The scantily clad woman standing near a downtown corner late Monday night nervously scanned the nearly empty street.

She came expecting the usual bustling scene: women in hot pants, fur coats and high heels attracting stares, catcalls and, many times, rides, from the constant stream of men surveying the street corners.

But the only men roaming that night near Vermont Avenue and L Street NW, two blocks from the Soviet Embassy, were police officers.

"Where's your press pass?" one of the officers asked Dee, the 24-year-old prostitute. "Didn't anyone tell you that if you're not press you can't be within four blocks of this area?"

It isn't a good week for business in Washington's unofficial red-light district. The sidewalks along the 14th Street corridor, Thomas Circle and the L Street strip near 15th Street NW, which are usually filled with dozens of women advertising their wares, are virtually empty at night except for scores of police officers.

"This place is hot," said one prostitute as she stepped out of a car near Thomas Circle late Monday night.

"It wasn't this bad when the pope was in town," said Prissy Williams-Godfrey, a longtime prostitute in the area and an activist. "This town is trying to condemn and hide 14th Street, but that's impossible."

"It's scandalous what the police are doing," said Williams-Godfrey, a member of COYOTE, a prostitution advocacy group. "Everything is a double standard in Washington. These {Soviets} aren't stupid. Too many Russians have been here for the last 25 years to not know what's going on" regarding prostitution.

Police officials deny that any special effort has been made this week to crack down on prostitution in the area. They instead attribute the disappearance of prostitutes in the area near the Soviet Embassy and the Madison Hotel, where many Soviet diplomats are staying, to the scores of police officers stationed on each corner within a four-block radius.

"We've got our regular prostitution enforcement program," Assistant Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. said. "Why would we put more officers on the corner? We've got just about everyone in the world out here now."

D.C. police Inspector Nelson J. Grillo, who heads the morals division, said that police have been steadily increasing their crackdown on prostitution in the area, but it has nothing to do with the summit.

"Our increased prostitution enforcement is a strategy that has been planned over a course of the last few months," said Grillo. "Any special initiatives we're doing this week or last week are part of that long-term strategy that we planned and is not a reaction to any special events."

Grillo said the increased prostitution crackdown began last spring and is the most concentrated enforcement effort in five to six years.

But the three officers who were observed confronting Dee Monday night left little doubt why they wanted her gone.

"Don't you know who's in town?" one officer asked Dee, who did not want her last name used.

"We have to create a good image for the Russians," said the second. "We have to create an image that all the countries of the world will like."

"A wholesome image," said the third.

The usual relationship between many police officers who work the streets late at night and the prostitutes lining the sidewalks is one more of toleration than confrontation, police sources said.

In some cases, police play a strange game of musical chairs with the hookers. It is not uncommon to see officers from one police district ask the hookers to move across the street into another police district rather than arrest them.

But there appears to be no room to compromise on the streets this week.

The increased presence of police officers is cutting into business along 14th Street, but it is only a temporary setback, according to Mia Gray, a chairman of COYOTE.

"While it is business as usual for the escort services around town, this is hurting business a lot for working girls on the street," said Gray. "But I'm sure they can grin and bear it for a week. After all, it's for world peace."

However, some of the regular customers at a favorite late-night watering hole for prostitutes, pimps and johns, seemed to be less concerned about international diplomacy than their livelihood.

One pimp sitting in the empty bar was overheard complaining loudly that he was sitting in his car outside when an officer threatened to ticket him and tow his car if he didn't move.

"When is this guy leaving anyhow?" the pimp asked.Staff writer Victoria Churchville contributed to this report.