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Police: Policing Complainantless Crimes - Why Law Enforcement Action Is Requested For Victimless Crimes

prostitution street prostitute customers

There is a substantial assortment of activities that constitute each classification of victimless crime. Diversity is clearly the case in the chosen exemplar, because prostitution varies widely in terms of types of services rendered, prices charged, location of operation, and, consequently, official attention from law enforcement. In order to understand the differences in police dealings with various sorts of prostitution, it is necessary to describe briefly the range of the commercial sex trade.

While there are male prostitutes and female customers, most of those who trade sexual favors for monetary compensation are female and most of their customers are males. Consequently, most of the ensuing discussion of this vice crime and the law enforcement response to it will focus on female prostitution involving male customers. The high end of the continuum of female prostitution entails the services of escorts (also known as call girls) that men solicit for an afternoon sexual diversion or for an expensive evening (often during professional conventions). Call-girl operations are generally far removed from public view because in most instances the initial contact and the arrangements are made by telephone or, increasingly, by computer, thus allowing the customer (commonly known as the john) to specify the physical characteristics of the woman he wishes to procure and the services he desires. Escort services are businesses where satisfied repeat customers are highly desired because they are safer and more profitable. Thus, every effort is made to ensure confidentiality and safety of both the prostitute and the client. Consequently, the actual exchange of money and the provision of sexual services are conducted behind closed doors, usually in an upscale hotel room. Unless the act is accompanied by some sort of extreme irregularity such as a heart attack during the encounter, the entire incident is relatively unremarkable. Because the nature of such transactions rarely includes either uninvolved witnesses or complainants who might be offended or injured, law enforcement officials are seldom called to come into contact with those who participate in this type of prostitution. Without an official witness to the act or a complainant, law enforcement rarely comes into contact with either of the participants.

In the middle of the economic spectrum of prostitution are women who frequent public gatherings such as bars and dance halls in order to pick up customers. Prostitutes working this aspect of the trade typically contact their potential clients from the array of patrons, often with the approval and occasional support from a bartender or other legitimate employee of the establishment. They then engage in a brief period of social drinking, suggest some form of additional intimacy, and present a proposed fee for specified services. After reaching an agreement, prostitute and client retire to a nearby hotel or motel room where the deal is consummated.

With this type of prostitution, the initial contact, negotiation, and agreement takes place in a low visibility environment in which only a few people might take notice of the criminal activity. Unless the prostitute mistakenly approaches an unwilling person as a client, or the pickup is made in a location where such activity is unwanted, or there is an assault perpetrated by either party, police involvement is unlikely. (The likelihood of an assault tends to increase with two factors. As the price of the transaction decreases and as the instability and lack of permanence in the location of the event increases, the likelihood of an associated assault increases. The assault may be perpetrated by a dissatisfied john or it may be perpetrated by confederates of the prostitute who may be lying in wait at a prearranged location. In the latter instance, the offer of sex is merely a ruse to gain the confidence of the john who is subsequently attacked and robbed, often left for dead. Such a situation is often referred to as a "Murphy Game.") Similarly, because the sexual activity that occurs between prostitute and client takes place in private confines, it is not likely that the police will be alerted to the transaction.

At the lowest end of the spectrum of the commercial sex trade are the street prostitutes (often referred to as hookers) who typically work in the open in areas known as "strolls" located on main streets of mixed use and commercial neighborhoods. The street prostitute is usually dressed provocatively and can be seen waving at traffic (flagging) or walking very slowly with the flow of traffic and stooping to make eye-contact with drivers approaching her slowly from the rear ("trolling"). When a driver stops and rolls down a window, the hooker typically leans into the car and engages in a brief negotiation with the ostensible customer. While conducting this negotiation neither party initially knows the true identity of the other and each often suspects the other of being an undercover police officer. Usually the negotiation will continue until the prostitute is convinced that the john actually wants to procure sexual services. Such convincing requires the john to describe what sort of activity is desired in the most specific and graphic terms. If the prostitute and the customer reach an agreement, they consummate the transaction nearby—in a room at a cheap motel that the prostitute frequents, in the customer's vehicle, or even in public view in places such as alleys, sidewalks, and driveways or front yards of local residents.

The public nature of the contact, bargaining, and consummation that constitute street prostitution places it under considerable law enforcement scrutiny. Such scrutiny results not only from the visibility to police officers on patrol, but because prostitution itself fosters a climate where other sorts of criminal activity can thrive. Some of this additional criminality is part and parcel of the prostitution trade, while other components emerge as crimes of opportunity. Perhaps the single biggest reason for both sorts of ancillary crimes is that street prostitution is a trade that operates strictly on a cash basis.

Street prostitutes sometimes try "scamming" potential customers, deceiving them into parting with their money without having provided any sexual favors—by literally grabbing the money and running away. Another common deception is to convince the customer either to remove his trousers and underwear or to lower them around his ankles, sexually arouse the customer as a distraction, grab the customer's wallet and quickly depart the area.

Many other people in the locales where street prostitutes work are also aware of the large amounts of cash carried into the area by those who come to procure sex. For those inclined to take things from others through force or fear, the ready supply of cash is a tempting target. Consequently, robbery is a problem that plagues many strolls as criminals seek to get cash from the potential customers before contact with a prostitute is made. This sort of robbery—often referred to as "rolling"—can also be done in concert with prostitutes who lure customers to some secluded spot where accomplices steal his money and other valuables. If the customer decides to report the crime, the police become involved to the same degree they normally would when robberies occur. (Customers usually do not report their victimization because they do not want friends and family to know of their involvement with prostitutes.) In rare instances, "rolling" victims end up dead and the high degree of police involvement that is routine in homicide investigations ensues. In sum, the predatory criminality that accompanies street prostitution is a major source of police attention to this so-called victimless crime.

A second reason why police attention is directed toward street prostitution comes from the display of sexual activity in public places. Payment for all forms of prostitution is based on how many customers they can service in a given time frame. Because street hustling is the least lucrative form of prostitution, the time taken to acquire the privacy of a hotel or motel room is time away from the next customer. Consequently, customers usually never leave their cars in a substantial portion of street hustling encounters. In some cases the prostitute enters the car and the customer drives away from the main thoroughfare onto a quieter street—often a residential area—to consummate the deal at curbside or even in the driveway of a local resident. In other cases the prostitute directs the customer into a nearby alley or parking lot, where she then meets him. It is not unusual for the entire transaction to take place during daylight hours in the midst of passersby. Whatever the particular details, citizens who live and work in the areas where prostitutes and customers carry on in public often call the police to report the illicit activity.

A third source of complaints comes from the parents of missing children. Street hustling is an easy form of prostitution and provides fast cash to those who participate. As a consequence, teenage runaways can be easily drawn into the business (Lyman). While the parents of many of the youngsters who become involved in street prostitution are not aware of what their children are doing, some parents do inform the police of their children's involvement. In a related vein, because the police are aware of the runaway–street prostitution nexus, officers looking for female runaways often check the local street hustling scene in their attempts to locate missing children.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the primary source of complaints about prostitution in many communities is the women who live, shop, and work in legitimate businesses located in and around the strolls where other females ply their illegal trade. These women, weary of being approached—and sometimes accosted—by men who wish to employ the services of a prostitute, will call the police to complain. Women at the lower end of the economic ladder, who either must walk or use public transportation, suffer disproportionately from unwanted solicitations by men who are unable to differentiate prostitutes from those women who are not prostitutes.

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