However, in some areas a method has been found to deter potential suitors, that of public humiliation. In some places the names, sometimes with a picture, are published by punters, on posters or in a special section of the daily newspaper. Critics see this measure as a continuation of medieval penal system (“pillorying”) or puritanical early colonial morality, as the first settlers burned a “scarlett letter” on the forehead of condemned deviators from common sexual morals. As strange as the practice of “public shaming” may seem to European observers, Americans apparently consider it – together with the training sessions for arrested “clients”, mainly in large cities, about the dark sides of prostitution, the danger of disease transmission, the exploitation of women – to be an adequate measure of deterrence: According to a survey conducted in 1995, 50 percent of those interviewed agreed with this step.
The analysis of the arrests speaks for the different treatment of the subject by the prosecution authorities, which is reflected in the public image of the prostitute. 85 to 90 percent of those arrested are street prostitutes, women from the street who bear little resemblance to Julia Roberts in the hit film “Pretty Woman”. Among them, personal biographies of broken family relationships and childhood abuse, dropping out of school, drug use, abortion, grinding poverty and disease are the rule rather than the exception (although advocates of legalisation claim that there have been no known cases of HIV transmission through heterosexual prostitution). The personal plight of most of these women forces them to sell their services cheaply (in the double-digit dollar range), abuse by clients such as pimps is as much a part of everyday life for many of them as arrests by the vice squad.
Many of these women live and work largely undisturbed by these problems, whose income from prostitution is at the other end of the spectrum and who, because of their discreet way of working, generate little rejection out of sight of citizens who fear for the safety of their neighbourhood and the value of their property, for example, because of street prostitution. As private entrepreneurs, working in a club or agency, women who have a liquid and, more importantly, influential clientele can earn up to or well over 1000 dollars per assignment. In a society such as the American one, which attaches particular importance to external attributes from clothing to the choice of a convertible made in Europe, the acceptance of these women is considerable. Of course, a decisive factor in this respect is that, in addition to a discreet appearance, the naming of the profession is also restrained. Escort is a term that is used with particular pleasure and covers a wide range of services, including masseuse, entertainer for “bachelor parties” or “premier models”.
Talking about professional organisations: With increasing professional self-confidence and self-image, prostitutes’ organisations were founded from the 1970s onwards, of which the Coyote (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), founded in 1973 by Margo St. James, is the best known and, with a narrow interpretation of the term, the most successful. Other interest groups, especially of male prostitutes, were often very short-lived. Coyote advocates the decriminalisation of the trade and also rejects state regulation, as the authorities would have no right “to regulate what a woman does with her body”. St. James and other activists have succeeded in at least a linguistic reorientation. The term “sex worker”, which has no discriminatory or offensive undertone, has gained quasi-official status, even if it is legally vague. Sex workers include not only the prostitutes who earn a forbidden living beyond the state borders of Nevada, but also actors whose work is legal or at least quasi-legal, such as those ladies and gentlemen who are available for so-called telephone sex, the “exotic” and “lap dancers” who appear in bars, and the actors in the pornographic film industry, which is mainly based in California.
However, Coyote could not bring about a change in public opinion. The data material is meagre, but the few available surveys indicate that the proportion of Americans who want to legalize prostitution is not increasing, but rather decreasing. Sociology professor Ronald Weitzer sums up Coyote and similar action groups: “It is a campaign by women entrepreneurs, not a mass movement.”