Risque Business: Prostitution growing concern for law enforcement agencies

by MATT MOLINAR//Associate Editor

[Editor’s note: This story is the first part of the multi-part series “Risque Business,” examining the dangers of prostitution that begins with Issue #7 and concludes in Issue #12. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs, and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.]

Sex sells.

According to HG Legal Recourses, between 70,000 and 80,000 arrests for prostitution are made every year nationwide, including both prostitutes as well as pimps. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 2001 to 2010, Texas had the second highest rate for prostitution, with California having the highest.

However, due to the underground nature of prostitution, it is impossible to calculate the exact statistics for how many prostitution sales are made.

“A lot of people see prostitutes as the way they are portrayed on TV and think this is some girl who’s just being promiscuous and trying to earn cash,” said Chief Nick Castillo of the SPC Police Department. “But a lot of times, it’s someone that has actually been trafficked.”

Prostitution and soliciting of prostitution is a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by 180 days in a county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Promotion of prostitution, which is considered by most to be a “pimp” situation where somebody is controlling a prostitute or a ring of prostitution and making money off of the people who are performing the sexual acts, is punishable by 360 days in prison and up to a $4,000 fine. Compelling prostitution, or when an actor is forcing someone to prostitute themselves, is a second-degree felony, along with human trafficking. These crimes are punishable by two to 20 years in prison.

According to Lt. Ray Mendoza of the Lubbock Police Department, in the years 2015 and 2016, there were 14 arrests made for soliciting sex.

“In 2015, we had a total of seven arrests,” Lt. Mendoza said, “six of which were for buying, and one for selling. In 2016, we had a total of seven arrests, zero for buying and seven for selling.”

Castillo says that the United States is the number one country in both importation and exportation of human slaves. Human trafficking can easily be concealed by prostitution in places where the risky occupation is legal.

“We have a lot of human trafficking that goes on in this country,” said Castillo. “A lot of them end up in the sex trade because they are compelled to prostitution, which means they’re forced into it. A lot of times, it can be very difficult to prove that.”

Although prostitution arrests are not prevalent in Levelland, Castillo says that there is no immunity to prostitution in Levelland, and many cases could be left undiscovered.

“I don’t really have any personal opinions on prostitution,” Chief Castillo said. “But as a law enforcement officer, I feel that it is my goal to keep people safe.  I definitely think that in a world of prostitution, we run into a lot of obstacles.”

Every police officer is required to take a course on human trafficking. Castillo says that classes are offered to receive certifications for vice officers.

“I would recommend any officer that is in an area where prostitution is prominent to undergo the specific training,” Castillo said. “But being in this area, the training just isn’t that necessary.”

In the training that Castillo participated in, he was informed on specific things to look for that may be signs of somebody being held and forced into prostitution against his or her will.

“Anything that has a lock or a secure device that’s designed to keep people in, such as barbed wire turned in towards a facility rather than out, is stuff we look out for,” Castillo said. “There have been instances where people think a house is abandoned and somebody happens to see a shadow move in the house through a crack. When they report it, it turns out that there is somebody being held inside against their will for the purpose of prostitution.”

Eric Sosa, a licensed protection officer, has experienced two instances of prostitution happening in Lubbock. However, the only way he was able to discover the intent of the women was by pure suspicion.

“The first girl, she stole from a Walmart,” Sosa said. “Her pimp wanted her to wear certain things for when she was prostituting. When we caught her stealing clothes, we asked why she was doing it. She told us, ‘My pimp told me to do it.’ After that, we had to take her to jail for theft.”

The second instance of prostitution was where the suspect was charged for prostitution.

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Sosa said a woman called the United Market Street on 19th Street in Lubbock and asked if the pharmacy was open 24 hours a day. When the store employees answered her question, she immediately hung up.

“She came into United after that and was asking for needles,” Sosa said. “She grabbed a whole bunch of needles, so we started to watch her. Then, she told us she would be right back, so we watched her walk up to a gray van behind the United that was parked directly under a light. When we approached the van, we saw that they were having sex in the van. Directly down the street was a crack house that she snitched on.”

Tiffany Pelt, a pubic information officer with the Lubbock Police Department, says that investigators use several methods when it comes to initiating a prostitution investigation. With technology becoming more accessible to anyone, websites such as Backpage.com or Craigslist make it easier to arrange a meet up.

“Often times, social media can serve as a breeding ground for recruiting men and women into the prostitution world,” Pelt said. “Some websites have been used in local investigations that have led to prostitution and prostitution-related arrests. Our detectives have had to evolve and adapt the way they investigate these crimes.”

[Photo Illustrations by TOVI OYERVIDEZ/PLAINSMAN PRESS]

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