Moderated by Rick Badie
Atlanta wants to rid its streets of prostitution with a SOAP (Stay Out of Area — Prostitution) ordinance. The proposed measure would ban convicted prostitutes, johns and pimps from pre-defined areas of prostitution. This banishment law would also make it illegal for convicted prostitutes and johns to be in sections of the city known for such activity during their probation. Today, I interview a SOAP supporter, while a guest writer suggests a “wraparound” approach to the issue.
Banishment aptly fights prostitution
By Rick Badie
As president of the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, Peggy Denby has been at the forefront of the city’s crackdown on street prostitution. Here, she answers questions about the issue and her hopes for an ordinance that curbs the problem.
Q: When did this issue become simply intolerable?
A: The Midtown Ponce Security Alliance (MPSA) was formed some 11 years ago to deal with criminal behavior, including prostitution. The criminal behavior was excessive, and we did not have nearly enough police officers to deal with the problems. We have been successful in getting most of the female prostitutes to leave our area, but we have not been able to move a group of transvestite prostitutes who appear almost every night (on certain streets). … These areas have been labeled areas of prostitution for many years, probably 30-plus; they are listed on websites. There is another area in Midtown, but not in the MPSA service area. … The prostitutes in that area are young men.
Q: What’s it like in these areas?
A: Sex solicitation, loitering, sex acts, loud talking, yelling, fighting, occasionally a shooting, cruising and littering take place in these areas, frequently under windows of people living in multi-family buildings. The people with single-family homes typically have to deal with sex acts in cars in front of their homes and in driveways. Everyone has to deal with the drug dealers who hang around to service the street prostitutes. In some cases, the prostitutes are selling drugs for the dealers. Homeowners are often accosted by the prostitutes; some have been threatened with weapons.
Q: Do you think the final version of SOAP will withstand legal challenges?
A: Yes, because banishment has been a city ordinance for many years and is used in the city, county and state courts frequently. Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Gary Jackson wrote a great article on how he successfully uses banishment in the Buckhead area.
Q: What do you think of the dialogue as the ordinance works its way through committee?
A: I am the only person who has commented in support of banishment, and I am the only person commenting on male rather than female prostitutes. The others are mostly concerned about women’s rights.
Q: Critics say the ban is too harsh.
A: I don’t think it is harsh at all. It simply takes away the privilege of returning to the area, for a specified period of time, where one has broken the law. The ban can be customized. The lawbreaker may be banished from a specific area only during the evening hours, for example, if that is when they engage in illegal activity. We know banishment works because we often request it for other lawbreakers in our area. They have to be banished to break the habit. Banishment is the only hope we have of breaking up these long-standing areas of prostitution. I would hate to see the legislation not passed because it does not do everything for everyone.
SOAP serves only to target victims
By Stephanie Davis
Homeowners and shopkeepers who deal with the morning-after debris of prostitution and drug dealing on the streets of their neighborhoods must feel frustrated. It’s not good to expose young children to the dark side of adult behavior. It’s creepy to think this is going on so close to our homes. It’s not good for business.
Solutions exist, but establishing prostitution-free zones or SOAPs (Stay Out of Areas — Prostitution), as proposed by pending city legislation, has proven ineffective elsewhere. The punishments would fall heaviest on the most vulnerable segment of the sex trade. We may need to clean up our streets, but this is the wrong soap.
The ordinance would set fines and imprisonment for those convicted of prostitution and banish them from their SOAP for a probationary period. The draconian feature of the law would give judges the discretion to banish people from the entire city.
The proposed ordinance looks like an equal-opportunity banisher, hauling up johns, pimps and traffickers in the net as well as sellers. But police admit johns are a small fraction of total arrests for prostitution-related crimes. Pimps are even more rarely caught. No, we’re talking about women who have run away from abusive homes and have been lured into, then trapped in, the sex trade by violent pimps. Women who are poor, possibly addicted and selling the only thing they have. Kids who have been kicked out because of their sexual orientations.
And what would banishing them accomplish? It would only lead to displacement, where “the track” moves a few streets over or online, or new girls are simply recruited to replace those who are banished. As a resident of Midtown, one of the two neighborhoods where SOAPs would be piloted, I have seen transgendered youth and very young women standing on street corners late at night. In the other proposed SOAP neighborhood, Pittsburgh, women who work the streets live there, too. This ordinance would mean they would have to abandon their homes.
Other cities have contemplated SOAPs. Many of them have dumped the policy or have used it only to banish johns. Seattle, the model for Atlanta’s proposed ordinance, has moved away from the punitive, short-term solution that serves to temporarily mollify residents. What works, and what most cities that tried SOAPs have created — but what Atlanta has not — is a system of wraparound services of compassionate and therapeutic care for women caught up in street prostitution and who often suffer from mental illness, drug addiction and poverty.
Prostitution will end when men stop buying sex. Let’s attack the demand, and the supply will disappear. More than 50 U.S. communities have “johns schools” where first offenders can opt for a pretrial diversionary program that a study showed reduces recidivism by upward of 40 percent. Training fees from the johns can go to fund services for women and kids caught in prostitution. Restorative justice for buyers and sellers will go a much longer way than kicking people out.
Stephanie Davis is executive director of Georgia Women for a Change.