Mug Shots: Why Are So Many Transgender Women Arrested for “Buying” Sex?

This is the third in a series of articles regarding a policy of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), in conjunction with the Mayor’s office, to make publicly available (online for 30 days) mug shots of all individuals who have been arrested (not convicted) for patronizing or soliciting for prostitution.

Part One: The Public Shaming of “Johns”  |  Part Two: Transgender “Johns”

In our previous post, we questioned why transgender individuals totaled more than 10% of the arrests made for “buying” sex. We speculated that it’s much more likely that these individuals are “sellers,” not “buyers,” even if they’re identified on the website as “buyers.”

Our hypothesis

We agree with Emi Koyama at Eminism—as far as we know, no studies have demonstrated that a large proportion of transgender women are patronizing prostitutes. Research study after research study has pointed out that transgender women are much more likely to sell sex for survival, due largely to a lack of familial support and severe employment discrimination, resulting in great poverty. Thus, it’s much more likely that  individuals arrested for solicitation and patronizing are actually  “sellers.” So why do they appear online as “buyers”?

In our sample, 80% of the transgender women arrested were charged under Chicago Municipal Code 8-8-060, street solicitation for prostitution. Our layman’s reading of this statute indicates that the city considers public buying, arranging, and selling of sex as street solicitation for prostitution.

Municipal Code 8-8-060 (b) (c) applies to anyone in a public place who attempts to or  engages passersby for the purpose of prostitutionsoliciting for a prostitute, or pandering or (f) anyone who “responds to the beckoning of a prostitute” or engages in the act of prostitution in public: “The superintendent of police shall make available to local newspapers, radio and television stations the names of all persons charged with violating this subsection.”

Meg of SWOP-Chicago pointed out in an email that looking closer at the following Illinois statutes

720 ILCS 5.0/11-14.1: Solicitation of a sexual act (asking to “buy”)
720 ILCS 5.0/11-15: Prostitution—Soliciting for a prostitute (“arranging”)
720 ILCS 5.0/11-18: Solicitation—Patronize a prostitute  (“buying”)

shows that

  • 1 of 110 transgender individuals in our sample was charged with asking to “buy”
  • 21 of the 110 transgenders individuals were charged with arranging. It’s common for individuals in the sex trade to work together or solicit for another individual in the sex trade. Thus, it is likely that most, if not all, of the 21 transgender individuals were also engaged in sex work.

(This section of the Illinois Criminal Code was changed as of July 2011. We’ll address those changes in a future article.)

Where are the ciswomen?

So, where are all the females (well, female, according to the state)?  We don’t know exactly, but here’s what we do know.

  • We know that no one classified by the state as female has ever appeared on this website, regardless of the charge.
  • We know that ciswomen comprise the majority of sex workers arrested. From 2000 to 2009, ciswomen totaled 93% of all prostitution arrests (720 ILCS 5/11-14) and two-thirds of five major Illinois prostitution-related arrests.

We’ve asked CPD for a breakdown of 8-8-60 arrests by gender. We assume that ciswomen aren’t posted on the website. Although we have no empirical support data, we’ve heard that it’s CPD policy to not post ciwomen’s mug shots. CPD and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office have adopted an “End Demand” philosophy—focusing efforts and resources on the “demand” side of prostitution. (The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is  represented on the End Demand Illinois steering committee.) Since End Demand considers all women engaged in prostitution as victims, posting ciswomen’s prostitution-related mug shots wouldn’t present the CPD and Sherriff’s Office in a favorable light.

In a 2005 New York Times article about the policy, Chicago’s then-Mayor Richard M. Daley said,

“It’s a terrible life, and a caring society has a responsibility to help these women turn their lives around and to keep other young women from entering the profession.”

Mayor Daley assumes here that only ciswomen sell sex. It seems likely, then, that only the pictures of male arrestees (as classified by the state) would be posted online for shaming purposes.


Previous research (here, here) has found that police disproportionately enforce and harass transgender individuals. Although our data can’t directly measure this, it hints that transgender individuals are experiencing increased police enforcement and harassment. There’s no way to definitively know the proportion of transgender street-level sex workers, but it’s unlikely to be more than 10%. Remember, our data offers an incomplete picture because we lack the total number of transgender individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses not posted online (e.g., 720 ILCS 5.0/11-14 – Prostitution; 8-8-50, Soliciting—Penalty; 8-8-030— Prostitution of lewdness in conveyances). If we had data on all prostitution-related arrests, we’d likely find that transgender individuals comprise more than 10% of all arrestees.


The stated purpose of the website is to shame johns and deter others. But, those arrested are not all johns. Transgender individuals selling sex are caught in the “crosshairs” of this shaming policy, further marginalizing and harming them.

Effectiveness of End Demand Efforts

The End Demand campaign in Illinois has focused its efforts on increasing enforcement at at the state level for “demand” offenses. (For more information on this effort, see our research brief.) Our data suggest that these efforts are ineffective or, at best, futile. Chicago’s municipal code doesn’t even distinguish between the buying, selling, and arranging of sex.

Even if there were a distinction, would the police charge individuals with the “correct” offense? Our preliminary field studies indicate that many street-level sex workers are much more likely to be arrested for soliciting for a prostitute than for prostitution.

As one field informant reported,

“If they catch you in the act, then it’s prostitution; but they hardly ever catch you in the act, so they almost always throw a soliciting charge on you.”

Our next post will present evidence that Chicago police are routinely charging individuals with prostitution-related offenses that have been repealed.


Author: Rachel Lovell

Rachel Lovell is the Senior Research Methodologist at the SSRC where she is responsible for designing, developing, implementing, and analyzing empirical research studies generated within SSRC and also by faculty researchers affiliated with SSRC. Rachel received her Ph.D. in sociology from The Ohio State University in 2007. Her more recent research interests include women, public health, and sex work.

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