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On Jan. 27, 1978, then-Metropolitan Police Department Chief Burtell M. Jefferson said he would personally support legalizing prostitution in the District, but that he didn’t think such a proposal would get any traction because of city politics.
“Regardless of what you do, prostitution is going to be here,” The Washington Post reported Jefferson as saying. “I think that if we looked in the area of legalizing it, perhaps we might have a better chance at keeping it at an acceptable level.”
A reporter followed up on the question. “Is that something you would support?”
“Yes, I think I would support that,” Jefferson responded.
The Post also reported that Jefferson’s views clashed sharply with then-Mayor Walter E. Washington:
Spokesman Sam Eastman said the mayor is “unequivocally opposed to legalized prostitution” and never had discussed the subject with Jefferson. If such a discussion were to be held, Eastman quoted the mayor as saying, “It would be a short conversation.”
Practice of prostitution has provoked increasing concern in some parts of the city, especially downtown where prostitutes walk some streets flagging drivers, stopping pedestrians and even jumping into cars, sometimes assaulting and robbing the occupants.
The city has stringent penalties on the books for soliciting for purposes of prostitution, and more than 3,500 solicitation arrests have been made in the past two years. But prostitution is not a crime in the city, and the City Council is powerless to change that until 1979 when, for the first time, the young home-rule government will be allowed by Congress to amend the portion of the criminal code affecting prostitution.
Flash forward to today: Prostitution is still illegal in the nation’s capital, but the idea of legitimizing the practice has not gone away. As Amanda Hess reported last year in Washington City Paper, the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance’s 2010 agenda, legalizing prostitution was on the organization’s D.C. wish list. According to the agenda item:
Harassing, arresting and prosecuting people for survival sex solve none of their problems, but only pile more on. Whose idea of responsible public policy is this? To be justified, any public law ought to serve some identifiable common good. Saying to people as Sister Mary Ignatius did, “You do the thing that makes Jesus puke,” is no basis for criminalizing whatever it is. Having been the targets of moralistic lawmaking, we as gay people are especially on guard against it.