D.C. City Councilmember Jack Evans, whose constituency includes Foggy Bottom, is trying to make the city a place that is not profitable for prostitutes and their pimps by sponsoring legislation to deter practicing and soliciting the trade.
Evans’ office cited a recent increase in prostitution in the Logan Circle area, near the Shaw-Howard University Metro stop, as the main impetus behind his push in the Council.
“We call it a resurgence … if our communication with the community spikes,” said Evans’ communications director Sean Metcalf, referring to a recent increase in complaints from constituents about prostitution in the area.
The Anti-Prostitution Vehicle Impoundment Amendment, if passed by the Council’s Judiciary Committee, would give Metropolitan Police the authority to impound or boot vehicles used by those who solicit prostitutes. It would also set mandatory minimum jail sentences for repeat offenders.
The bill would also amend an earlier law that allowed for the seizure and sale of cars used to pick up prostitutes. In 1998, the D.C. Court of Appeals declared that it was unconstitutional to sell a vehicle seized during a first offense for sexual solicitation.
Metcalf said the bill has received no opposition within the Council, so there should not be much of an issue in passing it. He said, however, that officials in the D.C. Public Defender’s Office, which thinks the bill would overcrowd the city’s jails, have criticized it.
“Our goal in this is not to put people in jail, our goal is that people will see this as a heavy hand and won’t do it,” he said.
Margaret Soltan, a GW associate professor of English and human sciences, is an author of several essays on prostitution as a social problem and its role in 19th and 20th century novels. She said she is doubtful that the new legislation, if passed, will be very effective. Soltan added that while impounding cars, increasing patrols and fixing streetlights could make a dent in D.C. prostitution, those actions will not deter the practice.
“For decades, prostitutes and pimps have found the traffic configuration, the darkness and the proximity to bars, etc. of Logan Circle extremely conducive to the trade,” she said in an e-mail. “Say the word ‘prostitution’ to an old Washingtonian like myself, and ‘Logan Circle’ will be the first place they mention. There’s also, of course, a long history of resident anger and activism, police patrol and legal sanction. None of it has worked very well.”
Several GW students who live or have lived in the Logan Circle area throughout their years at the University also said that as residents of the neighborhood, it is impossible not to see prostitution.
“I did not enjoy living there because of that problem, mostly since I am a girl and coming home after dark was pretty much not a safe option,” said Toni Rahneva, a GW graduate student who moved out of the Logan Circle area last year.
Rahneva added that while she lived in the area she was once “solicited” by a man driving by.
GW alumnus Parker Farrington, who graduated in 2004, said he lived in Logan Circle during his days as a student. He said he “felt bad for the girls” when he passed them by at night. He added that he would just say “No thanks” and walk away without a problem.
“Whenever you go home after midnight they’re always out there,” he said.
Ashley Lynch, who is enrolled at GW and taking classes part-time, lives near Logan Circle and said she does not perceive a problem. She said she does not usually walk through the circle itself.
Soltan said, “Prostitution is a permanent feature of virtually all societies, and it’s going to happen somewhere. If it were legalized, the city would be able to restrict most of its activity to certain zones, and the Logan Circle residents could relax.”
While Evans’ office researched the idea of legalizing prostitution to control it, said Metcalf, legalization was not an option Evans’ office would consider.