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Typology Of Prostitution

The usual taxonomy of "types" of prostitute thus becomes differently interpretable as a socially stratified array of sexual-market consumption niches. These "market segments" can be distinguished from one another by place, by manner of solicitation, and by price level (Reynolds). It is instructive that many of the most commonly identified markets for sexual services are ambiguously positioned between legal and illegal forms of commercial bodily interaction: massage parlors, studios for nude photography, strip clubs, stag parties, and other erotic dance venues. In such socially liminal spaces, the boundary line between licit and illicit encounters is permeable and negotiable on a flexible, occasional basis, and is therefore correspondingly difficult to study empirically or to police effectively.

A brief survey of common prostitution "types" or "market segments" illustrates the sorts of questions that confront both social scientists and criminal justice professionals.

Streetwalkers. Streetwalkers are prostitutes who make themselves visible and commercially available on urban streets. They solicit customers who are passing on foot or in automobiles. Services are performed in customers' cars, in nearby hotels, alleys, doorways, and so on. On average, these prostitutes command the lowest prices, they typically have the least bargaining leverage over condom use and choice of sexual practices, and they have the highest risk of harm from customers or others. They are generally considered to generate the highest levels of negative externalities in terms of diminished neighborhood property values, association with other criminal activities, and "curb-crawling" by their customers. Not surprisingly, they also run the highest risk of arrest.

Bar/hotel prostitutes. Some prostitutes solicit customers in bars, clubs, and hotels, especially those frequented by conventioneers and other likely customers. Prostitutes often collaborate, and must share their revenues, with either the manager of the bar or club or, in the case of hotels, a bellhop or desk clerk who refers clients to the prostitute. Services may be provided in the establishment, in a dark corner or back room of a club, or in a hotel room rented by either the prostitute or the customer. The prostitute's income varies from fairly low to quite high according to the prestige and price range of the establishment and its clientele. The prostitute's net income also varies according to the percentage of fees demanded by the manager or employee(s) of the establishment in exchange for referrals, protection, or simply for looking the other way. The prostitute's risk of harm and arrest are low to moderate as long as the collaborative relation with the establishment is maintained and the prostitute does not venture into unfamiliar territory.

Escort services and call girls/boys. Some prostitutes operate on an "outcall basis" and therefore, unlike streetwalkers and bar/hotel prostitutes, are not restricted to a specific site. However, their calls are most often to locations where there are well-to-do clients who prefer the insulation of an intermediary referral service. Customers are typically assigned to prostitutes by the escort agency, which first charges a fee to the customer. The prostitute then negotiates with the customer the price for specific services. Like escorts, call girls/boys also rely upon referral and screening either by an agent, by a restricted circle of other prostitutes in the same market, or by familiar clients. The prices in this market segment reach the highest levels. The prostitute has considerable bargaining leverage over condom use and sexual practices. The risk of harm or arrest is lessened by reliance on an intermediary, and by the fact that this market segment tends to be limited to upper-income customers whose need for the appearance of propriety minimizes negative externalities and diminishes the likelihood of violence or other reason for police intervention.

House or brothel prostitutes. The only legally tolerated prostitution in the United States is found in the brothels permitted in the rural counties of the state of Nevada, at the discretion of the individual county. Nevada's current legal regime dates to shortly after World War II (prostitution had been outlawed during the war to minimize sexually transmitted disease among the large numbers of troops undergoing training in Nevada). Typically, the prostitutes at Nevada brothels are women from outside Nevada who are brought in on short-term contracts, living at the establishments for two or three weeks at a time with one or two weeks off. They are expected to spend long shifts on display in a bar/lounge reception area where prices for services are posted, to accept any customer who chooses them, then to take the customer to another room to perform the services contracted. The customer typically pays the house and the prostitute later receives 40 to 60 percent of the revenue that she has generated, sometimes with deductions for room, board, and supplies. Prostitutes in this market segment enjoy the highest level of protection from their customers since they work in a highly controlled environment where condom use has been enforced since the late 1980s. However, they have little personal autonomy or bargaining leverage over working conditions with their managers. They are typically controlled by state and county regulations that require them to be fingerprinted and to undergo weekly medical examinations; other legal regulations (of doubtful constitutionality) frequently prohibit the prostitutes from joining or even mingling with the communities in which the brothels are located. In many other parts of the United States, various forms of house prostitution exist illegally, though not infrequently with the tacit tolerance of the authorities (sometimes purchased), as long as public visibility and negative externalities are kept to a low level.

Miscellaneous other markets. Since prostitution is a highly flexible segment of the informal economy a great variety of other prostitution arrangements exists. Many prostitutes move in and out of prostitution as their financial needs dictate. Some are seasonally active as they, for example, follow mobile encampments of migrant workers in agriculture, the lumber industry, summer and winter resort traffic, or even sports and music tours.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawProstitution - Social Attribution And The Construction Of Prostitution As A Social Problem, Transaction-cost Approaches To Prostitution: From Repression To Regulation