Walking While Wearing a Dress: Prostitution Loitering Ordinances and the Policing of Christopher Street


New York’s prostitution loitering ordinance, § 240.37 of the New York State Penal Code (NYSPC), was passed in 1976 to clean up “aggressive street solicitation” in Times Square and Midtown West and East.1 A year later 9,565 prostitution loitering arrests were made by the police.2 The extensive redevelopment of Times Square, the movement of sex work to indoor venues, and the policing efforts of the Giuliani administration eventually led to a decline in the public visibility of prostitution.3 Additionally, the Internet began to replace “strolling” as a method for attracting customers.4 However, § 240.37 did not become obsolete. New York’s prostitution loitering ordinance was redeployed in the 1990s to target lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (hereinafter LGBTQ) youth of color and to discourage their presence in the gentrifying West Village.5 The policing of Christopher Street is an example of what Justice Douglas feared in 1972 when he led the Supreme Court in striking down an anti-vagrancy ordinance in Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville: vague laws give police officers the power to “round up so-called undesirables.”6

by Karen Struening, Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the City College of New York


Stanford University Stanford, California
  • Karen Struening, Walking While Wearing a Dress; Prostitution Loitering Ordinances and the Policing of Christopher Street, 3 Stanford Journal of Criminal Law and Policy 16 (2016).
Related Organization(s):