Prostitution arrests down 76 percent in Roseville

Is it possible that Roseville has gotten such a bad name -- among pimps and prostitutes, that is -- that these entrepreneurs are simply not venturing across the city’s borders?

The Roseville Police Department says that’s what’s happening. A recent study showed prostitution-related arrests in the city have decreased by 76 percent in the first half of this year compared to arrests at the same time last year.

Neighboring cities could soon see similar results. The Roseville department cites its participation in a countywide campaign to stop prostitution as the main contributing factor for the decline.

Steering clear of Roseville

Roseville Police Department Community Relations Coordinator Corey Yunke said the numbers reflect a heightened focus by the department on prostitution and sex trafficking in the city.

In the age of the Internet, he explained, rather than soliciting on the streets, pimps have largely resorted to using social media and online ads on sites such as backpage.com -- often cited in Roseville prostitution arrests -- to arrange sexual encounters at local motels.

Roseville Sgt. Sean Johnson heads up the department’s Impact Team, which further assists the police department’s patrol team by focusing on high-crime target areas in the city.

Johnson said officers conduct sting operations, where they either pose as johns (men who buy sex) or pimps who are prostituting women on the Internet. They’ve been using these tactics for years; however, the efforts have been ramped up recently, which in turn have led to more success in driving out prostitution.

One of the biggest changes the department has seen recently, Johnson said, is when an officer calls an advertised number to try to arrange “adult services” for a location in Roseville, often the people who answer the calls say they don’t come to Roseville or simply hang up.

“We haven’t changed our procedures at all,” he said. ”The word has really gotten out. They [pimps, johns and prostitutes] really know we are out here. Many are refusing to come out to our area.”

Getting business’ buy-in

The lion’s share of prostitution and sex trafficking in the Twin Cities metro takes place in budget-priced motels and hotels, Yunke said. Such places often have rooms that open directly outside, where surveillance is limited and people do not have to walk past a front desk area.

And Roseville’s proximity to major freeways and high-volume feeder streets makes criminals confident of a faster getaway.

So, as part of the countywide campaign to stop prostitution, Roseville police, working with other law enforcement agencies and the Ramsey County Attorney’s office, enlisted the help of the managers and staff at the city’s hotels. Key to stopping the influx: giving them insight on how to identify possible sex trafficking and prostitution.

Yunke said hotel employees are trained to look for suspicious activity, such as guests with no luggage or ID, rooms paid for in cash, people who appear fearful or show signs of physical abuse, men waiting outside rooms, young women dressed to look older and other unusual behaviors. If hotel employees see these signs, they are encouraged to call police immediately.

New tactics

Law enforcement agencies also want to decrease the demand for women and girls (some as young as 12) who engage in prostitution.

That requires more than just charges and arrests. As well as prosecuting offenders, the county has introduced treatment and interventions for johns as well as the women and girls engaged in prostitution.

Under this new approach, girls under 18 are not prosecuted, but are treated as victims and offered resources to get away from prostitution.

First-time johns are also treated differently. They are now offered a chance to maintain a clear criminal record (providing the victim is over 18), once they agree to plead guilty, pay applicable fines and complete a court-ordered counseling program, such as a program offered through “Breaking Free” called the “John School.”

Seeing the victims

Breaking Free is a Minnesota-based non-profit organization that helps women and girls escape the dangerous life of prostitution and sexual exploitation. The organization does this through advocacy and by offering victims counseling, job training and help finding housing.

Breaking Free Marketing Director Heather Caillier said, although she believes it is unfair that men soliciting prostitution are given the opportunity to clear their names while women who are unwillingly forced into prostitution are not given the same opportunity, she does think the program has made a substantial impact in changing some men’s attitudes about prostitution.

“Men come in here thinking it’s a victimless crime and they did nothing wrong,” she said.

Caillier said the program forces men to consider the effects of prostitution during an intensive daylong course.

Sold before they’re teens

Caillier said 85 percent of the women Breaking Free helps have been raped and exploited before they turn 18.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said most girls are vulnerable kids, often runaways who are preyed on when they are at their weakest and forced into a life of prostitution unknowingly and unwillingly.

Caillier added that the average age a girl is first prostituted is 12-14.

Both said there is increasing demand for younger and younger girls.

“The problem has been there for quite some time,” Choi said. “Prostitution has largely moved to the Internet and there is a demand for younger and younger girls. Everyone in the county has made combating this a priority.”

A recent case revealed a family sex-trafficking ring which prostituted girls and young women police found were homeless, had mental challenges and were often too physically frail to fight their pimps or johns off. At the time charges were filed in April, police had found at least 10 victims of the operation.

Choi said in 2012, his office charged 12 individuals with trafficking children, and was successful in putting one individual behind bars for 21 years -- the maximum allowed under the law in that instance.

He wants make sentences even more serious for these crimes, especially considering the difficulty in prosecuting pimps and getting victims to cooperate.

“A big part of our efforts is taking a victim-centered approach and connecting girls and women with programs like Breaking Free. These cases can be very difficult to prove and this approach helps us gain trust from victims, who otherwise may not come forward.”

For more information on Breaking Free, go to www.breakingfree.net or call 651-645-6557.  For more information on the family-ring arrests and the efforts to help girls and women trapped in prostitution, go to www.lillienews.com and search on “trafficking.”

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.
 

How is it legal to advertise prostitution?

With backpage.com and other websites noted so often in police reports as the way prostitution is marketed, readers may wonder why the website operators aren’t being charged in the crimes.

Ramsey County District Attorney John Choi says classified advertising websites like backpage.com can place ads on their “adults” section through a provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity from prosecution for the business. The ads themselves are legally classified as “editorial content” and the website owner is exempt from prosecution.

“Backpage can say: ‘We don’t have any editorial control over our ad placing,’” Choi said. “I disagree. They know what’s going on their site.”

Such ads also use keywords such as “escort” or “massage” to avoid spelling out the actual services offered.

Choi said according to his research, Village Voice Media, which operates backpage.com, profits over $30 million annually from ads selling sex.

 

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