Mug Shots: The Charge Fits the Crime?

This is the fourth 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”
Part Three: Why Are So Many Transgender Women Arrested for “Buying” Sex?

Does the charge fit the crime?

When analyzing arrest data, it’s assumed that people are charged with the “correct” crime. In the case of prostitution-related crimes, it’s reasonable to assume that buyers are charged with “buying” offenses, sellers with “selling” offenses, and arrangers with “arranging” offenses.

As we mentioned in a previous post, our preliminary fieldwork with cisfemale (females whose gender identity and presentation match that considered appropriate to their sex) sex workers in Chicago reveals this might not be the case. 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.”

(Soliciting for a prostitute is asking, arranging, or directing “another for the purpose of prostitution” which can be interpreted as a buying or selling offense.)  Our previous analyses seem to support the above statement. From 2000 to 2009, ciswomen totaled 44% of all soliciting for a prostitute (720 ILCS 5/11-15) arrests.

How common is “mischarging”?

Effective July 1, 2011, Illinois Public Act 096-1551 repealed several prostitution-related statues and added several more (it’s a behemoth of a bill; for the prostitution-related statutes see p. 425).

As of July 1, 2011, the following prostitution-related statutes (an abbreviated list) no longer exist:

  • 720 ILCS 5/11-15: Soliciting for a prostitute
  • 720 ILCS 5/11-16: Pandering
  • 720 ILCS 5/11-17: Keeping a place of prostitution
  • 720 ILCS 5/11-19: Pimping

These statutes were added:

  • 720 ILCS 5/11-14.3: Promoting prostitution
  • 720 ILCS 5/11-14.4: Promoting juvenile prostitution

And these remained:

  • 720 ILCS 5/11-14: Prostitution
  • 720 ILCS 5/11-14.1: Solicitation of a sexual act
  • 720 ILCS 5/11-18: Patronizing a prostitute
  • 720 ILCS 5/11-18.1: Patronizing a minor engaged in prostitution

The idea behind the change was to simplify the code into:

  • “buying” (11-18) or “asking to buy” (11-14.1);
  • “selling” (11-14); and
  • “arranging” (11-14.3)

According to our data after July 1, 2011, 73 individuals where charged with 720 ILCS 5/11-15—a statute that no longer exists.


These findings raise serious concerns:

  • How much, if any, training do police receive regarding legislative changes to the penal code?
  • How outdated is the software that apparently allows police to charge individuals for non-existent offenses? More than eight months after the law was passed, individuals were still being charged with 720 ILCS 5/11-15 at the end of March 2012, when we concluded our observation.
  • Most importantly, is there inherent inequality in this criminal justice system? Individuals who are able to obtain the services of attorneys well informed about the  statute changes are more likely to see their charges dismissed since police are charging them with an offense that no longer exists. Those unable to secure equally informed legal assistance are more likely to plead down—but still plead—to an offense, or to simply plead guilty.

Our next post will investigate the “migration” patterns of trans sex workers.


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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