Sex Workers Near J.O. Wilson School at 7th & K Streets NE Alarm Residents
by Larry Janezich
Posted June 30, 2022
Monday night, residents near the J.O. Wilson Elementary School at 7th and K Streets, NE, pleaded with city officials for help with problems associated with sex workers in the area. The school is on the 700 block of K Street, two blocks north of the Whole Foods on H Street NE. ANC6A’s Community Outreach Committee (COC) chaired by resident member Roni Hollmon, sponsored the virtual forum to discuss sex work issues. More than 40 attended or participated in the meeting.
Issue stakeholders spoke of their sometimes-conflicting approaches to dealing with the problem before the Committee unanimously agreed to send a letter to city officials requesting help. City officials who were present pledged varying degrees of assistance to address a long-standing neighborhood problem which has defied the city’s previous efforts to address.
The issue is not new. CHC reported similar complaints of a dozen residents at a Police Service Area 104 meeting in September of 2015. See here: https://bit.ly/3y9G83L
Resident Leo Godunov spoke on behalf of some of the K Street neighbors and said a recent increase in activity of and interactions with prostitutes has heightened concerns. He cited verbal and nonverbal intimidation of residents, drug activity, occasional violence against sex workers, gun issues, casually discarded used condoms and latex gloves, human waste, syringes and trash. He said the problem is complex and acknowledged that a solution requires empathy while appreciating that the impact on the quality of life for residents is severe.
CM Charles Allen attended the meeting and said he is concerned about reports of increased instances of conflict between residents and sex workers, adding, “There is not one thing that can be done and then all of the sex workers on K Street will just no longer be there.” He favors a holistic approach involving several city agencies and said he looks to MPD to see what their roles and strategies are. Regarding condoms and human waste, he suggested that the Department of Public Works could concentrate clean-up efforts on certain blocks. He said DPW could address illegally parked cars near 8th and H Streets that may be associated with the drug trafficking at that location and the area.
Celeste Duffie from DPW was also at the meeting responded, saying DPW would be happy to do that within the guidelines for handling bio hazards, but added that addressing these problems “was more than a simple 311 call.” She said she believed that DPW clean-up of bio hazards was explicitly prohibited. Allen said he thought DPW could implement a system based on its current method of dealing with animal waste.
MPD Captain Zdenek Fronek of the Fifth District called the 7th and K/8th and K area a “hot spot” and said 8th and K is known as transgender prostitute market: “Prostitutes come from Maryland, customers from Northern Virginia.” According to Fornek, the best way to address this issue is to detail officers to the area. “Unfortunately,” he said, “we are unable to do that as we have an unprecedented increase in violent crime in 5D. The prostitution problem is most prevalent 10pm – 5am during the weekend and that is also the busiest time for responding to violent crime.” Fronek has requested that the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division (NSID) conduct operations in area and is waiting to hear back. “We’re going to make several arrests,” he said, “but they’re going to be back the next day. So this is not the solution.” He hopes to have someone out there on a bike during the weekend “when we get the personnel.”
Lieutenant Araz Alali of the MPD 1st District which abuts the 5th District nearby said he would increase the level of law enforcement and create a more visible presence – “the Crime Suppression Unit will run more enforcement and sting ops there…double down on people soliciting, facilitating and seeking sex services.” But, he allowed, every district is challenged with man power.
Chelsea Ricker, Board Member of HIPS (a sexual and reproductive rights advocacy group) said, “I can’t overstate how strongly I advise you against this approach which further criminalizes very marginalized people and places them at further risk of harm,” adding, “It will only escalate the situation.” HIPS believes the best way to protect sex workers is to decriminalize sex work.
ANC6A Commissioner Keya Chatterjee asked Alali if officers were trained to deal with sex workers and how MPD assures these women are not being victimized by police. She cited recent reports of an allegation that a police officer forced a sex worker to have sex at gun point.
Alali said such allegations result in officers being put on non-contact with the public status. He couldn’t talk about pending cases and said that such allegations are handled by MPD Internal Affairs. He offered that officers involved in enforcing sex trafficking laws take classes and are trained – and asserted that they are skilled officers.
Ricker of HIPS pointed out the confusion of terminology between adults having consensual sex and sex trafficking and said it was not clear that sex trafficking was occurring in the community: “If you’re concerned about sex trafficking your best ally in preventing that are sex workers” who otherwise would work with police to eliminate trafficking.
Alali said his point is, that MPD is here to enforce the law and prostitution and sex solicitation in DC is still against the law.
Ricker, who lives in the neighborhood, said the sanitation issues were unfortunate and asked the focus be placed on sex worker problems: poverty, the pandemic, survival tactics, economic health, and mental health. She said, “If you’re concerned about sex workers, we have mobile outreach staffed by volunteers and residents are welcome to raise issues with HIPS.” HIPS provides services to sex workers, including a drop-in center, medical services, OD prevention, laundry, a closet, and showers. They connect sex workers with affordable housing and have a decriminalize campaign.
Resident Marc Friend suggested a letter to DPW asking for additional clean ups, a needle drop for the area, and that 8th and H be included in a just-started public restroom pilot program. In addition, he suggested the community increase its efforts to work with HIPS, consider giving them an ANC6A grant, and urge volunteers to help.
Commissioner Keya Chatterjee said she was sympathetic with the plight of sex workers, but “sex work around schools is intolerable and the hazardous waste is very concerning.” She moved the Committee recommend the full ANC6A send DPW a letter asking them to establish an easy process to request removal of used condoms and human waste, provide a needle drop, and provide public restrooms at 8th and H Streets. The motion passed unanimously.
In addition, Jasmine Colton, a Ward 6 representative of the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations, said she would schedule a walkthrough of the area with DPW, the ANC, neighbors, HIPS, and the MPD to point out specific areas of concern.
Ricker said that HIPS said is in a position to ask sex workers to move away from schools. She said she was “not sure it will come to anything, but we will see what we can do. Through building relationships you get change you want. We will see what we can do.”