A motorist traveling up 14th Street NW stopped for a red light at Thomas Circle. Two women in hot pants, tube tops and high heeled shoes jumped into his car and began fondling and propositioning him. Before the startled man could speak they had grabbed his wallet and were scrambling to get out of the car.
"Hey, wait a minute," he protested. One of the women took a box cutter out of her purse and sliced the man's thigh. He was glad to see them go. The light turned green. The man, according to police files, went to see a doctor.
The women are part of an army of prostitutes - up to some 300 on any given night - that prowls at Thomas Circle, flagging down drivers and swarming around pedestrians.
"You shake 'em off and take a few steps and another group hits you," says Bill Pouls, owner of a Thomas Circle bar. "Sometimes when you drive away at night they kick your car or spit on it. One day a guy yelled back at 'em and they twisted his antenna into a figure eight."
Roaming women in neon-bright costumes have accosted men on the way to morning church and on the way to a funeral home. They approach tourists, fathers with families in tow and conventioneers out for some fun."It's a real frontier situation out there now," Poulos claims.
The circle, built as a tribute to Union Gen. George H. Thomas, is now the site of four major hotels and churches. It is also the hub of a sprawling red light district that ranges from 13th to 15th Streets, and from K ta Carcaran.
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] ways worked this area, there are now hundreds of them. Their aggressiveness is unprecedented, says police. They attribute the situation to the steady influx to men visiting Washington and the belief among the prostitutes that the District is lax in controlling them.
Businessmen in the Thomas Circle area claim the presence of the women is crippling.
"Of course it hurts - I'm losing conventions because of them," said Edward F. MacMillan, one of the owners of the International Inn, an eight story hotel on the circle between Massachussetts and Vermont Avenues. "I've written letters to every city official. If I knew what to do I'd do it."
The women disagree. "It anything we help these people - we bring the men here," said one hefty woman, who goes by the street name "Tons of Fun." "Whenever the conventions are the men wind up coming here to the circle because that's what conventions are all about, for the men to get away from their wives."
Police say prostitutes are streaming into the city because the courts here are too lenient in sentencing them, and because the D.C. City Council deemphasized enforcement. The Council ffrom the prostitutes enforcement unit to work on more violent crimes.
"The word were out (then) that the prostitution force was 'nonexistant,' calls Det. Larry Farr. "They came from Philadelphia, Atlantic City. Memphis all over the East. You could see them coming down New York Avenue, waving their hats."
And with them they have brought crime. In the last two years there have been 20 prostitution-related murders on or near Thomas Circle. In the last month alone a hundred major crimes involving the women were reported there, most of them thefts or assaults.
"These girls want to get your monay any way they can. They're looking to steal first; they're not out to do any favors unless they have to," says Sgt. Jack Farrel.
The male customers, have even the women themselves, have been cut and beaten. "Some of these men are pretty kinky," said one detective."They'll pick up a woman, take her out to rock Creek Park and kill her."
In part to protect themselves, prostitutes now carry weapons in their purses - scissors, pocket knives, straight edge razors and letter openers. They also use them to rob men.
Packs of teen-agers follow prostitutes and their "dates" back to the rooming houses, police say, and they break into the men's cars, stealing wallets and other valuables that the men, fearing trouble inside, leave in theit cars.
As high as thecrimes statistics are, most of the offenses go unreported, police believe, because the male victims don't want it known where they're been.
"Once in a while you'll see one all cut up and bloody trying to make his way out of the war zone and get to an aide station," says Det. Farr. "You ask them what happened and they say they were making a phone call and got mugged. They'll go out to Virginia or Maryland and check into a hospital and make up a story."
"All they want me to do is get their money back," explains Pat Steenburg, the beat patrolman in the Thomas Circle area. "I tell them their money probably changed hands 10 minutes after they lost it. They know, if they want to help find the women and press charges, they'll probably lose a week from their job in the court process. Most of 'em tell me to forget it."
Police made 209 prostitution arrests in that area last month. The usual penalty imposed by the courts - regardless of the number of previous offenses - is a $25 fine, detectives say. The maximum penalty provided by D.C. law is a $250 fine and 90 days in jail.
Prosecutors say they do not have reliable statistics on misdemeanors and can not provide a general sense of the severity of sentences in prostitution cases. The chief judge of D.C. Superior Court, Harold H. Greene, has been on leave. The acting chief judge, H. Carl Moultrie, was too busy to return a reporter's call on the subject, according to his law clerk.
Once arrested, the prostitutes are usually released quickly on their own reognizance under the D.C. Bail Reform Act, according to police.
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] times for soliciting before their trial, detectives say. Prosecutors then lump the charges together, dropping many of them in return for a guilty plea.
Bill and George Poulos, owners of Yogi's bar on the circle, remember better times, when the St. John's College High School band drilled on Vermont Avenue and the Circle was lined with rooming houses, a mecca for blue collar and government workers after World War II.
The rooming houses were replaced by hotels and high rise apartments during the 1960s. St John's College High School moved a way, and so did the sing-along customers who used to
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES]
The Poulos brothers have watch the circle change for 34 years. Only a decade ago, they said, the circle was attracting $1,000-a-plate political rund raisers (at the International Inn) and served the President of the country. Lyndon Johnson used to worship at the National City Christian Church, the cavernous mother church of the Disciples of Christ, on the circle at 14th Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
Bill Poulos says the women "came about two or three years ago. It seemed like it happened almost over-night. There were a couple at first and we thought it was kind of cute. Then all of a sudden there were four or five and we figured the police would run 'em off. They didn't. Now it's like cowboys and Indians out there."
Poulos estimates that his nighttime business has dropped off by a third since the women arrived in force.
Randy Chiao, operator of the Szechuan Mandarin Restaurant at 1403 L St., a block from Thomas Circle, wonders how long he can continue in business. "Some customers won't come in (because of the women outside). I do a lot of lunch business, but the evening time . . . I try to stay here, but I don't know."
An official at the Holiday Inn on Thomas City reports that the motel is doing well - for now. Customers make reservations through the Holidex system without knowing where this particular inn is, he says. "I wonder how we can get repeat business here."
One of the Holiday Inn guests, V.G. Rollis, arrived at the Holiday Inn with 160 Boy Scouts from Longview, Tex.
"When I saw where we were going to be. I thought, 'Lord, this is going to be an experience,'" Rollins says. Boy scouts interviewed claim the girls left them alone, although one said a woman tried to snatch his red beret.
"You never see girls in Texas standing outside like this," said Steve Mobley, 17. "Back home they use CB radios."
Many of the prostitutes descending on the circle come from the South, particularly Tennessee. They are being recruited by pimps and they friends who have been successful here.
"The girls think Washington is an open city," says Det. Farr. "They might get arrested here more times than back home, but they know not much is going to happen to them. If they get arrested two or three times where they came from, chances are they are going to pay some money or go to jail."
After the City Coucils's decision in 1975 the prostitution enforcement unit was reduced from 50 to 22 men and was transferred from police headquarters at 1624 V ST. NW. The unit has made 3,500 soliciting arrests in the last two years, out and equal number of claim than have kept up continuous pressure.
Police prodded by pressure from businessmen in the circle recently closed the Palace Hotels at 14th and L street after the owners was convicted of running "a disorderly house." The women have a half dozen other fovorite sports nearby to take "dates," police say, and the businessmen complaint that nothing has changed.
"When it was goin' on elsewhere we thought as long as it's not our neighborhood we could care less," Poulos said. "Now it's in our neighborhood and it's disgusting."