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Profiling and Prostitution Pre-Crime in Georgia

In one case, a person whose legal identity was listed as male was arrested for sitting at a bus stop while "dressed as a woman" and carrying condoms.

On July 31, an undercover cop in Columbus, Georgia, invited a 51-year-old woman into his car and offered her $5 for oral sex. When she rebuffed his offer and tried to get out, he arrested the woman for loitering for the purpose of prostitution. The woman was booked into the Muscogee County Jail, where she still remains.

Loitering for the purpose of prostitution is a controversial charge commonly used by the Columbus Police Department (CPD) to target those such as homeless women, people who've previously been arrested on prostitution charges, or people who don't meet a police officer's standard of gender conformity.

On Sunday morning, CPD officers arrested a 24-year-old homeless woman for allegedly waving at two passing cars from the side of the road. After the second car stopped and let her in, officers pulled it over. The woman, who had just been released from the county jail a few weeks prior and told them her name was the Virgin Mary, was charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution and giving false information to police.

Last summer, 24-year-old C. Williams was arrested while sitting at a bus stop because, as Officer Jason Carden explained, Williams was carrying condoms and "dressed as a woman," despite records that said male. "Based off of that information, we charged him with loitering for the purpose of prostitution and took him to the Muscogee County Jail," Carden testified in court. (Williams told the court it was pink men's clothing, not women's clothing.) The judge handed down a sentence of 20 days in jail or a $200 fine.

In August 2016, 43-year-old former sex-worker M. Lake pleaded not guilty to loitering for purpose of prostitution after being taken in while flagging down cars at an intersection. Lake did not dispute that she flagged down an undercover officer's car, but claims it was simply charity she sought. "I was asking him for a little bit of change, so I can get something to drink. That's all," Lake told the court. She accused the police of profiling her. She "had been locked up for that before," even though she "hadn't been in trouble for three or four years," Lake said.

The judge told her, "the way the ordinance is written, if you were previously charged, they're allowed to charge you again."

Under the city statute, it's illegal for someone "to loiter in or near any thoroughfare or place open to the public in a manner and under circumstances manifesting the purpose of committing prostitution or sodomy or manifesting the purpose of inducing, enticing, soliciting or procuring another to purchase sexual intercourse or physical intimacies in an act of prostitution or sodomy."

It expressly says evidence of an intent to commit prostitution or sodomy includes the person being "a known prostitute, pimp or sodomist." Other evidence may include repeatedly beckoning to, stopping, or engaging passersby in conversation; repeatedly stopping or attempting to stop passing cars "by hailing, waving of arms, or any bodily gesture."

In other words, activity that's perfectly legal when most of us do it is illegal when done by someone with a reputation or record.

A few years ago, college student and former sex-worker Monica Jones made headlines for fighting her arrest under Phoenix's prohibition on "manifesting an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution" after she accepted a ride home from an undercover cop. The charge followed similar parameters as the Columbus law.

As an advocate for sex-worker rights with ample community support, Jones was eventually able to get the charge dropped. But most of the women arrested under these vague statutes aren't in a position to challenge the system. They wind up in jail for days or weeks unable to make bail and waiting for their court dates. Whether they plead guilty or maintain their innocence and get convicted—the only two options among the Columbus, Georgia, cases I reviewed—they're ordered to pay hefty fees. (The fees are many times higher than what police say these women were asking for in exchange for sexual activity.)

In March, Columbus police arrested a 32-year-old homeless woman and charged her with loitering for the purpose of prostitution. After finding a glass pipe in her pocket, they chrged her with possession of a drug-related object. After several months in jail, she pleaded guilty to the prostitution charge and was sentenced to 10 days in Muscogee County Jail with credit for time served. But she continued to be held on a $250 bond she could not pay for having the pipe.

In December 2016, CPD prosecuted a 24-year-old woman for loitering for the purpose of prostitution after she accepted a ride from an undercover cop and, when he put the moves on her, told him "If we do it, we do it for free."

Departments across the country can also be aggressive going after prostitution before the crime:

A Village Voice investigation in 2016 found that New York City police monitor residents arrested previously for prostitution, often grabbing them on subsequent loitering for prostitution charges as they engage in normal daily activity.

"From 2012 through 2015, nearly 1,300 individuals were arrested in New York City and charged with loitering for the purposes of prostitution," the Voice reported. "The vast majority are women. Such arrests are not the result of stings, in which undercover officers attempt to solicit sex for money. Neither are they the result of investigations that produce evidence — emails, text messages, online ads — that the women had intended to sell sex. With a loitering arrest, a woman's crime need only exist in the arresting officer's head."

The Legal Aid Society of New York wound up filing a lawsuit on behalf of eight women who had been targeted, challenging the state's loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute on the grounds that it is "based solely on a police officer's subjective determination that the activity 'was for the purpose' of prostitution."

Perhaps it's time for legal aid groups to take a look at prostitution policing in Columbus.

Photo Credit: Columbus Police Department/Facebook

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    This goes to show you that you should never carry nor use condoms.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    This is the most intelligent comment you have ever written.

  • tommhan||

    And smart too.

  • BYODB||


    (Williams told the court he was wearing pink men's clothing, not women's clothing.) The judge handed down a sentence of 20 days in jail or a $200 fine.


    Wow, $10 per day. That's a wildly disparate punishment right there. If you didn't have $200 bucks you're pretty well screwed by the State. Does that make the State your 'John'?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I wonder how much 20 days in jail would cost the tax payers.

  • Verbum Vincet||

    Whenever I get a ticket, I always insist on taking the jail time. Make the system pay for the pleasure of your company, and they'll soon tire of you! Screw these ludicrous, exploitative concepts of "community service" or paying the system to leave you alone! The jails here in Georgia are veritably bursting at the seams! Strategically place $50 in each county's inmate account program, and sleep in air conditioned comfort while eagerly awaiting your pile of off-brand potato chips and Snickers bars. R & R and meet some very interesting people and potential business contacts, to boot! Hasten the demise of statist profiteering! I'm not alone in my thinking, which may be one reason Asset Forfeiture is rapidly on the rise.

  • target||

    (The fees are many times higher than what police say these women were asking for in exchange for sexual activity.)

    I thought the state was the pimp in this instance.

  • Hank Stamper||

    They are but they are the worst pimps ever. They spend way more on their hoes then they bring in and they don't even wear the cool outfits.

  • target||

    They don't really spend any money on the hoes, all that stuff is comped by the johns. But the "fees" are all theirs. As a bonus, the high price of the fees ensure that the hoes stay out on the street peddling dat ass to keep the money rolling in to daddy... psssshhh, I mean, what else they gonna do, start a business? They need daddys permssion to do that too *laughs hysterically*

    but seriously, the state charges what 70, 80%, more? of the money they make on hooking each night, which leaves them in debt to the state, and assuming they aren't hooking for fun, they have no other prospects so the only thing the prostitutes can do to pay the bills is to increase the rate of tricks. Govt is now talking all this crap about sex slaves in America, it needs to take a good long look in a mirror.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Every crime in Georgia is a misdemeanor of felony. We don't have infractions. This means that every crime including speeding is subject to 1 years in jail and $1200 fine.

    The courts try and get people to not request jury trials for these offenses by having magistrate courts which set the max fine at a few hundred dollars and less than 6 months in jail. Of course magistrate trials are a joke because you waive your rights to jury trial and have a judge determine your guilt and sentence you.

    Georgia is due for a major overhaul of its criminal code since most laws have been on the books since 1776. The code of civil procedure was just overhauled to be more in line with federal rules of civil procedure.

  • flyfishnevada||

    Just think of all the cash they could rake in if they upped that fine. I'd certainly pay more than $200 to stay our of jail for 20 days. I'd probably pay ten times that. What kind of crooked little city are they running down there. Clearly they're amateurs.

  • ||

    OT: Ouch! Validation of every Guy Ritchie documentary I've seen.

  • Juice||

    10 years? Damn. I shoot my lover in the vagina all the time.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The law is the law, and these icky people broke the law, so they have to deal with the punishment. If they want to change the laws, they should speak to their local congressmen, but otherwise, stop whining and deal with the punishment. Also, they're icky and I don't care what happens to them because they're icky.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Yes, apparently not having ample prudishness is now grounds for prosecution by the state. Looks like the good folks in Columbus GA have a lot in common with Saudi Arabia.

    A side note. Legislators and law enforcement who take non-sexual behavior and sexualize it through legislation and prosecution make me wonder more about them than the people they target. Sorry, but "sex" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when reasonable or stable people think of cross dressing or public urination. Why is sex the first thing that comes to the legislators' minds? That's really the question here. Let's turn the tables and ask where their heads are.

  • Longtobefree||

    Like the old story:
    Man goes into psychiatrist's office, and describes every Rorschach image as some sexual act, with varying numbers of participants. The psychiatrist diagnoses the patient as sex obsessed. The patient cries out "Me? you are the one with all the dirty pictures!"

  • Mark22||

    If they want to change the laws, they should speak to their local congressmen

    Policing is a local matter, not a matter for Congress.

    Now, tell me this. My HOA can exclude anyone from entering our property, and we can restrict even what residents can do on our walkways and roads. Do you think that's not a legitimate exercise of private property rights?

    So, why shouldn't the residents of a town be allowed to do the same for themselves?

  • flyfishnevada||

    So residents of a town can harass other residents because they don't conform to societal norms? And who gets to decide what's normal? I mean, if your fellow residents decided sitting in your mom's basement, eating Cheetos and trolling news comments sections, for instance, was abnormal, you'd happily go to prison? Good on you!

  • AlmightyJB||

    All pigs should die

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    On July 31, an undercover cop in Columbus, Georgia, invited a 51-year-old woman into his car and offered her $5 for oral sex.

    Not even I would do oral sex for $5.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    $6?

  • Jgalt1975||

    I do feel like the amount of the offer is being oddly under-remarked on....

  • tommhan||

    How about 10 bucks?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Williams was carrying condoms and "dressed as a woman," even though his records listed his sex as male. "Based off of that information, we charged him with loitering for the purpose of prostitution and took him to the Muscogee County Jail," Carden testified in court. (Williams told the court he was wearing pink men's clothing, not women's clothing.) The judge handed down a sentence of 20 days in jail or a $200 fine.

    If juries are convicting, Georgia may have a bigger problem than a few jumpy cops.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its magistrate courts where judges are determining guilt.

    Guess what they rarely do? Find Defendant not guilty.

  • Mark22||

    Williams was carrying condoms and "dressed as a woman," despite records that said male

    It seems like a pretty sexist assumption to me that prostitutes need to be, or look like, women.

    If I wanted to hire a prostitute, I wanted them to look male and have all the male equipment.

  • ||

    ...told them her name was the Virgin Mary, was charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution and giving false information to police.

    She wasn't a virgin?

  • Arcxjo||

    I thought Lawrence v. Texas invalidated all anti-sodomy laws?

  • flyfishnevada||

    Since when does precedent stop the morality police (or any nosy do-gooders) from trying to run other people's lives?

  • Bubba Jones||

    Only in the privacy of your home. This is public sodomy, which I guess is meant to capture any act that doesn't quite qualify as intercourse. I am unclear on this, and based on the various mugshots involved, I do not wish to educate myself.

  • Tionico||

    when they look into the racket ongoing in Columbus, the defense attorney needs to bring up the SCOTUS case Lawrence vs Texas.. in that case, the court declared that "moral standards" cannot be used as the basis for law, striking down the anti-sodomy laws that the citizens of Texas had voted on to enact into law.

    The "crime" of prostitution, as described here, is no different than sodomy in Texas. That ought to make the local dweebs stand down.

    Seems, as well, many of these cases toss completely out the window basic principles of our rights, such as the subjectivity of the cirty coppers (HE offers five bucks to the woman, who refuses, to perform certain obscene and immoral acts upon his person, then arrests her when she DOES refuse. A half decent lawyer should have been able to make that one go bye bye.. and I'd take it as far as charging the cop for soliciting prostitution from her........ HE offered to pay HER for her requested "service". On duty or not, that should be offering to pay for sex. Illegal. HE should be charged on his morals violation. And if he tries to claim it was his "investigation" ongoing, fine... the way he was "investigating" is called entrapment. Illegal.

    Dirty copper. Bad copper. No donuts for you. A cell instead.

  • LibertarianJRT||

    I like you ideasamd wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

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