• Prostitution in Los Angeles is So Bad, the City Had to Ban Right Turns at Night

A knee-jerk reaction or something that actually works?

Prostitution is illegal in the state of California, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a common practice across the state. This may be more evident in Los Angeles than anywhere else, where police enforced a ban on right turns during the night hours to try to stop the surge of human trafficking.

Buying and selling sexual favors is a business as old as the world itself. That doesn’t make it, however, an illegal affair. On the contrary. L.A. has been plagued with the problem of widespread prostitution for decades, and the status quo has remained the same up to the present day. Policing the matter is difficult due to the amount of people involved - at both ends - which is why lawmakers and police looked elsewhere for a potential patchy solution.

As such, a stretch of the North Western Avenue was lined up with some strange traffic signs that read "No Right Turns 12 Midnight To 7 AM". The idea is that potential customers of awaiting streetwalkers would be deterred to turn right onto residential streets to do the deeds.

Traffic signs that aim to hamper prostitution - can they work?

Prostitution in Los Angeles is So Bad, the City Had to Ban Right Turns at Night
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Historically, Los Angeles has been a town associated with anything but restraint. It’s easy to see why with the Hollywood sign looking down at the sprawling city from the hillside. A part of this excess can be seen in the city’s ongoing problem with prostitution and other forms of human trafficking. Police are, far and wide, overwhelmed by the problem so, on the North Western Avenue, a 5-mile-long stretch of road that ends just at the footsteps of the Hollywood Hills, a different approach has been tested.

Considered a streetwalking hotspot, the North Western Avenue was used as the Guinea Pig for an idea that wasn’t new: banning cars from making right turns off the main street and onto residential side streets.

It's an idea that was tried before on Sunset Boulevard, another area where prostitution is rampant.

As Kyle Cheromcha from The Drive puts it, "the city’s proximity to the border makes it a major hub for human trafficking, the city’s inexorable relationship with the car means most Johns have a means of conveyance, and even though it’s the most populous county in America, its endless street grid offers countless dark alleys and unwatched corners". The North-Western was the proving ground for this idea because it’s "where, in October, police made five separate arrests of men attempting to solicit a prostitute in a single night".

Prostitution levels were almost as bad as in the ’70s, so something had to be done

Prostitution in Los Angeles is So Bad, the City Had to Ban Right Turns at Night
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It all first emerged after a call for help from Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office who, by 2011, was snowed in by countless complaints from the residents of L.A.’s 4th district about the problem of prostitution. "It wasn’t just that people out walking their dogs or taking their children to school early in the morning confronted a barrage of four-wheeled peep shows. The trash left behind—used condoms, litter, needles—had a rotting effect on the neighborhood".

LaBonge "turned to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Olympic Division, whose vice squads were already working around the clock to keep up with a ’never-ending supply’ of workers, clients, and pimps," according to The Drive.

The Division's Senior Lead Officer, Joseph Pelayo, who was working vice in the '90s when the ban on both left and right turns on Sunset Boulevard was enforced, came with the suggestion to try the same thing on the North Western Avenue.

"The idea was to discourage people from picking up a prostitute and pulling into a residential neighborhood to transact business. There’s another layer here, too, according to Pelayo, who said the law gave police probable cause for a traffic stop since plenty of people at first ignored the signs," reports The Drive. Basically, with the signs in place, police can stop any car who makes a right turn onto a residential by-street at night, and this increases the chances of finding a client of the prostitution chains.

"We used to stop cars all the time with the signs in Hollywood," said Pelayo. "The majority of the time it was residents, but now and again we’d hit someone who picked up a prostitute and catch them in the act." According to the officer, the tactic worked on Sunset Boulevard, and it shows signs of working on North Western. The signs were put up six years ago by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and the data backed the proposal up.

Prostitution in Los Angeles is So Bad, the City Had to Ban Right Turns at Night
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The number of arrests - on prostitution charges alone - spiked up to 707 in 2012 alone, compared to just 401 in 2011 and merely 277 in 2010. Only last year did the number of arrests fell below the 2010 mark. "It should be noted," says the Drive, "that those figures don’t definitively prove the overall efficacy of the signs, since the raw numbers don’t indicate whether an illegal turn was involved in individual arrests, and the signs were just one part of a multi-prong policing approach."

Pelayo himself admits that it isn't a solve-everything solution, merely a way to limit the effects and not attack the root cause of the problem.

"It’s worked, and it hasn’t worked," says the officer. "It’s worked in the sense that that activity went away for a bit, but it’s since come back somewhat. It also just goes elsewhere—you get strict in one area, and it goes a couple miles south". "Still, it used to be really bad." He went on to add that "it was so bad, you could just drive down the street and watch all the activity."

In the end, streetwalkers still roam the streets of the city, especially in "under-policed areas like Compton and South Central" and the municipality isn’t considering to expand the ’no-right-turns-at-night’ policy beyond the North Western Avenue. It is, then, a way for the law enforcement and bureaucrats to show that they’re still trying to address the problem but not in a real, meaningful way. Too little and, just maybe, too late.

Source: The Drive

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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