Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to street prostitution, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. 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.

Deterring Prostitutes and Clients
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
1 Enforcing laws prohibiting soliciting, patronizing and loitering for the purposes of prostitution Temporarily removes prostitutes and clients from the streets …there are follow-up programs to help prostitutes quit or switch to indoor venues, and enforcement is combined with other effective responses Strategy is expensive; has only a short-term impact; may increase prostitution by displacing the problem to new locations, and by compelling prostitutes to work more to pay fines
1a Enforcing laws prohibiting prostitution and the solicitation thereof Temporarily removes prostitutes and clients from the streets; increases the costs of business; deters arrested clients from reoffending …a prosecution will result in meaningfuldifficult sanctions against the prostitute, and the pool of potential clients is relatively small Strategy is expensive; to obtain admissible evidence; jail time is usually limited or none; discourages prostitutes from calling police when they are victims; creates additional incentives to engage in prostitution to pay fines; prosecutors may elect not to prosecute; the population of potential clients is large enough that general deterrence is difficult to achieve solely by arrest strategies; arresting clients requires a sufficient number of female police officers; undercover assignment not popular among police
1b Enforcing laws prohibiting conduct associated with prostitution and the solicitation thereof Deters prostitutes from soliciting and clients from searching for prostitutes on the streets, without requiring proof of actual sexual transactions …a prosecution will result in meaningful difficult sanctions against the prostitute, and the pool of potential clients is relatively small Legality (courts have struck down such laws for being either vague or overly broad); the population of potential clients is large enough that general deterrence is difficult to achieve solely by arrest strategies
1c Intensively enforcing prostitution laws against prostitutes and/or clients for short periods Temporarily removes prostitutes from the streets; deters potential clients from frequenting the area …there is media coverage, and the campaign is followed by changes to the environment where the street prostitution occurs Media coverage can have the opposite effect of promoting prostitution by advertising the location of prostitution prostitution strolls; may increase the risk of harm faced by prostitutes by forcing them to work in unfamiliar areas
2 Establishing a highly visible police presence Discourages both prostitutes and clients from negotiations …it is followed by changes to the environment where street prostitution occurs Labor intensive; creates the perception that the area is unsafe
3 Relaxing the regulation of indoor prostitution venues Gives street prostitutes some incentive to relocate to indoors ...street prostitutes are able to work indoors May be perceived as condoning prostitution; in concern to police for their role in sexual door venues are of serious exploitation of trafficked women
4 Enhancing fines/penalties for prostitution- related offenses committed within specified high- activity zones Displaces the street prostitution market from a particular area …it is followed by changes to the environment where street prostitution occurs Displacement may be to areas where the impact is even worse
5 Banning prostitutes or clients from certain areas Reduces the opportunities for prostitutes and clients to solicit and patronize …there is adequate monitoring of bans and good physical descriptions of offenders Requires legal authority; may displace prostitutes to new areas outside the prohibited zone, which, if remote, may prove more hazardous to them
6 Using community justice panels and community service sentences in lieu of incarceration or fines Creates meaningful consequences for prostitutes’ and clients’ offending; consumes prostitutes’ time …there is adequate monitoring of compliance with sentences, and community members are willing to serve on panels Requires monitoring by the court and corrections officials
7 Enlisting community members to provide surveillance or to publicly protest against prostitutes or clients Creates the impression that offenders will be constantly monitored and reported; increases the pressure on public officials to address the problem …the community is willing to sustain protests and remain lawful, and police maintain supervision and oversight Risks of overzealousness (vigilantism); displacement to other locations; street patrols require committed leaders to recruit, organize, and mobilize members
8 Educating and warning high-risk prostitute and client populations Deters young people from getting into prostitution; discourages potential clients; education programs for arrested clients deter repeat offending …there is evidence of the recruitment of prostitutes from target
populations, the messages are carefully tailored to the target audience, and there are adequate resources to run education programs
Young people at seriously high risk usually have several critical social problems that require attention if they are to be kept out of prostitution; costs of running programs; adequate deterrence may be achieved by any form of official intervention; schools do not target clients at highest risk of violence
Targeting Prostitutes
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
9 Serving restraining orders/civil injunctions against habitual prostitutes Effectively controls and deters the activities of large numbers of prostitutes working in a particular area; conserves police resources by focusing on the most problematic offenders …complainants are willing to file for court orders, and there are small numbers of chronic offenders Labor-intensive and costly to document people and activities; legality varies by jurisdiction
10 Mediating conflicts between prostitutes and the community Keeps prostitutes away from the areas of highest citizen complaints, or from engaging in the most offensive behaviors …the community is willing to tolerate some level of street prostitution

Difficult to get prostitutes to adhere to agreements

 

11 Imposing curfews on prostitutes Restricts prostitutes’ working hours …there are short periods during which street prostitution is most prevalent Requires a judicial order as a condition of bail or probation; requires monitoring by police or corrections officials
12 Helping prostitutes to quit Provides prostitutes with support services to enable them to leave prostitution; health screening and education prevents the spread of sexually transmitted diseases …programs are prostitution-specific and easily accessible, and there are sufficient sanctions for noncompliance Street prostitutes, especially juveniles and those managed by pimps, are difficult to persuade; privacy considerations; prostitutes can be hard to reach and/or reluctant to accept treatment (e.g., for fear of losing custody of their children)
13 Encouraging prostitutes to report serious offenses to the police Improves the police ability to investigate serious offenses that might otherwise go unreported and/or unsolved …police can establish a sufficient level of trust among prostitutes Prostitutes’ giving evidence against pimps increases the risks of violent retaliation
14 Helping prostitutes avoid dangerous clients and situations Reduces the risk of physical assaults to prostitutes …police can establish a sufficient level of trust among prostitutes Police can be accused of condoning prostitution
Targeting Clients
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
15 Exposing clients to publicity Shames clients to deter them from re-offending; discourages potential clients …the community and media support public shaming, and most clients solicit from vehicles Media reluctance to publicize information deemed unnewsworthy; risks arousing suspicions against innocent people; legal restrictions; privacy concerns; the potential for geographic displacement; deterrent value is lost after first exposure
16 Notifying those with influence over clients’ conduct Creates meaningful consequences for clients’ conduct …clients are influenced by informal social controls The penalty (e.g., getting fired) may be harsher than some believe is fair
17 Restricting clients' ability to drive Deters curb-crawling (driving at a slow speed with the primary purpose of observing and/or making contact with a prostitute) ...most clients solicit from vehicles Legal challenges and restrictions; low rates of compliance with license suspensions and revocations
Changing the Environment
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
18 Closing streets and alleys, diverting traffic, or regulating parking Increases the difficulty for clients to find and negotiate with prostitutes …the community the changes affect supports them, and most clients solicit from vehicles Potentially costly; can harm residential and legitimate commercial traffic; may lock the problem in rather than forcing it out, by creating an inaccessible enclave; slowing traffic may be conducive to curb-crawling
19 Enforcing zoning, nuisance abatement, and business license regulations against properties used for prostitution Restricts the availability of locations for sexual activities; discourages the use of motels and hotels for prostitution …sexual transactions take place on properties subject to regulation Civil law processes can be cumbersome and unfamiliar to police; requires support from government lawyers
20 Warning property owners about the use of their premises for prostitution Improves property owners’ capacity or willingness to prohibit prostitution-related activities on their property …sexual transactions take place on those properties Some property owners may feel they are being unfairly accused
21 Redeveloping the area economy Promotes legitimate activity to displace illegitimate activity …improvements will substantially change the conditions that allow street prostitution to flourish Costly in the short term; potential displacement to more vulnerable areas
22 Securing abandoned buildings Keeps prostitutes and clients from having private places for sexual transactions …sexual transactions take place in abandoned buildings Costs of securing buildings; potential displacement to other locations
23 Enhancing surveillance with improved lighting and CCTV Improves the area’s appearance; improves natural surveillance to deter prostitution …lighting is inadequate, and sexual transactions take place in dark, secluded places Costs of lighting; may backfire by increasing perceptions of safety and drawing more activity to the area
24 Providing trash cans Encourages the proper disposal of hazardous items …they are placed near where sexual transactions occur Must be emptied regularly; police may be accused of condoning prostitution
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
25 Conducting sweeps Temporarily removes prostitutes and clients from the streets   Undermines the criminal justice system and police integrity; the risks of arresting innocent people
26 Harassing and intimidating prostitutes Discourages prostitutes from offending   Undermines police integrity; geographically displaces the problem
27 Suspending or revoking government aid to prostitutes Encourages prostitutes to quit …prostitutes are receiving significant amounts of aid without reporting prostitution income, and aid agencies are willing to take action Implications for dependent children; requires adequate social service follow-up; may have opposite effect of promoting more prostitution to replace lost income
28 Establishing formal or informal red-light districts where street prostitution is tolerated Reduces nuisance complaints; increases the police ability to monitor street prostitution and related crime …the community is willing to tolerate some level of street prostitution, and the red-light district can be adequately policed and will not attract additional clients from other communities Legality (ruled unconstitutional in Canada as a local option); the expansion of street prostitution out of the tolerance zones; lack of public support; ineffective in reducing nuisance complaints or harm to prostitutes under some conditions;
29 Legalizing and decriminalizing prostitution Legalization subjects prostitution to administrative regulation   Not politically feasible in foreseeable future in the United States, United Kingdom, or Canada