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The Internet changes the nature of sex trafficking, even in Janesville

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Andrea Anderson
January 13, 2014

JANESVILLE — The Internet has changed the businesses of prostitution, even in towns the size of Janesville.

With a few computer or smartphone clicks, a picture of a woman can be taken, a short description of her written and an advertisement of her services uploaded to any of several websites trolled by potential clients.

A Janesville couple charged with pimping out a 16-year-old Walworth County runaway girl is suspected of using the Internet to solicit sex and find clients, said Janesville Police Detective Steve Williams.

“It makes it easier, more advantageous for the subject to do it that way … because of anonymity,” Williams said. “They can disguise who they are, they have a broader audience, so to speak.”

Janesville police looked on Backpage.com, a free classified advertising website, and found a page for the 16-year-old and Erica L. White, 26, of 2338 Center Ave., upper, Janesville, according to search warrant documents.

Patrick XL Cooper, 27, also of 2338 Center Ave., upper, and White are charged in Rock County Court with soliciting a child for prostitution. Cooper is considered to be the man who ran the show under the alias Gotti, according to search warrant documents.

Cooper also solicited another woman, besides White and the teenager, for prostitution, according to the criminal complaint.

“Patrick took approximately seven pictures of her, three to four dressed pictures and three to four fully nude pictures” and uploaded them with advertisements online, the criminal complaint states.

Sex trafficking, including prostitution, has found its place online since the inception of commercial websites such as Craigslist, Backpage.com and TheEroticReview.com.

Traffickers, or pimps, can post pictures and set up PayPal and email accounts anonymously or with pseudonyms. Prostitutes no longer need to walk the streets with their bosses watching from afar.

“(The) Internet is the venue, really,” said Jenniffer Price,  commander of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Internet Crimes Against Children Unit.  “That is where sex trafficking, whether it is adult or child sex trafficking, is advertised. That is where the consumers are going to find the victims. That is where the predators or pimps, as most people refer to them, and sex traffickers … are advertising their services.”

Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research and Education, warns of the misconception that online sex trafficking isn't happening in smaller cities or towns such as Janesville or those found in Walworth County.

“Eighty to 90 percent of prostitution is online,” Farley said. “If you're not advertising online, you don't have a business happening … especially in smaller towns and rural areas, they have to advertise online.”

INDUSTRY EXPANSION

Human trafficking, selling a person for forced labor, is a $32 billion global business, according to the International Labour Organization.

The profit made each year in the United States from human trafficking is $9.8 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The Internet is helping increase its profitability and frequency.

“It's a business model,” Farley said. “Internet classifieds like Backpage and EroticReview, all of these are just business models for selling women for sex ... It's expanded prostitution, it's extended its reach to pretty much every place in the United States.”

Prostitution is a slice of human trafficking, Price said. 

The notion that transportation is required for trafficking or is restricted to Eastern Europe is false, Farley said.

“Trafficking is when a pimp controls you, whether you're sold across the street, in the same house, or in another county,” Farley said. “It (the Internet) makes it easier for trafficking to happen and for lots of women to be sold.”

Phones make it simple for traffickers to conduct their business, too.

If a client of Cooper's wanted to see more pictures of one of the women, he took more pictures and sent them by phone, the complaint states. Many of the clients who called Cooper requested the 16-year-old because she was younger than the other women, one woman told police, the complaint states.

TRAFFICKERS AND SAFETY

Aprina Paul, the 18-year-old woman whose body was found burned in the fire pit outside a rural Evansville home in November, reportedly responded to an advertisement for sex posted by Nathan C. Middleton, 12016 W. Highway 14, Evansville.

Middleton told authorities Paul responded to his advertisement the morning of Sunday, Oct. 27, according to search warrant documents.

Whether Paul engaged in sex for money previously or if she had a trafficker is unknown.

The Internet may allow some women and men to solicit themselves for money on their own, but the majority of the time women and men are not voluntarily performing sexual acts for their own financial gain. A pimp usually is pushing sex workers into the hands of their clients, Price said.

“Anytime that a young woman or girl is being trafficked, we have a sex trafficker, more often than not, dictating how that girl is being trafficked,” Price said.

It takes between two and three hours for a homeless teen to be approached by an exploiter, according to the Department of Justice.

The 16-year-old girl from Walworth County was sold for sex beginning in mid-December after meeting White at a house party, where she told White she had been kicked out of her home, the complaint states. She told police she had sex for money with three or four clients a day in the apartment's living room or spare bedroom, the complaint states.

She told police that when she first arrived at the apartment, she resisted. But Cooper told her that if she did not cooperate something bad would happen to her, according to the criminal complaint. White told her to do as Cooper said, according to the criminal complaint.

The girl told police that that last night she was at the Center Avenue home, she saw Cooper choking White, according to the complaint.

The violence she witnessed isn't uncharacteristic in the trafficking industry.

A 1985 Canadian study found the death rate of women in prostitution was 40 times higher than that of the national average; a statistic Farley said still is relevant. A 1994 Council for Prostitution Alternatives study reported that women involved in prostitution were raped about once a week.

The use of the Internet in the commercial sex industry can mean a decrease in safety for the sex workers and victims. There aren't others around to write down license plate numbers of suspicious clients or warn a fellow sex worker of a possible danger.

John DeLamater, a sociology professor at UW-Madison, has had students who have used their body to make money. One student was a streetwalker in Cleveland, Ohio, he said.

“She told us that street walkers really looked out for each other,” DeLamater said. “Certain men were known to be dangerous … When people worked together face-to-face, there was some opportunity to reduce those risks that occur. The anonymity with the Internet increases that risk.”

REDUCING TRAFFICKING

Some Janesville detectives have had training in detecting sex trafficking online, Williams said. The Wisconsin Department of Justice has provided guidance on how to investigate and crack down on online sex trafficking.

The Internet was not used to bring victims or sex workers from other cities to Janesville, but it is possible there are other females, from outside of Janesville, that were also sold for sex at the Janesville apartment, Williams said.

Price and her unit are working with commercial websites to help reduce the number of people trafficked online, especially children. She and Williams could not disclose how because it would jeopardize their progress, but she said they have techniques that are working.

Law enforcement knows traffickers are using fictitious names on posts and for setting up PayPal and email accounts.

“We just use different methods to identify their location and who they are,” Price said.

She said they are focused on a variety of websites, not just one or two.

“Suffice it to say that there are a number of online venues, (we're) not focused specifically to one or two … I can tell you traffickers are using technology to their advantage.”



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