Law enforcement, like many other fields, has evolved dramatically in the use and development of equipment, creation of policies that change with society, and the methods of investigatory practices used to solve crimes. However, one area that many departments have been slower to evolve is the approach to crimes involving prostitution. Prostitution, often referred to as one of the oldest professions, has changed in the manner of organization and operation. While there are those situations where the prostitute stands on the street corner, this has become the aberration rather than the norm.
With the evolution of prostitution, individuals —both men and women participating in this activity— use the Internet and social media to advertise themselves and their skill sets. Now, the introduction and use of such technologies allows both men and women to never have to leave their living room to attract and service their clients. In turn, this has moved the profession out of visibility of law enforcement and reduced the risk of interference from police.
From the perspective of the public, fewer individuals are seen standing on the street corners, therefore giving the impression that law enforcement is effective in reducing this type of activity. The reality is counter to this perception. Technological advances in the Internet, smartphones, and the like, have brought the world of prostitution and human trafficking to a new level. The reality is that there is an increase in the level of such activities and we are seeing the number of prostitutes and traffickers increase. In connection with these increases is also the rise in the level of violence related to such activities.
The recidivism rate for women participating in prostitution nears 100 percent in some areas. In most prostitution stings, one of two things often occur. One, the female officer poses as a prostitute and will wait for potential clients to approach and then effect arrest(s) with the aid of back-up police personnel. Two, officers will pose as a client and will attempt to pick-up a prostitute, then make the bust. While neither of these methods is wrong, they are sometimes, however, ineffective.
In most states, the crime of prostitution is considered a very low-level crime. Participants will be out of jail quickly and back out on the street in a matter of a short period. There is preparedness to pay their minimum monetary fine and continue business as usual. With recidivism rates being high, fear of jail or penalty usually is not a deterrent. The punishment from the trafficker may have much more motivation to continue working than jail is a deterrent.
According to a study conducted by the Depaul College of Law in 2010, 50 percent of women involved in prostitution are being trafficked in some way. Half of the men and women participating in the world’s oldest profession are being forced to conduct sexual acts for money the victims will likely never see. Some may work independently and understand the ramifications of their actions. Some are not willing participants and withstand brutal abuse from the offender that will likely go uncharged.
In knowing the information that we now know about prostitution, change in how it is dealt with is critical. Our practices, methods, and mindset all must evolve as the type of criminal activities grow and change. Rather than surveillance of the street corner, law enforcement must now use the tactic of ordering up a date on one of these sites that frequently use dating advertisements as a means of prostitution. Such sites are used primarily as an online marketplace, similar to Craigslist, and used almost exclusively for prostitution. When the male/female arrives at the location, they are not arrested. Officers explain to this person that this initial encounter is for informational purposes only. As part of this procedure, law enforcement personnel can then check on the subject’s well-being, safety, find out if they need any resources (e.g., medical, food, clothes), and explain to him/her the resources available (e.g., housing, transportation, rehabilitation). The purpose of these strategies is to help individuals realize how they can remove themselves from such situations and to offer the opportunity to supply information and provide evidence on the trafficker.
Trafficking humans is one of the most lucrative crimes in the world but rarely charged as a criminal matter. While the approach above to prostitution is victim-centered rather than crime-centered, it provides more information for law enforcement and opportunities for the victims to escape from the pattern of activity and involvement. Such approaches hope to prosecute traffickers and rehabilitate victims while improving a community at the same time. Critical to the success of such strategies is the need to know the resources offered in a community. Such approaches are smarter and more efficient methods to dealing with such criminal activity.