Some hotel employees and managers turn a blind eye to prostitution occurring within their establishment, help market services, give discounts, and even tip off pimps to law enforcement inquiries.
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In return, they might receive money or free sexual services. Other businesses that pimps said gave them preferential treatment include mobile phone dealers, photographers, clubs, clothing retailers, car dealerships, and adult stores. Let me know when stings going on. He gave me a heads up. Within minutes, a client replies to her ad and she is engaged in an instant messaging conversation where she tells him the time, hotel, and room number where he can find her.
Half an hour later, there is a knock at her door. The old-school marketing methods—ads in the phone book, local newspapers, alternative lifestyle publications, and business cards—are still in use, but they are ceding more and more ground to online mediums. Forty-nine percent of pimps reported using Internet ads to attract business. Online classifieds, social media vehicles, discussion boards, chat rooms, dating websites, and custom web pages are commonly used to attract and book new business.
The spatial limitations that once governed the underground commercial sex economy are gone. Often the new clientele are higher-paying customers. Moving marketing from the street to the information superhighway also helps pimps and sex workers better manage the physical risks of the business.
A lot of creeps come out. Employee safety was a concern cited by only 6 percent of pimps. They were worried that their employees would be raped, killed, arrested, or infected with a sexually transmitted disease. To guard against physical violence, 16 percent of pimps said they carried weapons on the job, and 22 percent said their employees were armed. But while moving more of the business online put many pimps at ease about some of the physical risks, it introduces new legal threats for pimps, sex workers, and clients. With every text, email, chat message, or other online communication sent between pimps, employees, and customers, a new opportunity arises for police to document transactions in the underground commercial sex economy.
More business online makes evidence easier to collect. Nearly 21 percent of the pimps interviewed said their greatest fear was being arrested and prosecuted. With few exceptions, respondents felt that law enforcement efforts surrounding pimping and sex trafficking have increased in recent years. Pimps, cognizant of the legal risks of conducting business online, frequently opt to communicate with employees in coded language, through face-to-face meetings, walkie talkies, prepaid cell phones, or text messages.
To guard against sting operations, pimps encourage employees to ask clients if they are police, scrutinize physical appearance and body language, and push johns to cross lines they know police are not lawfully allowed to cross. For some of the more risk-averse and astute pimps, a critical practice is to call the client and look for red flags that he might be law enforcement. The truth hidden in the shadows of the underground commercial sex economy is a hard, difficult reality that is too often left unacknowledged.
Teaching narcotics, gang, and vice investigators improved interviewing and evidence-collection techniques could lead to better identification of telltale psychological wounds, encourage inter-unit cooperation, and drive up prosecutions of pimps and traffickers. Similarly, training prosecutors and judges on the evidentiary requirements needed to prove psychological coercion in court would go a long way toward making more cases.
Simply sharing intelligence across law enforcement units and departments would facilitate better evidence collection. One city giving other cities a heads-up when they are going to crack down on pimping and prostitution would facilitate preparations for related migrations. Public campaigns highlighting the hard realities of sex work and trafficking would educate potential victims, prospective offenders, future jury members, school officials, parents, peers, mentors, and everyday people of the telling signs and consequences of life in the underground commercial sex economy.
Attacking this black market where it lives online is also important. Laws governing websites that profit from advertising sex work could be strengthened to impose large fines and penalties.
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About Loren W. Loren W. The safety plan includes enforcing city codes, targeting aggressive panhandlers who are also known to attempt pickpocketing, adding security cameras and lighting and repaving Bourbon Street to give the thoroughfare a cleaner look. But police have not been involved in enforcing prostitution laws inside the strip clubs, Gernon said, and have instead focused on enforcing sex trafficking laws "where we find our victims" — usually on websites like Backpage.
An anonymous tip about prostitution would not meet the burden of probable cause to go into a strip club, Gernon said.
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If NOPD received a credible tip about illegal activity or underage dancers, however, Gernon said officers would be expected to act on the information. In crime data analyzed by NOLA. We actively encourage dancers and patrons at adult businesses to report anything illegal they see or hear so that we can work with our federal partners to vigorously investigate and catch any illegal activities. Asked whether the department was aware that a federal investigation uncovered evidence that pimps had forced women under their control to target tourists and rob them of cash and other valuables, Gernon responded, "Such instances have been a serious problem in the 8 th District and we are actively working these theft cases on nearly a daily basis.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office has taken a different approach to prostitution enforcement, being more aggressive about arresting customers on solicitation charges than NOPD.
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They also seized two motels, one of them shown above in a file photo, that they said were being used to promote prostitution. The seizures resulted in two guilty pleas on tax fraud charges that stemmed from the motel owners underreporting occupancy to avoid paying taxes. Data provided by the department spanning to early shows that NOPD has been active when it comes to arresting prostitutes, especially in the French Quarter.
Of the prostitution-related arrests in New Orleans, — or 41 percent — were in the French Quarter.
Center for Problem-Oriented Policing
But a more telling statistic illustrates the extent to which women — many victims of human trafficking, experts say — are bearing the brunt of prostitution-related arrests, even though men are driving the demand. One in 10 French Quarter prostitution arrests were for solicitation of a prostitute. Citywide, the number is even lower: 7 percent of the prostitution-related arrests were for solicitation, meaning the vast majority of the enforcement efforts have been focused on prostitutes — most of them women.
Nia Weeks, a staff attorney with Women With a Vision, which helps run a diversion program for prostitutes, said she finds it disturbing that the solution to prostitution historically has been to criminalize women. Many women who turn to prostitution do it out of desperation, Weeks said, and are pushed to the brink by what many people in New Orleans face — poverty. The solutions to the issue can be controversial. Weeks believes prostitution should be made legal and the focus shifted to providing economic opportunities for women and offering them training and other services.
She lobbied against the law that James Kelly, the executive director of Covenant House, supported that placed age limits on dancers. His concern is that women who are the most vulnerable — young, homeless, often with a history of trauma, sexual or physical abuse — can easily become victims of sex trafficking. Like the women Weeks often sees who are desperate to make ends meet, Kelly is concerned the most vulnerable are more likely to turn to erotic dancing and be potential victims to sex trafficking. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office has taken a different approach to prostitution enforcement, being more aggressive about arresting customers on solicitation charges.
The agency still arrests more prostitutes than customers, but the margins are more equitable than in New Orleans, with about 30 percent of all prostitution arrests being customers, according to data from JPSO. Gernon acknowledged the department is behind the curve in recognizing the potential victimization in what he called survival sex work.
Kelly, of Covenant House, has struggled to get the NOPD to think about a more victim-centered approach that seeks to steer prostitutes to services over taking them to jail. When Kelly met with NOPD leadership about a victim-centered approach earlier this year, he said he encountered resistance. But since then, the department has allowed Covenant House to conduct training sessions with officers to spot human trafficking.
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