtain restraining orders against prostitutes, prohibiting them from engaging in specific behavior within a specific area.  In San Bernardino, California, certain existing municipal codes have been incorporated into court-ordered civil injunctions against known prostitutes. Violations of the restraining orders result in jail time and fines that exceed the usual penalties.
The specific prohibitions mentioned in the San Bernardino restraining order are:
- Approaching or signaling to any vehicle in any street, alley, or other public passage area, thus causing the vehicle to stop, unless a legitimate emergency so requires
- Blocking the passage of any person or vehicle in any street, walkway, sidewalk, driveway, alley, or other public passage area
- Being on, or causing others to be on, private property, except (1) with the property owner's prior written consent, or (2) in the property owner's presence and with his or her voluntary consent
- Being on the premises of an uninhabited or abandoned building
- Making, causing, or encouraging others to violate noise restrictions
- Fighting in public or any place open to public view or hearing
- Drinking any alcoholic beverage in public or any place open to public view
- Urinating or defecating in public or any place open to public view
- Littering, including discarding cans, bottles, cigarettes, condoms, or hypodermic needles other than in a proper trash can
- Damaging or vandalizing another's property, including any light fixture, fence, gate, wall, or window
- Applying graffiti to any public or private property, including any building, fence, wall, garage door, street sign, tree, pole, or vehicle
- Congregating in any public place for the purpose of engaging in any conduct prohibited by this injunction, or any criminal activity
- Intimidating, provoking, harassing, challenging, or carrying out any acts of retaliation, including, but not limited to, using abusive or vulgar language to harass any person (San Bernardino Police Department 1999).
You should consult with legal counsel about the requirements for obtaining restraining orders. It may also take a lot of time and effort to obtain the documentation necessary for a restraining order.10. Mediating conflicts between prostitutes and the community. While negotiating with offenders is not common for the police, street prostitutes have responded positively in several communities where the police and community have requested that they stay away from certain areas or reduce their nuisance behavior in exchange for some tolerance.  In one Vancouver, British Columbia community, community groups posted signs and maps requesting that prostitutes stay out of certain areas.  Obviously, it can be difficult to get prostitutes to comply with agreements.
§ The Prostitution Empowerment, Education, and Resources Society (PEERS) in Victoria, British Columbia helps women quit street prostitution in favor of mainstream employment. The program was specifically designed by and for women involved in prostitution who were deterred from using other non-prostitution-specific services (Rabinovitz and Strega 2004).
Key services include the following:
- Drug and alcohol treatment. Outreach on the street is essential to funneling prostitutes into needed services. Fast-tracking placement into residential treatment is also critical when women indicate their readiness for change. 
- Mental health treatment.
- Housing. While housing is an obvious need for homeless prostitutes, many other prostitutes live in environments that put them at continued risk for drug use and violence. An array of housing options, including short-term shelters and long-term stable housing, is needed. 
- Peer support systems. Women wishing to leave prostitution need to develop new identities and need skills to access, establish, and maintain networks of peers who are not involved with prostitution. 
- Child care. Many women involved with prostitution are also single parents. Childcare is a critical issue to address for both treatment and employment objectives. 
- Job training and employment.
- Health care and confidential testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Legal aid.
Some communities offer a service-and-support network through either precharge or postcharge diversion programs, and some even offer these programs on the street, with no formal connection to the criminal justice system.  Although these programs do not necessarily persuade many prostitutes to quit, they are essential for those motivated to do so, and they can be effective in reducing some of the risks to street prostitutes, such as sexually transmitted disease and assault. 13. Encouraging prostitutes to report serious offenses to the police. Police in some jurisdictions work hard to develop a good rapport with street prostitutes to persuade them to report juvenile prostitutes, violent clients, client robbery, etc., and to give evidence against pimps.§ Outreach workers can also be instrumental in convincing prostitutes to cooperate with police on serious matters. Prostitutes who help the police may require extra protection because they risk violent retaliation.
§ Merseyside, England police developed a computer application to systematically collate reports of crime committed by clients so that this information can be used across the region (Penfold et al. 2004).14. Helping prostitutes avoid dangerous clients and situations. Police in some jurisdictions distribute so-called "bad dates" (or "dodgy punters" in the United Kingdom) lists to street prostitutes, warning them to stay away from clients known to assault prostitutes. Police can also post descriptions of dangerous clients and their vehicles on bulletin boards, newsletters, and leaflets. In other places, the prostitutes themselves or outreach workers circulate this information. These lists have led to increased reporting of violent crime against prostitutes. 
Police might also support efforts to promote caution in dealing with clients by prostitutes who insist on continuing their trade. This might include encouraging prostitutes to do the following:
- Control the locations where they take clients for service, avoiding dimly lit and unfamiliar places
- Control negotiations with clients, setting clear limits for accepting or rejecting clients
- Maintain prices and safe-sex practices
- Work with a partner, copying down license plate numbers and agreeing to seek help if the other does not return within a specified time
- Refrain from using drugs when working on the street (drug use reduces awareness, control of self, and control of the situation)
- Carry a whistle or other attack prevention device
- Not carry drugs or excessive cash 
The New Westminster (British Columbia) Police Service developed a voluntary forensic identification registry for prostitutes. In the event that women working the streets are abducted or go missing, police have a photograph, fingerprints, DNA sample, and physical description to use when investigating the disappearance. This effort greatly improved relations between police and prostitutes by demonstrating police concern for prostitutes' safety. The strategy also increased prostitutes' willingness to provide information on various crimes. The media's interest in this initiative may have also deterred potentially violent clients. 
Obviously, some people will object to police efforts to protect prostitutes, believing that doing so condones prostitution.
Clients are generally more easily deterred than prostitutes.  Almost any form of official or community intervention in clients' behavior is sufficient to deter most clients from patronizing street prostitutes, at least at a particular location. This offers some justification for focusing responses on clients. However, since there are many more potential clients than street prostitutes, deterring individual clients does not necessarily reduce the overall demand for street prostitution.  To deter potential clients, they must believe there is a high likelihood they will be caught and publicly identified.15. Exposing clients to publicity. Community groups have organized to expose prostitution clients identity to either the general public or the clients' families or employers. This can be done by photographing or videotaping clients, calling clients' families or employers, writing down license plate numbers of vehicles seen driving around prostitution strips, mailing warning letters or postcards to registered vehicle owners, or posting clients' names or photographs on street posts, billboards, telephone hotline fliers, and internet sites. Some police agencies have sent official letters or postcards warning prostitution clients about the legal and health consequences of patronizing prostitutes.  In some instances, they send these warnings only to those arrested for soliciting prostitutes; in other instances, they send them to the registered owners of suspicious vehicles seen driving through street prostitution areas. In some areas, police use closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to discourage potential clients from hanging around. , †
Some police agencies and local governments have publicized the names and photographs of clients who are either arrested for and/or convicted of prostitution-related offenses. The names and photographs may appear on television, in newspapers, or on internet websites.§ Many media outlets, however, refuse to participate, deeming it unnewsworthy and not wanting to appear to be an agent of the government. Some local governments have purchased advertising space to publish the information. There should be safeguards so that innocent people are not unfairly implicated or accused in illegal activity.§§ Further, once a client has faced publicity from an initial arrest, he has little to lose, and subsequent threats of publicity are unlikely to be effective. 
§ In 2003 in Omaha, Nebraska, billboards with the slogan "If you are convicted of soliciting a prostitute, you will see your name here" publicized the names of six to 12 offenders at a time (Hughes 2004). In Akron, Ohio, the "Operation John Be Gone" website, which posted the photographs of men charged with soliciting a prostitute, drew more than 100,000 hits in its first year online (MacMillan 2005).
§§ See Persons (1996) for a thorough discussion of the effectiveness and legality of publicizing prostitution clients' names.16. Notifying those with influence over clients' conduct. Employers, schools, the military, convention organizers, and other individuals or groups often exert significant informal influence over prostitution clients' conduct. You can leverage this influence by seeking such third parties' cooperation to discipline clients who come to police attention. This strategy is not intended merely to shame clients, but rather, to change their behavior through disciplinary systems outside the formal justice system. Keep in mind that some forms of discipline, such as employment termination, can be severe.
Changing the Environment18. Closing streets and alleys, diverting traffic, or regulating parking. Traffic flow and patterns influence potential clients' perceptions about their chances of negotiating a transaction and their risks of getting caught. Traffic-related factors are especially significant where sex acts take place in vehicles. Many clients stop to solicit prostitutes while on their way somewhere else—commonly to or home from work. Responses that make it more difficult or risky for clients to negotiate a transaction will either discourage them from soliciting street prostitutes or encourage them to seek indoor prostitutes.  For example, throughways can be closed at one end, two-way streets can be converted to one-way streets, speed bumps can be installed, and right turns can be prohibited to prevent drivers from circling the block. , § Under some circumstances, the traffic changes may lock the problem into an area rather than force it out. You should also be careful that any traffic changes do not cause undue harm to residents and legitimate commerce in the area.
§ See Response Guide No. 2, Closing Streets and Alleys to Reduce Crime, for further discussion of how this response works.19. Enforcing zoning, nuisance abatement, and business license regulations against properties used for prostitution. As noted previously, street prostitution markets depend on other businesses to support them. The police and other enforcement agencies can exert pressure on those businesses to discourage their support of street prostitution by enforcing civil laws and business regulations. Some communities prohibit motels and hotels from renting rooms for short periods (i.e., at hourly rates), and require them to record guests' identities through positive proof of identification, thus discouraging their use by prostitutes and clients. , † Zoning regulations that restrict the sorts of businesses that support street prostitution, such as adult entertainment, can be effective. Zoning restrictions have been key in the major redevelopment of Times Square in New York City, where street prostitution has significantly declined.  The police and private parties can file nuisance abatement actions against businesses that support prostitution. You should get advice and support from legal counsel to pursue these options.
§ See Response Guides No. 4, Video Surveillance of Public Places and No. 8, Improving Street Lighting to Reduce Crime in Residential Areas, for further discussion of police use of CCTV and street lighting, respectively.24. Providing trash cans. Providing trash cans for the proper disposal of hazardous and unsightly items (e.g., condoms and lubricants) can both reduce the public health hazard posed by the items and reduce the number of resident complaints.  The extent to which this will work depends on prostitutes' and johns' willingness to use the trash cans and on placing them near where sex acts occur.
Responses With Limited Effectiveness25. Conducting sweeps. Sweeps are large-scale arrest campaigns targeting suspected prostitutes, without the intent to prosecute. Sweeps have long been a police strategy to control street prostitution, particularly when they have had few legal alternatives for dealing with the problem, yet have been pressured to do something about it. There is little evidence that sweeps are anything other than temporarily effective at removing prostitutes from the street, and they do considerable harm to the criminal justice system's integrity. It is not uncommon for police to arrest innocent people during sweeps.
§ Legalization implies that the government will regulate various aspects of prostitution, just as it regulates other forms of commerce. Decriminalization implies no government regulation.
§§ Prostitution itself is not illegal in either the United Kingdom or Canada, as it is in most of the United States, but nearly all forms of soliciting prostitution on the street are illegal, so the net effect is substantially the same—street prostitution is outlawed. Prostitution has been legalized in the Netherlands and recently decriminalized in New Zealand. In Sweden, selling sexual services is legal, but buying them is illegal. Some forms of indoor prostitution have been made legal in Victoria, Australia, but street prostitution remains illegal. The legalization of prostitution in several Nevada counties has not eliminated the problems associated with street prostitution in the cities of Reno and Las Vegas.
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