COYOTE: Advocacy and Lobbying
The ultimate goal of COYOTE was decriminalizing prostitution: it argued that it was a private act between two consenting adults, and the women engaging in prostitution should have the right to determine their own lifestyles. Decriminalization, according to COYOTE, would lead to more efficient allocation of law enforcement resources, offer women more choices in employment, eliminate criminal records that damage women and foster a safer work environment.1 It urged members to take concrete actions, such as calling their representatives to oppose specific bills; asking National Organization of Women members to lobby local chapters to present a decriminalization resolution at the National NOW Convention; writing to federal and state legislators and local newspapers; writing to local city council or board of supervisors; and attending hearings in the community when they deal with prostitution.2 The Task Force, NTFP, began to take shape in 1978, and called on all prostitutes to join the international Kiss and Tell campaign to convince legislators that it is in their best interest to support decriminalization, the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion funding, lesbian and gay rights, and other issues of importance to women.3 COYOTE often had a presence in nation-wide events such as the Houston National Women’s Conference in November 1977, educating other feminists on their stance on prostitution.4
Under decriminalization, COYOTE envisioned that there would be more collective bargaining for prostitutes who work for some sort of manager, whether in massage parlors, brothels, for pimps or for escort services, and limit on the percentage pay of the middleperson. The brothel collectives would be owned and run by the prostitutes who work in them, with profits and losses shared by the group. COYOTE also pushed for diverse measures designated to improve the health and safety of these women, including funding for screenmobiles for venereal diseases, indoor meeting places for prostitutes and their customers, such as bars or cafes in the city, space available for independent workers in hotels for rent at reasonable rates compared to the standard rate of the hotel, and a department of the police trained to deal with crimes against prostitutes.5
The world wars witnessed the rise of the venereal disease quarantine, where prostitutes were detained to curb the spread of venereal disease. According to St. James, COYOTE played a part in its discontinuation. Additionally, COYOTE also succeeded in making public defenders take more serious attempts to defend arrested prostitutes, and making prostitutes more eligible to take advantage of pre-trial diversion program or to be released on their own recognizance.6 Apart from legal support, COYOTE also put pressure on the government and private agencies to establish shelters, halfway houses, drop-in centers, hotlines, counseling, skill training, medical services and other resources for prostitutes.7 8 In 1979, COYOTE organized a boycott of P&G and General Foods to protest against misleading advertising and discriminatory hiring and promotion practices against women and African-Americans. In COYOTE Howls 1979 Vol 6 Number 1, it listed over 50 products that readers should stop purchasing.9
Each issue of COYOTE Howls uncovered the abysmal working conditions that prostitutes faced. In COYOTE Howls Ball Edition 1978 Vol 5 Number 2, for example, the publication reports extensively on a rape case by a man named Floyd McCoy and urged women to contact COYOTE Howls for any instances of violence they encountered and stood up for injustices.10 In COYOTE Howls 1979 Vol 6 Number 1, a woman in New York won a rape case in which she brought charges against a man who had agreed to pay her $20 for sexual intercourse but pulled out of gun instead of money.11 Perpetrators of violence are not limited to clients. The issue COYOTE Howls Winter Edition Volume 4, Number 1 reported that a man pulled out a gun at a prostitute out of the blue, and the defense attorney claimed that “there was no intent to rape or harm the ‘professional prostitute’ but that the incident was an ‘educational experience’ to warn the prostitute of the dangers of her profession”.12 COYOTE organized a support group for the victim in this case.
Prostitutes were frequently targets of police rape and brutality. In COYOTE Howls 1979 Vol 6 Number 1, Janet Phillips was beaten by two officers on the grounds of her “resistance to arrest”, and attorney used her prostitute to discredit her victimhood.13 In New York City in August 1978, two police officers dragged a woman from her car, “beat her in front of witnesses, took her to the station where they attempted to have her sign a blank piece of paper, and when that failed they took her to Bellevue Hospital mental ward in hopes of having her found insane”. The arrest was made on the grounds of an alleged traffic violation and resistance to arrest.14 In Missouri in 1977, Ann Rowell’s finger was almost broken by the officer who fingerprinted her the night of her arrest.15 In 1979, the Florida Supreme Court turned down the claim by five prostitutes that their constitutional right to equal protection was violated, since the police had sex with the victims in an evidence-gathering operation but was not persecuted for his participation in the lewd act. The judge “said that was okay, it was all in the line of duty”.16
Apart from advocacy, COYOTE was also dedicated to educating the community about sexuality, dispelling myths about prostitution and rape, and uncovering cases of child prostitution. The speaker’s bureau of COYOTE provided speakers to organizations, high schools, libraries, universities and other groups interested learning more about prostitution. Common arguments put forth in COYOTE Howls for discrimination include: criminalization leads to terror, violence and cannot prevent the existence of a black market; prostitution is a non-victim crime; the enforcement of prostitution laws is expensive and disproportionately targets women.17 18 19