Elizabeth Nolan Brown on America's Prostitution Precrime Laws


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Last year, student and activist Monica Jones was arrested on charges of "manifesting an intent to commit or solicit prostitution." It's a misdemeanor crime in Phoenix, with a minimum penalty of 15 days in jail. What does "manifesting prostitution" look like? According to city code, engaging in conversation with passersby, waving to passing cars, or inquiring whether someone is a cop will do it. 

Phoenix's statute is one of the most broad. But in cities and states around the country, it's illegal to "loiter for the purpose of engaging in prostitution." Elizabeth Nolan Brown explores these laws—which have been struck down as unconstitutional by several state supreme courts—and the way they're enforced. "It is not a violation of the law merely to look like a prostitute might," wrote an Oregon judge overturning a loitering for prostitution conviction. But effectively, in many places, it is.