Local authorities to focus on prostitution
JANESVILLE—Hello, this is the police calling.
We want you to stop prostituting yourself, and we'll help you find a way out.
That's the message local prostitutes will soon hear from Janesville police.
That's the overt message, and it's sincere. But there's a subtext: We know who you are, we know what you're doing, and we want you to stop.
Finding local prostitutes might be the easiest part of this operation. Online advertisements for sex are common. The prostitutes' contact information provides a start for police to track them down.
Janesville police have started gathering information on local prostitutes. The calls will start in the months ahead, Deputy Chief Dan Davis said.
Janesville police had plans to address the problem before a recent case of a 16-year-old allegedly forced into prostitution, but police held off because another law enforcement agency, which was running a related operation, asked them to, Davis said.
The recent case of two Janesville residents accused of forcing the teen runaway into prostitution changed things, Davis said.
“We feel this recent case has kind of put this in the express lane. It has brought it out to the public, and a community will dictate to a police department how it expects to be policed,” Davis said.
The other agency, which Davis is not at liberty to identify, was in contact with juvenile prostitutes who were advertising online.
The agency's officers believed they had identified the majority of local young prostitutes offering services and were trying to establish a rapport “to convince them to get out and break free from whatever it was that was coercing them to do this,” Davis said.
If local police intervened, the fear was that the prostitutes would hide, and the agency would lose touch with them.
“We were balancing the needs of law enforcement on a wider scale,” Davis said. “They assured us they are in touch with most of the kids. So we backed off of it for the time being,” Davis said.
Now, Janesville police are getting ready to start making calls, and they're focusing on adult prostitutes as well as any juveniles.
“It's going to be a very overt effort. We're not setting up a sting operation or anything of the sort,” Davis said.
If a juvenile is involved in prostitution, police and the district attorney take a more aggressive approach.
“In the case of using children, you have my full and undivided attention as a prosecutor,” Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary said.
“I can tell you that right now we are not aware of any kids who are actively being advertised in Janesville,” Davis said this week.
But why not arrest every prostitute who advertises online?
It's a matter of limited police resources and the fear that simply making arrests will create a revolving door, with a new prostitute showing up for every one arrested, Davis said.
“It doesn't make it OK, and we understand that,” Davis said.
There also is an issue of fairness: The prostitutes can be located through their online ads, but the men who pay for sex can be difficult to find and unwilling to admit their crimes.
The johns' acts are as illegal as the prostitutes, so to only hold the prostitutes accountable is inequitable, Davis said.
O'Leary said he has to decide where to spend limited time and other resources.
Some think the DA's office prosecutes every crime.
“We can't. We have to look at the most serious offenses,” O'Leary said.
O'Leary noted that committing an act of prostitution or patronizing a prostitute are misdemeanors. His office must confine most of its work to felonies, he said.
Prostitution is a crime in which everyone involved is committing a crime, so it's difficult to produce a witness, O'Leary noted.
In addition, the johns normally do not want people to know they have paid for sex.
Running a place of prostitution, being a pimp or encouraging someone to be a prostitute—those are all felonies.
"If there is proof an operation, that's a felony, and that's where I will spend my time,” O'Leary said.
Prostitution used to be on the street or at a strip joint, O'Leary said, but online solicitation is new, and his office is struggling to keep up.
Internet providers, often out of state, take their time in relinquishing records needed for prosecutions, O'Leary said, and some have taken to deleting records so they don't have to respond to requests from investigators.
O'Leary said the state attorney general has made trafficking in children a priority, and O'Leary will send his prosecutors to state workshops to learn more about it.
Technology, meanwhile, continues to change.
“It's kind of hard when your 14-year-old daughter is more up on technology than a 50-year-old prosecutor,” O'Leary said.
The argument still gets made that prostitution is a victimless crime, but Davis said that's not how police here see it.
“We take the approach that there's at least some level of victimization,” Davis said.
Janesville police will try to nudge prostitutes out of their illicit business by connecting them to social services, “whatever the need is, to help them pursue a little different lifestyle,” Davis said.
Janesville police will evaluate and decide if it's working, and if not, “go to Plan B,” Davis said.
“I can't promise you that no one will ever get arrested, (but) arrests are a long way from our primary objective at this point,” Davis said.
Davis thinks that while the program might help some women, other prostitutes will take their places in the online ads.
“Based on the history of mankind, they will pop up,” he said.