COYOTE was founded in 1973 to work for the repeal of the prostitution laws and an end to the stigma associated with sex work. In addition to engaging in public education regarding a wide range of issues related to prostitution, COYOTE has provided crisis counseling, support groups, and referrals to legal and other service providers to thousands of prostitutes, mostly women. COYOTE members have also testified at government hearings, served as expert witnesses in trials, helped police with investigations of crimes against prostitutes, and provided sensitivity training to government and private non-profit agencies that provide services to sex workers.
What do we want?
The laws prohibiting the soliciting or engaging in a consenting adult act of prostitution, or patronizing a prostitute, should be repealed (decriminalized as opposed to legalized).
The laws against pimping (living off the earnings of a prostitute) and pandering (encouraging someone to work as a prostitute) should also be repealed, to be replaced with labor laws dealing with working conditions in third-party owned and managed prostitution businesses. Laws which prohibit coercive behavior including forced trafficking and hiring underage persons for the purpose of prostitution (or any other sex work) should be vigorously enforced and punishment for acts of force, threat of force, rape, statutory rape and any other coercive tactics should be imposed without regard to their occupation or status in the community (such as police officers, immigration officials and elected politicians).
In as much as prostitution businesses such as brothels, massage parlors and escort services, should be operated like any other business in the community, such businesses should be subject only to the same business and civil regulations which are imposed on other businesses in the area. When businesses such as brothels, escort services and massage parlors seek business licenses to operate, commissions should develop guidelines for the operation of third-party owned and managed businesses, including but not limited to health and safety issues, commissions, and employer/employee relationships. The commissions which develop these guidelines should be composed of a majority of members who are or were prostitutes, including individuals who have worked on the street, in massage parlors and brothels, and for escort services.
Individuals who work out of their homes or apartments, or those who work in pairs or even small groups of prostitutes who rent a special apartment for the purpose of their work as prostitutes (for safety reasons) and who do not have an employer or company which hires them, should be subject only to regulations which are imposed on other “at home” businesses, with no special licenses for “sex work.” If it is required to have a “home business” license which is not specific to prostitution, but falls under a general catagory of home- based work, it is not unreasonable for sex workers to be required to have such a license as long as it is not necessary to disclose what type of work one does. “Prostitution licenses” have historically been problematic for sex workers because of the nature of their work and human nature itself, giving opportunity to unscrupulous individuals to extort sexual favors from sex workers. Personally we’d prefer that no licenses were required for businesses at all, and that the government would stay out of the lives of its citizens, but we know the nature of government is not geared toward a laissez faire attitude toward anything.
No mandatory health check-ups should be imposed because of the many ways in which sex workers do their work. For example, some sex workers offer only hand-release when giving a “full body” massage. Other sex workers do “fantasy fulfillment” which does not include any body contact whatsoever. [Although technically the law requires a body to be touched on the breasts, buttucks or genitals for money or other consideration before it is legally prostitution, nevertheless law enforcement officers often arrest persons for prostitution who do not touch their clients in any way.] It would be senseless to require health inspections for such persons because the inspections would cover parts of their bodies NOT used in their work.
Further, it was the horrible abuse at the hands of those who administered “health certificates” that led to the abolishionist movement in the first place, in the late 1800’s. The female prostitutes were forced to give sexual favors to bureaucrats in order to get their certificates. Those who did not comply were turned over to the police for the police to arrest. (In the criminalized system under which prostitutes work in the US- except for certain counties in Nevada- many prostitutes are forced to give sexual favors to police officers in order to avoid being arrested.)
Sex workers who do have intercourse (oral or genital) with their clients should be encouraged to have health check-ups regularly, and a current certificate of health could be an incentive for a potential client to hire only those prostitutes who have one. Not even regular health check-ups are a substitute for safe sex practices, and using condoms and offering “fantasy fulfillment” as a way to sexual pleasure without intercourse are also good advertising ploys.
In order for sex workers to be able to get regular health check-ups, they should be eligible for health care coverage that they currently cannot obtain if they disclose to the health care provider the nature of their work. Sex workers should be able to form groups which allows them to obtain discounted health care coverage in the same way that employees of other companies can.
Who gets arrested?
In 1973, the year COYOTE was founded, according to the Source book of Criminal Justice Statistics, 35,000 people were arrested in the United States on prostitution related charges, 75 percent of them women. In 1981, 106,600 people were arrested, 73 percent of them women. Consistently, about 54 percent of the people arrested have been Black. Of the men arrested for prostitution, about 40 percent are customers (10 percent of the total number of arrests) and about 60 percent are male prostitutes, mostly Black and/or transvestites (15 percent of the total).
An overwhelming majority of the women arrested for soliciting are street prostitutes, and virtually all of the customers who are arrested are looking for street prostitutes. Since street prostitutes are estimated by COYOTE to be only about 10 percent of prostitutes, it is clear that the weight of the enforcement rests on the poorest of the prostitutes, those who work on the street.
That’s not to say that off-street prostitutes fare better than those who work on the streets when it comes to arrests. There has been a significant increase in the arrests of women who advertise on the internet and in local papers. In fact, despite the serious shortage of law enforcement agents to combat real crime, the LAPD often assigns as many as 11 officers to make an arrest of one suspected prostitute. Prostitutes aren’t generally known for having weapons which might pose a risk for the police, but it seems common practice now for at least seven officers to storm into the apartment of a “suspected” prostitute to make an arrest. The police claim that prostitution exploits women and children- and use the possibility of a “trafficking” network as an excuse to strong-arm the women whom they arrest….. but it hardly seems necessary for the cops to squander valuable resources to bust individual prostitutes who advertise their services online or in the LA Weekly. Perhaps it is because the cops themselves feel the temptation to exploit the prostitutes themselves if they are alone or only two of them to haul in the temptress? Whatever the real reason, the citizens of Los Angeles are being short-changed by the LAPD, the City Council and the local media which does not reveal the extent of police and judicial resources squandered on prostitution related enforcement.
Problems & Solutions
Problem: Working Conditions
Because prostitution is illegal, women and men who work in third party run prostitution businesses have no legal status as workers. Therefore, they are unlikely to have their income and social security taxes withheld, or to be provided with health, disability, and workers’ compensation insurance, sick leave, vacation pay, etc.
Also due to the illegality of prostitution, and particularly the laws making pimping and pandering felonies, prostitution businesses, such as massage parlors and escort services, have to pretend that they are not involved in prostitution. Therefore, help wanted ads do not indicate the actual nature of the work, allowing for the possibility that some women may apply for and be hired to work for parlors and escort services without being fully aware of what the jobs entail. Moreover, many prostitution businesses require their employees to sign statements that they will not engage in prostitution, in order to protect management from pimping and pandering charges, even though prostitution is exactly what they are expected and required to do.
The [criminal] laws regarding pimping and pandering, related statutes regarding “disorderly houses” and “red light abatement” acts should be repealed and replaced with already existing [civil] labor laws relating to working conditions, collective bargaining agreements dealing with commissions, salaries, benefits, etc. Pimping and pandering laws should never be used against sex workers who work collectively, pooling their resources for safety and costs of doing business. Such relationships should not be construed as “companies” or regulated as an employer unless a clear employee- employer situation exists.
The laws regarding the withholding of state and federal income taxes and social security taxes should be enforced in all third-party managed prostitution businesses, as well as the laws regarding contract as opposed to salaried workers. In addition, prostitution businesses should be able to provide workers’ compensation and disability insurance for all employees, with disability and workers’ compensation being granted to individuals who contract sexually transmitted diseases as a result of their employment, as well as those injured on the job.
Help wanted ads for jobs in sex-related businesses, including both prostitution and pornography, should be required to state that sexual activity is required or expected.
Disputes between management and employees should be referred to dispute resolution boards or prostitution commissions, as described above.
Problem: Violence Against Prostitutes
In this country, the most serious and pressing problem [street] prostitutes have is violence, including: rape, battery, and murder by customers; verbal and physical assault, and sometimes rape and murder, by police officers; and rape, battery, and sometimes murder by pimps.
We do not wish to imply that all customers, police, and pimps commit violence against prostitutes. However, the incidence appears to be directly related to the legal status of prostitution. The enactment of the prohibition in this country was followed by an immediate increase in the incidence of violence against prostitutes, as well as an increase in prostitutes’ dependence on male pimps. A similar pattern was evident in Japan, which prohibited prostitution for the first time in 1952. On the other hand, countries that have decriminalized at least some aspects of prostitution have seen an immediate decrease in the amount of violence against prostitutes.
We believe that the prohibition of prostitution enshrines into law the view that prostitutes are bad women, and thus legitimate targets for abuse. In addition, when the primary role of police vis a vis prostitutes is to entrap them into soliciting an act of prostitution and then arrest them, their role as enforcers of the laws against rape and other violence is undermined. As a result, police tend to deal with violence against prostitutes less rigorously than other violence, and prostitutes are reluctant to go to police for help when they are assaulted.
One study of 200 street prostitutes in San Francisco found that 70 percent had been raped by clients, with an average of 31 rapes per prostitutes. In addition, at least one police officer in San Francisco, who has been on the vice squad for more than 10 years, has a street reputation for demanding fellatio before he arrests women for prostitution. Prostitutes in every city know at least one similar officer. Although there are usually avenues provided to file complaints against police who violate the law, prostitutes are loathe to file such complaints because to do so would mean they could never work in that city again. One prostitute who did file a corruption report against a police officer in San Diego was murdered shortly after the report. [Donna Gentile]
Serial murder of prostitutes has become a major problem in this country. In the last ten years, more than 100 women have been murdered on the West Coast by no more than three men. Most of the victims have been Black. Task forces set up to apprehend serial killers find it difficult to get cooperation from prostitutes and pimps. One reason for the non-cooperation is that police departments generally intensify crackdowns on street prostitutes, set up sting operations to recruit and arrest women willing to work for massage parlors. This is not a move that encourages prostitutes to freely come forth with information that could help bring these killers to justice.
Violence by pimps, while not as common as popularly assumed, does exist, and must be looked at in the context of domestic violence, a serious problem in the United States. Unfortunately, when prostitutes try to get help from the police because of battery and other violence done by pimps, who they often love, the police often press charges instead on pimping and pandering charges. Because the women are often unwilling to testify on those charges, police often arrest the women on prostitution charges in order to pressure them to testify against their pimps. If it was proposed that wives who are abused by their spouses should be arrested to force them to testify against their husbands, the ludicrousness of such an argument would be exposed for what it is.
The laws against rape, sexual assault, battery, and murder should be enforced against the perpetrators of those offenses against prostitutes on the same basis as if the victims were nuns, housewives, secretaries, movie stars, etc. The crime is the violence, not the lifestyle of the victim.
Police departments should be very clear in their policies opposing the use of force in the course of arrest. When certain police officers develop a reputation for brutality, regardless of whether the women press charges, the officer should be required to get some sort of counseling. When certain officers receive a large number of complaints through the Internal Affairs Bureau or other departmental investigation agency, even if the complaints are determined to be “unfounded,” the officers should be required to get counseling. A certain number of complaints, regardless of the outcome, should be an indication of a problem, and if the problem does not stop, grounds for removal from the vice squad or the department, depending on the nature of the complaints.
The laws regarding pimping and pandering should be replaced with laws that deal only with the use of fraud, deceit, force, or the threat of force to coerce someone into working as a prostitute or pornography performer, and such abuse should be considered to be a form of sexual assault. Other violence by pimps, lovers, and husbands of prostitutes should be prosecuted as violence, not as “living off the earnings of a prostitute” or “encouraging someone to work as a prostitute.”
Problem: Street Prostitution
Numerous public opinion polls have found majority support for the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution. However, there is widespread concern about street prostitution in residential communities. Prostitution most naturally occurs where clients are likely to be found. Thus, if left alone, street prostitution develops in hotel and entertainment districts and near major transportation depots. Periodically, police threaten hotels that allow prostitutes to rent rooms for work with closure under “red light abatement” acts. Such action is virtually always followed by a shift of prostitution into other districts, often residential communities. Without access to hotels, prostitutes and clients are then more likely to transact their business in cars, in alleys, and in shop doorways. Community residents become upset by customers who fail to distinguish between prostitutes and non-prostitute residents, including children, and by other evidence of prostitution, such as used condoms thrown on yards and in alleys. Laws which prohibit tresspassing, littering and harassment of residents are appropriate and should be enforced, regardless of the designation of those who violate such laws- such as gang members, church goers or others.
Allow [street] prostitutes to transact their business in commercial districts of the city where there are adequate numbers of hotel rooms. Warehouse districts are not appropriate, unless empty warehouses are converted into prostitution hotels. Setting up specific prostitution districts can be a problem because the work is still heavily stigmatized. Some sort of mixed zone is better. Any creation of zones, however, should be flexible and if a large number of prostitutes work outside of the districts, should be re-evaluated. Police presence in the area should focus on preventing crimes against the prostitutes.
In countries where street prostitution is permitted in certain areas, the police work with the prostitutes to maintain safety of the sex workers, their clients and tourists who come to the area out of curiousity. It is so much easier to control crime in an area where the ‘victims’ are not also considered criminals.
Problem: Health & Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Most studies of prostitutes and sexually transmitted diseases suggest that prostitutes are implicated in about three to five percent of the VD in this country. Some studies of specific groups of prostitutes (i.e., arrested- prostitutes, prostitutes who go to public health clinics to be tested) suggest that approximately 20 percent of these women come down with one sexually transmitted disease or another over the course of a year or two. Our work with prostitutes, which includes thousands of hours of crisis intervention, problem solving, interviews, and meetings per year with a wide range of women in the sex industry, suggests that the overall rate of sexually transmitted diseases is very low.
The reason for the relatively low incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among prostitutes, in spite of the high number of sexual contacts, has to do with the use of prophylactic measures. Most prostitutes use condoms for at least some of their transactions. Condom use was greatest among street prostitutes, who use them to provide privacy as well as to prevent disease, but is common as well in massage parlors and brothels. It used to be less common with prostitutes who see a small number of regular clients, although that changed as a result of publicity about the AIDS epidemic. Evidence of condom use is clear in newspaper accounts of community complaints about street prostitution where a major complaint is the number of used condoms found in alleys or parks. Police often confiscate condoms during an arrest, using them as evidence that the woman is a prostitute, often puncturing them before giving them back so that they are useless. Notwithstanding this evidence of condom usage, doctors and others commonly assume that if a straight man diagnosed with AIDS has had contact with one or more prostitutes during the past five years that a prostitute was the source of the AIDS virus.
Third-party managed prostitution businesses should be required to provide condoms, spermicides, and other prophylactic materials to all employees engaged in sexual work, and to provide training in sexually transmitted disease prevention. In addition, third-party managed prostitution businesses should provide employees with health insurance that covers examination and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
Experienced sex workers who are ready to retire from active work as prostitutes could offer workshops on safe sex techniques- not only for new sex workers but for men and women who are interested in learning from the pros how to have great, safe sex.
The use of intravenous drugs, such as heroin and amphetamines, is most common among street prostitutes, many of whom were addicted to drugs before they began working as prostitutes. Jennifer James, in Seattle, found that approximately 40 percent of the street prostitutes in her sample used heroin, about 60 percent of them were addicted before entry into prostitution. Other studies have found higher and lower incidences.
The biggest problems related to drug use have to do with 1) the higher incidence of hepatitis and now the AIDS virus among IV users, and 2) the incidence of robbery to obtain money for the drugs which, because of their illegality are very expensive. One aspect of the robberies associated with prostitution is that it is assumed that prostitutes are doing the robberies. In fact, in many cases, the women who “roll” their clients do not actually engage in prostitution, they only pretend to be prostitutes. A person who poses as a prostitute is not, in fact, a prostitute.
There are many, many sex workers who do not use drugs of any type. Most of these sex workers do not work the streets, but rather work through services or independently. Drug use for them is no greater than it is for athletes, lawyers, musicians, actors, producers and others who may have access to a higher than average income. It would be irrational to criminalize the professions of these others who may use drugs in order to prevent them from access to income to buy drugs, and yet it is often the justification used by police for arresting prostitutes, even if they aren’t known to use drugs. And even more irrationally, they are arrested for prostitution, not drug use! [It should be noted that we do not favor drug laws either, because we find no moral difference between self- medication with alcohol, the use of cigarettes, prescriptions for mood altering substances and illicit drugs… if the user is an adult, they have an absolute right to destroy or medicate their own body at their own expense- at least that should be their right in a “free” country! I have known many police officers who used illicit drugs and yet still managed to successfully complete their jobs on a daily basis – and not get caught. I knew many police officers who were alcoholics, and who came to work drunk- and then went out and arrested others who decided to escape their pain through the use of marijuana or heroin…. and I really don’t understand what society thinks is accomplished by this. I have never used drugs, never smoked a cigarette and do not drink alcohol or coffee. My “drug” of choice is Pepsi One- its stimulant being caffeine, of course. My other addiction is Macintosh computers and electronic gadgets. I openly subscribe to “Mac Addict” magazine, because at this time, there is no crime involved for such an addiction….. Norma Jean]
The health problem could be dealt with by providing free or affordably priced disposable needles to addict on a regular basis, exchanging them on a one for one basis, to prevent the sharing of dirty needles.
The problem of robberies will only be solved when the cost of drugs is reduced, which will only happen if the drug laws are changed and drugs are sold through some kind of legal market, such as clinics. Women who engage in prostitution to earn money for drugs are the most likely to hate the work, and therefore would be unlikely to either engage in prostitution or pretend to be prostitutes in order to rob customers if drugs were legalized.
In the meantime, robbers who masquerade as prostitutes should be prosecuted for theft, on the basis of civilian complaints, not for prostitution on the basis of an undercover officer’s entrapping them.
Problem: Juvenile Prostitution
Every major urban center has at least some juvenile prostitutes. Most juveniles who become involved in prostitution and pornography have a history of child sexual abuse, primarily by family members, and have run away from home to escape the abuse. A small number may have been kidnapped, but this is probably only a tiny minority. Entry into street prostitution is often- but not always- out of desperation due to the inability to find or pay for food and lodging. Some juveniles are actively recruited by pimps who hang out at bus stations, for example, looking for isolated young people arriving in a strange city. But some researchers have found that the juveniles have actively sought out pimps to help them get into prostitution. It is difficult to know how many juveniles are involved in prostitution and pornography. The common assumption is that there are more than a million. However, 1981 arrest figures include approximately 2,500 persons under the age of 18 arrested for prostitution (up from 900 in 1972), and 121,800 runaway arrests (down from 164,000 in 1972).
There is a desperate need for long-term shelters and other programs for runaways, the overwhelming majority of whom are running away from incest and/or physical abuse. These programs should provide not only shelter, but education leading to a high school diploma, and counseling to deal with the long-term effects of child sexual abuse, including incest and prostitution.
When individuals are caught hiring underage persons for sex, or clients are caught having sex with minors, it is appropriate that there be a strict enforcement of laws against statutory rape and other laws prohibiting hiring minors for the purpose of sex. Unfortunately, there seems to be a double standard for those who are public figures and those who are “Average Joes” when it comes to having sex with minors. When former San Francisco Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas pleaded guilty to seven counts of statutory rape in the case of hiring an underage prostitute, he was given a three year probation deal. I can’t recall such a minimal sentence being given to men who do not have the clout and connections to get this kind of a sweet deal…. especially when they have had sex with minors!
Sex education should be given in all public elementary and secondary schools, and should include positive information on birth control, the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS), the responsibility of both partners in any sexual encounter, and non-judgmental information about the full range of consensual sexual relationships. Sex education should also include information about sexual violence, including incest, rape, and other sexual assault, and how to get help if you are victimized. In addition, accurate information should be given about prostitution–preferably by ex-prostitutes–so that juveniles are not misled into thinking that all prostitution (particularly street prostitution) is easy and glamorous, or better than an abusive situation at home.