When night falls on the City of Angels, the harlots begin to emerge. As places like Skid Row, Sunset Boulevard and North Western Avenue slip into darkness, scantily clad women materialize on the streets, cars begin to slow down and cash starts changing hands…
This happens every night, all over the city – acutely in some places – just as it has for decades.
LA has always had an issue with prostitution and human trafficking. Not surprisingly, either, since the city lies just a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, making import extremely convenient for pimps and traffickers. But since 2011 things have been getting drastically worse, according to area police, particularly along North Western Avenue, near the corner of Marathon Street. At this single corner, police have arrested as many as five Johns in a single night, caught red-handed soliciting sex.
The city’s solution? Traffic signs. More specifically, signs prohibiting right turns after midnight.
Yes, you read that correctly. In an effort to curb the persistent problem of prostitution in LA, City officials and police decided that they were going to use traffic signs. And, believe it or not, it might be working…
“We used to stop cars all the time with the signs in Hollywood. 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,” LAPD officer Joseph Pelyo, told The Drive. “Now, they’re probably not going to stop somebody by themselves. This is more if they see someone pick someone up on the main street and turn off of it, to add to the probable cause for a stop.”
Generally, the idea is, if a police officer sees someone pick up a lady of the night and hook a quick right down a residential street to get their nookie on, they can use the “no right turns after midnight” rule as probable cause to stop the John and bust him before he gets his rocks off.
According to Pelayo, it had the intended effect: they actually started arresting more Johns, and started seeing fewer prostitutes prowling the area.
However, it’s like fighting a hydra, trying to combat prostitution like this – every time you sever one head, two more appear in its place. And that’s almost exactly what happened in this case.
"It’s worked, and it hasn’t worked,” Tom LeBonge, an LA city councilman, told The Drive. “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.”
This “solution” treats the symptoms of prostitution instead of the root cause, in other words, like trying to cure a cold with a box of tissues. It just moves the problem around, forcing it into different parts of the city, like some kind of kinky corgi shuffle.
But, it has had some genuinely positive outcomes. At least, for the neighborhoods where Johns used to pull into and park to do the dirty. They’ve quite literally become cleaner places since these “no right turns after midnight” signs went up. Where, once these residents would wake up to find their streets littered with used condoms, used needles, garbage and bodily fluids, now, without the prostitution traffic, there is noticeably less of this.
“It’s about respect for the neighborhood,” said LaBonge. “to me, it really is about the physical appearance of the neighborhood. If it looks like shit, it will be like shit.”
So, sadly, the “No Right Turns After Midnight” law is not a permanent or comprehensive solution to LA’s prostitution problem, or the even deeper, more serious issue of human trafficking. But it is a start. A temporary fix – which, is better than no fix at all.