WASHINGTON -- The prostitution landscape in the nation's capital is changing.
WAMU-FM's "Metro Connection" reported on the District of Columbia's crackdown on prostitution and why it is that prostitution is moving from areas downtown into residential neighborhoods, especially in Ward 7 east of the Anacostia River.
The migration mostly has to do with a 2006 law that allows chief of the Metropolitan Police Department to temporarily designate some areas of the city as "prostitution-free zones." In such areas, it is "unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate in a public space or property in that area for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses."
People suspected of engaging in these activities can be told to disperse by the police. Those who don't disperse can be arrested. Contrary to public opinion, the carrying of more than two condoms is not itself enough to get a person arrested for prostitution though the City Paper's former sex columnist Amanda Hess did find that carrying multiple condoms in a prostitution-free zone can lead an officer to suspect that a person is a sex worker -- which, in a prostitute-free zone, is enough for the police to tell the person to disperse.
Most of the PFZs so far have been downtown, which has pushed prostitution into other parts of the nation's capital. WAMU reports that in Ward 2, the downtown jurisdiction traditionally known as D.C.'s prostitution hub, arrests have gone down by 10 percent in the past 10 years. But east of the Anacostia River, arrests have tripled in Ward 7.
WAMU's story features a sex worker advocacy group called Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, or HIPS, that brings supplies to D.C. prostitutes three nights a weeks. Since the prostitution-free zones went into effect, the outreach workers are now spending more time driving, according to HIPS' executive director Cyndee Clay.
The group told WAMU it isn't seeing any overall decrease in the number of prostitutes working in D.C., though -- it's the same number of prostitutes, just working in different places-- More dangerous places, say sex worker advocates.
The criticisms of prostitution-free zone designations are similar to those levied against drug free zone laws -- that the laws do not serve their intended effect but do have heavy negative consequences. In the case of drug laws, the negative consequences mainly relate to massive racial disparities in sentencing and imprisonment while failing to keep drugs away from kids.
In the case of the prostitution-free zones, advocates say that the zones endanger sex workers by forcing them into more dangerous neighborhoods. They also say that these zones increase prostitutes' risk of contracting HIV.
The D.C. Council is considering legislation that would expand the prostitution-free zone program, by allowing for the creation of permanent prostitution-free zones. On Jan. 24, the Committee on the Judiciary will hold a hearing on the bill.
Among this bill's sponsors are Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who represents an area that has seen an uptick in prostitution. Her challenger in the upcoming D.C. Council election, Kevin B. Chavous, was charged with solicitation for prostitution in December, after offering money to an undercover officer "for sexual favors."
Chavous was arrested on the unit block of K Street NE and pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial is upcoming and Chavous remains a candidate to unseat Alexander.
RELATED VIDEO: An interview about the prostitution-free zone established during President Obama's 2009 inauguration.