Our Views: Internet brings prostitution to small towns such as Janesville

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rock County developments in an age-old profession are tragic, sad and stunning.

First, Nathan C. Middleton told authorities he contacted Aprina Paul, 18, of Fitchburg through an online ad and invited her to his rural Evansville home for sex. He claims he found her dead in bed the next morning after she snorted a drug. He burned her body in his backyard. Investigators might never be able to determine whether Paul died of an overdose or murder.

Now, Patrick XL Cooper and Erica L. White of Janesville stand accused of pimping out a 16-year-old girl, a Walworth County runaway. Police say they posted online ads and had clients coming to their Center Avenue apartment to have sex with her three to four times a day. A tip triggered the investigation.

The Internet has transformed the seedy world of prostitution. No longer must hookers hang out at hotels or restaurants. Instead, prostitutes and pimps post ads on websites.

That prostitution occurs in Janesville likely shocked some residents. As Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research and Education, said in Monday's Gazette, don't think it doesn't happen in Janesville or small communities in Rock and Walworth counties. The U.S. Justice Department says the Internet boosts the frequency and profits of human trafficking, now estimated at $9.8 billion per year.

To her credit, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, has authored a bill with the help of Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen that would better protect victims of human trafficking and improve law enforcement and prosecution procedures. The bill addresses concerns raised by victim advocacy groups.

You might think a detective could pose as a john to arrest a hooker or shut down a prostitution ring. Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore says it's not that simple. Doing that, he says, could create a never-ending cycle of drawing prostitutes from elsewhere. Local police would be luring suspects who, absent these covert solicitations, might have nothing to do with Janesville.

“Given our limited police resources and, quite frankly, the resources of prosecutors and the criminal justice system, including incarceration, we have not felt it wise to lure suspects from other cities and states for prosecution here in Janesville,” Moore said.

Federal and state authorities are better equipped to tackle such problems, Moore says.

Instead, he says, police have found success in proactive approaches. Years ago when people were soliciting for sex in at least one Janesville park, residents noted license numbers of suspicious vehicles. Police sent the owners letters urging them to alert authorities if they see sexual activities. That helped chase off those involved. So did posting notices on websites announcing that police planned to make arrests.

Moore says police monitor websites and will make a priority of checking out tips about minors. “If we sense there are any children involved, that is worth considerable use of our resources,” he said Monday.

All sound like reasoned approaches.

As for the case involving the 16-year-old, police are trying to track down the johns.

“With investigations in this digital age, cellphone and computer records may get us to all parties that are involved in the prostitution,” Moore said.

That, too, should serve as fair warning to residents tempted to solicit prostitutes.

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