Prostitutes have become so audacious that they have started harassing children at school bus stops, say residents of North Side neighborhoods Battery Park and Southern Barton Heights.
Police and school officials question the story, however, saying they haven't heard any reports from students or parents.
One incident involved a transgendered prostitute, says Councilman Chris Hilbert. "He was flashing his breasts — there's a phrase you don't use often," Hilbert says. The prostitute was approaching junior-high-school students as they got off the bus, his constituents told him. "He's a big man, from what I understand."
In another instance, "The kids were telling me that prostitutes were trying to get their lunch money," says Cindy Mims, a resident of Southern Barton Heights. Mims says she isn't sure if the prostitutes were trying to take the money or barter their services. "I'm hoping at least they were trying to take it," she says wryly.
Councilwoman Ellen Robertson says, "There are some kids that complain about the prostitutes approaching them in a sexual way to get money from them" while they're walking to the store.
Residents of Battery Park told City Council about the latter incident two weeks ago. The area is plagued with prostitutes "flashing their behinds or 'pulling out the front,'" one resident told council.
That neighborhood is bounded by Chamberlayne Avenue, Brookland Park Boulevard and North Avenue, all major thoroughfares that are, in that area, known for prostitution activity day and night.
Richmond police say they've been targeting prostitution on Chamberlayne, in particular, but that there doesn't seem to be as big a problem in the neighborhoods. And the story about prostitutes harassing children?
"I'd be curious to know whether that could be substantiated," says Lt. Tim Morley, who oversees policing in Battery Park. "I've not had any reports about that."
Kids are given to hyperbole, he notes. "Of course, if they were only harassed, or if someone asked them for money, we wouldn't get an official police report."
And Treeda Smith, spokeswoman for the Richmond Public Schools, says no students or bus drivers have said anything about harassment. Even if people really have been asking students for money, Smith wonders, "How do they know they're prostitutes?"
Residents say police have been responsive to their concerns. They also have asked City Council to establish a "john school," a program in which men convicted of soliciting prostitutes are taught about prostitution, tested for sexually transmitted diseases and assigned to do community service.
Some have taken it upon themselves to patrol their neighborhoods, as well, writing down johns' license plate numbers and chasing prostitutes from corners. Battery Park resident Richard Circle and a group of neighbors often walk up to prostitutes and silently stand nearby to discourage them. If they say anything, Circle replies, "It's a dangerous street. We just want to make sure that you're safe." — Melissa Scott Sinclair