The sex industry has a hierarchy of respectability, and at the bottom are street-based sex workers, aka "streetwalkers."
They usually are women from a marginalized population, often use some form of illegal drugs, and meet potential clients along city streets in run-down areas. Their Stock Costume Traits include tiny skirts, six-inch plastic heels, rabbit fur or fake fur jackets, a gallon of makeup, and crop tops, even if it's freezing outside.
Among the various forms of sex work, street-based is the most dangerous. Street-based sex workers are more likely to experience physical or sexual assaults, thefts, and murders. Good luck finding police who care. Heck, most sex workers say police themselves present the biggest threat of violence.
Compare Hooker with a Heart of Gold.
Contrast High-Class Call Girl, who may look at a streetwalker with pity (glad not to be in their shoes) or fear (of ending up there once their own beauty starts to fade).
- Huo Long's backstory in Haou Airen.
- Maki from Weiß Kreuz, a cute-looking Hooker with a Heart of Gold who befriends Youji and reminds him of his old partner Asuka. Then she becomes a Disposable Sex Worker, much to Youji's tearful anger.
- The protagonist of the Hentai Cage resorts to this after her disappeared boyfriend maxed out her credit cards, and emptied her bank account. She then meets a man who promised to help her financial situation if she worked for him, in his brothel, where he has no intention of letting her go.
- In her very first appearances in the comics, X-23 spent some time after escaping the Facility as this. She specialized in cutting clients with her claws, though it's implied her services did extend to actual sex (despite being somewhere between 14 and 16 during this time period. The book is unclear exactly when NYX takes place in her history).
- Red Ears: Streetwalkers make pretty regular appearances, but never played straight. Either the john is an idiot, the streetwalker is a Gonk, some sort of misunderstanding of the Need a Hand, or a Handjob? sort, etc.
- Batman: Year One retconned Catwoman into being a former prostitute who learned martial arts and burglary to improve her life.
- "Slabwalkers", as they are known, crop up from time to time in Judge Dredd, where they are distressingly often murder victims. They have to compete with sexbots. The most notable is America Jara, who was the most prominent and aggressive pro-democracy advocate.
- C'ren of One Less Lonely Gurl and Plankton's Eye View is one.
- Kortney Krelbutz became one in Who Silenced Elly Patterson after the events in For Better or for Worse that got her fired for stealing.
- While "Batteries" makes it clear that Ryuuko was a prostitute (and a stripper), it's unclear if she was this type, though, it's implied that likely she was (or close to being this), given her living in a Red Light District ("shitass parts of Tokyo"), financial situation, and it's not said how/where she meets her "dates". When she becomes pregnant (again) and is further along, she has to quit and takes up "honest" work at a laundromat (which doesn't pay well).
- In Jean Renoir film La Chienne, a cold-hearted streetwalker manipulates the meek older man who falls in love with her. In the American remake, Scarlet Street, the woman isn't explicitly stated to be a streetwalker but it's pretty obvious.
- 1934 Chinese film The Goddess is a remarkably frank portrayal of the depressing life of a streetwalker in Shanghai.
- Vinessa Shaw in Eyes Wide Shut was an absurdly attractive example of one.
- Rita of Idiocracy was one.
- The main character of Pretty Woman was one of these.
- The Da Nang prostitute in Full Metal Jacket.
- Many of them paraded through Old Town in Sin City looking like dominatrices and acting the part when messed with. The comic version depicted standard streetwalkers outside of the neighborhood as well.
- In Hellraiser: Inferno, the Dirty Cop protagonist Joseph Thorne picks up a hooker from the streets to spend the night with.
- 7th Heaven: Diane is a streetwalker. Chico lies that she's his wife to save her from a police sweep. When the cop says they'll be following up on that, Chico and Diane realize that she'll have to move in and pretend to be his wife. Naturally, they fall in love.
- Lulu from Pandora's Box resorts to this after being reduced to poverty. She meets Jack the Ripper.
- In Nights of Cabiria, Cabiria is an Italian streetwalker who has a surprisingly optimistic outlook on life, considering her dire, depressing circumstances.
- Yukiko of Ginza Cosmetics is an aging bar girl who finds johns at the bar and takes them home—but she knows that it could always be worse. She's out at a diner when she sees a streetwalker leave her preschool daughter in the diner before going out to troll for men. A horrified Yukiko says "That could be me."
- Towards the end of The Life of Oharu, Oharu, who goes on a long slide from noblewoman to homeless beggar, is working as a streetwalker in a sad, dusty 18th-century Japanese village. She is humiliated when a man pays for her services, only to instead show her to his band of religious pilgrims as an example of the fate of sinners.
- Arthur Bach spots two hookers on a corner at the beginning of Arthur (1981). He picks one of them up, then tells his driver to "Give her friend a hundred dollars. She came in second."
- Atti in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The film doesn't just hint that she's at risk for male violence, it shows how the drug dealer treats her, and also shows another man tying her up and inject heroin into her body despite her protests.
- In Circus of Horrors, Elsa is a streetwalker when Rossiter first encounters her. The scar on her face and the ruthlessness with which she stabs her client and steals his wallet convinces him that she is perfect for his needs, and she becomes the first disfigured woman he recruits for the circus.
- In the Stephanie Plum novels, Lula was one.
- "Christie" in American Psycho (also in the film adaptation).
- Sarah the Hooker with a Heart of Gold from The French Lieutenant's Woman.
- In Reserved for the Cat, the heroine Ninette has been trained in ballet for a future career as a High-Class Call Girl, but when her circumstances take a turn, she braces herself to become one of these. Fortunately, her cat rescues her.
- Also in the same series, the last Nan of A Wizard of London hears of her mother is that she has reached the bottom rung of a woman in Whitechapel by becoming one, roaming the streets with nothing but the clothes on her back and soliciting men to further her alcoholism and addiction to drugs.
- In The Iron Teeth web serial, the city of Daggerpoint's streets are walked by skimpily clad women, and some men, who wander around and solicit prospective customers.
- Features on Wire in the Blood a lot.
- The Bill has them and female officers have been known to dress like them as part of stake-outs, to keep watch.
- The Ice Truck Killer in Dexter went after a series of these.
- Meg from Xena: Warrior Princess started out as one.
- The Kids in the Hall features a streetwalker duo and their softhearted asthmatic pimp as recurring characters.
- Occasionally are featured on Law & Order: SVU, sometimes as a Disposable Sex Worker, sometimes as The Informant.
- One episode focused on an aging hooker who has been working the streets for close to thirty years. Olivia met her years earlier and is quite surprised that the woman is still alive. After she helps the police catch a spree killer, the SVU team tries to find a way to get her off the streets.
- Patty The Daytime Hooker on My Name Is Earl. As they explain when she's introduced the first few times, it takes a special kind of woman to work the streets in the day instead of at night.
- The first season of CSI has Nick falling for a hooker, who is indeed killed by her pimp. Her pimp claims she was going back to school to recruit for the job and leave him. She is, of course, incredibly beautiful and doesn't suffer from abuse or drug addiction, unlike most real-life prostitutes.
- A rather similar thing happens to Warrick in the eighth season.
- Wendy, a meth-addicted prostitute in Breaking Bad.
- MacGyver (1985): In "Runners", a teenage prostitute is trying to leave her pimp and return to her family. As MacGyver helps her to do this, it is revealed that she is also being abused by her father who blames her for the death of his wife.
- Tipping the Velvet: For a period of time, Nan works as one, servicing gay men who mistake her for a man. She conducts all her business on the streets since she can only give out handjobs and blowjobs since they might find out otherwise if she had anal sex.
- "Slow Down" by Brand Nubian is a What the Hell, Hero? directed at the speaker's ex-girlfriend, who has been selling her body to pay for her crack habit.
- "Tomorrow We'll See" by Sting is based on a documentary on teenage transvestite streetwalkers in Brazil.
- The music video for "Prayer" by Disturbed has one of these that had recently been bought/used. The theme of the song is one of trial and tribulation, so her situation is made decidedly more tragic by images flashing on the screen showing her as a little girl, before she had to turn to her current life.
- "When The Sun Goes Down" by Arctic Monkeys is about a streetwalker and her abusive pimp. It was inspired by the band's chance encounter with one and their wondering what led her to lead that kind of life.
- In Cage the Elephant's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," the narrator is approached by one of these, who claims she has to make money just like everyone else.
- "Roxanne" by The Police from Outlandos d'Amour is about a streetwalker, and the singer who's trying to convince her she doesn't have to do it.
- Simon & Garfunkel sing about this in "The Boxer".
Asking only workman's wages I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare
There were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there
- "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer from her album Bad Girls
See them out on the street at night, walkin'
Picking up on all kinds of strangers
If the price is right
- "There She Goes Again", from The Velvet Underground & Nico.
- In Planescape: Torment, streetwalkers (identified as Harlots) can be found throughout the Hive. The Nameless One is free to pick one up for a fade to black, or alternatively insult her, at which point she'll respond with a volley of insults. Morte's Litany Of Curses ability will be improved if he hears this.
- Ever since the Grand Theft Auto series went 3D with Grand Theft Auto III, players have been able to invite streetwalkers into their cars. Effects vary between games - sometimes nothing, sometimes health restoration, in GTA V even a minor improvement to the stamina stat - but they all show how dangerous this life is. Enlisting a hooker's services costs money; money you can get back by killing her the moment she exits your car.
- Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines has plenty of ladies of the night who aimlessly wander the streets. They're convenient for the vampire player character, since they can be paid to go someplace discreet for a bit of fun.
- Broken Saints has Butterscotch, a teenage girl who propositions the Shinto-Buddhist priest Kamimura. Due to his simple, sheltered nature, he seems not even to understand what she's offering.
- The basis of Manwhores is the characters acting as these, with much of the early comedy revolving around their ineptness and awkwardness at it. Gems include Kevin awkwardly shouting "Sex for money, sex for money" repeatedly on a street corner. Randy actually turns out to be quite good at it, apparently due to the power of his Porn Stache.
- The Human Pet: One of Sam's victims, a woman named Emily, ended up in his clutches due to being a prostitute working the street at night, and who'd just happened to approach his car.
- Briefly depicted in Batman: The Animated Series in "The Ultimate Thrill" and subsequently in the flashback scenes from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Freckles and Blondie don't have a single line, but it's not hard to guess their occupation from the way they're dressed.
- Also referenced in Superman: The Animated Series in "Brave New Metropolis" in which Lois Lane travels to a wretched alternate version of Metropolis in which Superman has joined forces with Lex Luthor. Seeing her a bit too nicely dressed for the run-down crime-riddled part of town where she's landed, some passing motorist yells "Go stand on some other corner, you tart!"
- In the Sealab 2021 episode "Dearly Beloved Seed" it's hinted Hesh had a past as one of these, as 'falling off the wagon' to him is prostituting himself to a john. The original version of the episode (present on the Season 3 DVD) makes it more explicit, as streetwalking was how Hesh met Debbie Dupree.
- Greek history makes this Older Than Feudalism: A famous sandal with markings on its sole that would leave prints reading "ΑΚΟΛΟΥΘΕΙ" ("akolouthei," i.e., "follow me") was found in Athens, probably dating from the classical period (c. 4th century BCE). It appears that the streetwalkers were not the lowest rank of prostitutes in Classical Athens; as free and independent businesswomen, they seem to have been the middle of the scale, between the cheap slave prostitutes of the public brothels established by Solon (which by statute had prices of one obol, or a days wages for a laborer) and the higher-class hetairai (courtesans, generally expected to be intellectually and artistically talented as well as hot). And as the shoe shows, some could even attract the kind of relatively well-off clientele who could read, suggesting that a streetwalker might be able to work her way up into hetaira status in some cases.
- In many jurisdictions, this is the form of sex work that sees the most arrests for sex workers, clients, or both. Street-based sex work is seen as a public nuisance since it's out in the open, and these arrests don't require as much investigative effort as online- or agency-based sex work.