Prostitution 'banishment' ordinance put on hold, city task force to seek 'more holistic' approach

Names of group members to be released by end of the week


  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Activists, lawyers, and service providers packed a City Council meeting earlier this month to critique proposed ordinance

My dear colleague Max teased to it in this morning's post, but I wanted to elaborate on Mayor Kasim Reed's decision to call time-out on a controversial proposal aimed at curbing prostitution by "banishing" sex workers, pimps, and johns from certain parts of the city - or even all of Atlanta. Instead, the mayor wants a task force to cobble together an alternate proposal.

The news came yesterday during a work session about the ordinance organized by Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who chairs the Public Safety Committee. Since the proposal pushed by the Atlanta Police was introduced, service providers and activists have organized in opposition, saying that the measure did not address the reasons why men and women start selling sex in the first place. If passed, they argued, the ordinance would merely sweep sex workers to a different part of the city. Residents of communities where street-level prostitution affects the quality of life, such as Pittsburgh and Midtown, have been largely outnumbered and outgunned.

According to the city, the working group will be "focused on a proposal for curbing street-level prostitution. It should give the Atlanta Police Department additional tools to fight prostitution, appropriately address the demand and the supply side of the issue, and draw on the best practices in place across the country to deter prostitution while promoting solutions for those that are victimized."

It'll be interesting to watch this effort take shape. Will Atlanta mimic some Texas cities, where police and social service providers work together to connect sex workers with treatment or counseling? If so (and even more importantly), how would such a program be funded? And how much will that alone help solve Atlanta's prostitution problem? Bond's trying to manage some people's expectations, especially service providers who attended yesterday's meeting.

"If the breadth of the issue is the size of a football field, the city of Atlanta can only realistically address only 10 yards of the football field, of all the issues that were raised," he told CL. "I don't want folks' expectations to be so high that they think there will be a great altruistic plan. You need to have a mix - a law that's tough enough to deter people from engaging in that activity but enough alternatives to help them escape. But you have to have money to have those programs." He's decided to hold his proposal to bring back "John School," an education program for (predominantly) men who get busted picking up sex workers, and which is funded by court fines, until after the task force releases its findings.

The task force's members, which will be appointed by Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Duriya Farooqui and Bond, will include "leaders from the Mayor's Office, City Council Public Safety Committee, Law Department, Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta Municipal Court, and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue." A final list of group members will be released within the week, the city says.