THE STRIFE between homeowners and prostitutes in the Logan Circle area has taken on a new look. First, there was the unusually long, one- year jail sentence given to Michele Griffith for conviction on several charges of prostitution. Next, there has been the practice of some Logan Circle residents of sticking "Disease Warning" markers on cars belonging to men who patronize prostitutes, warnings meant to so embarrass the men as to discourage them from cruising the 14th Street area in search of sex-for-sale. Both are, in a sense, the doing of neighborhood residents displeased that Logan Circle must bear the traffic congestion, noise and street crime that go with being the city's prime locale for prostitution. Neighborhood residents made up the stickers and pressured the judge to give Miss Griffith the long sentence.
But you have to ask yourself: what is the benefit of having one prostitute sent to jail for a year? At last sight, the trade near Logan Circle did not seem to have lost any of its exuberance (or volume) because of the punishment; Miss Griffith's sentence seems more a palliative for neighborhood indignation than an effective measure to curb prostitution. Similarly, the use of "Disease Warning" stickers seems to be mostly good for a laugh at men who have failed to notice the signs affixed to their cars. Other than that, the warning is just another piece of paper to throw away, an ineffective weapon in any fight to get the women in bathing suits away from Logan Circle homes.
What could work? A more reasoned approach to policing prostitution--as distinct from the apparently fruitless exercise of trying to stop it--may be at least to push the prostitutes away from residential areas. Logan Circle and Thomas Circle have become well-known addresses for prostitutes because they are downtown, near the pornography stores and the major hotels. Now that Logan Circle is being renovated and people who have a strong interest in restoring normal neighborhood life there have returned, they, like any other city residents, deserve to have prostitution moved away from their homes. But to where? And how could the city government purposely "relocate" the prostitutes without leaving the impression that prostitution has the city government's tacit consent?
This is the dilemma that has stumped city officials for years, largely leaving prostitutes unfettered because there is no single, official approach to dealing with prostitution. Now the residents of Logan Circle are forcing the issue to public attention. In an ideal situation, prostitution and the often attendant mistreatment of troubled women would not exist. Even in the very real world it should not exist. But it does--and how to contain it and respect the rights of the people involved and do right by residential neighborhoods without appearing to condone prostitution in certain parts of the city is a problem whose complexity defeats us. It has also defeated city government everywhere. Any suggestions?