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In Milwaukee Buzz

Police say they "go after the Johns just as much as we go after the prostitutes." Here's an MPD sting in 2006. (PHOTO: Andy Tarnoff )

In Milwaukee Buzz

Ads like this one are the latest medium for the world's oldest profession. (PHOTO: Andy Tarnoff )

Milwaukee Police crack down on online prostitution


The cliché has been played out in the movies and on television thousands of times: a man pulls up to a suggestively-dressed woman; she leans in the window and asks what he's looking for; a price is negotiated and she hops inside ... everybody knows how the story ends.

It's the familiar song-and-dance of the stereotypical call-girl. And while many in Milwaukee have heard stories about notorious pick-up zones, the truth of the matter is the world's oldest profession, like everything else, has gone high-tech.

Consider it another example of the internet changing the way people do business.

Sites like Craigslist, Heaven or Hell and The Escort Review take the guesswork out of finding a companion for the evening -- or even a few hours. On Craigslist alone, dozens of advertisements are posted for courtesans under "Erotic Services" every day.

The police department's vice squads, as documented in 2006 by OnMilwaukee.com's Andy Tarnoff and Drew Olson, are still busy setting up sting operations in certain areas of the city. But just as officers work the streets to smack down solicitation, they're also doing the same job without even needing to leave their desks.

The Milwaukee Police Department has been working to combat the online offerings provided by various Web sites with a number of enforcement programs. A detective with the MPD vice squad, who asked to remain anonymous, says the department has made hundreds of arrests over the last five years.

But the police aren't just looking for the prostitutes.

"Nobody is left behind here," the detective says. "We go after the Johns just as much as we go after the prostitutes."

The department enlists undercover officers to make calls to various providers. Once a price is established over the phone, the officers arrive at a designated meeting place and place the suspect under arrest when money is exchanged.

At the same time, the police will often post an ad online and wait for a call ... the wait usually isn't long. If the caller offers money in exchange for a sex act, a meeting is made and arrest is made.

The women posting ads are much different than the stereotypical street-walkers. While those women are more often than not addicted to cocaine or heroin, and turning tricks just to get their next hit, the women posting online are, according to the detective, a little more sophisticated.

"There's kind of a hierarchy to the industry," he says. "The street prostitutes, quite frankly, are hopelessly addicted to controlled substances. They're walking around on the street, engaging in sexual acts in somebody's car in exchange for $20 or $30 just to get money to buy more cocaine.

"Those aren't the girls advertising on the Internet. The majority of those girls are operating as a sort of business enterprise or are doing it to supplement their income. There is a higher level of sophistication with these girls, running it as a business."

The detective is quick to point out that Craigslist, a popular site for selling just about anything, isn't the only guilty party in this high-tech operation. But because of its simplistic format, and the ability -- previously -- to post ads for free, the site is often a prime target.

"Craigslist has been a popular choice with prostitutes because of charges on other sites," the detective says. "But we conduct investigations on a number of Web sites, not just Craigslist."

In response to concerns from lawmakers, police officers and citizens, Craigslist instituted new policies last year that required erotic services posters to pay a fee and be validated with a credit card and phone number.

In addition, the company filed a lawsuit against 14 companies and posters believed to be using the bulletin board to exploit children, offer sex for money and for human trafficking.

According to the company, revenue generated by the posting fees is donated to charity. Also, the telephone data provided by posters is made available to law enforcement agencies to assist in criminal investigations.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster contends the amount of illegal activity taking place via the popular Web site is much smaller than is alleged, but nonetheless feels it was prudent to step up the company's measures.

Prostitution is often called a "victimless crime," but the detective disagrees. He points to the number of crimes that can stem from prostitution; including robbery, battery, drug crimes and sometimes, murder.

"What goes along with prostitution is sex crimes, robberies and health risks," he says. "It's not a victimless crime. It's not something we think is victimless. If you look at a street prostitute, she's not out there because she's a nymphomaniac. She's out there because she's hopelessly addicted to heroin or cocaine.

"Historically, serial killers have preyed upon prostitutes. They get into cars with strange men and drive away. They become victims of rape. They get taken advantage of by pimps that are out there. They're going out, engaging in prostitution and the pimps take the money from them. There are a lot of instances of exploitation out there. The women are victims."

Talkbacks

mitchgat | April 6, 2009 at 8:58 a.m. (report)

Z-Boy - I understood the point you were making; it was clear. I just didn't agree with it and I still don't. You've repeated that you think it's a victimless crime, using the old rule of thumb which I summarized to the very basics of the meaning: "if it doesn't affect me, then who cares." That's exactly what that rule of thumb means. I'm not saying I've never applied that "rule" to a situation. It's a normal sentiment; I just don't think this is a good scenario for using the rule. I think ANY crime that has the potential of harming another human being, no matter how consensual it might be, is a problem and needs to be addressed as such. Although I'm a man, I have a sister and a niece and several wonderful female friends. The very idea of them having to sell their bodies for money (whether it be in some high class, call girl operation or as a street walker) disgusts me, not to mention saddens me. Most men don't have a problem with prostitution and see it as a victimless crime; the evidence for that statement is recorded here by many of the responses. But to me, prostitution is more than an idea. It's not a free enterprise but a business built on the degradation of women. Once we move away from what it really is, we move into the gray area of ideas: "it's just adults engaging in consensual sex; it doesn't hurt me or them or others, then that's fine". Your opinion that prostitution does no harm, has no victims, and is sex among consenting adults is probably far more common than I'd like; but I still think this is not a victimless crime. The only way it would be is to legalize it and make sure the process for receiving "services" was regulated. Then we might be sure that some of the women weren't being mistreated because like it or not, many are... often, and that's what bothers me. I'd like to say that although I disagree, I appreciate that we can discuss in an adult manner... I appreciate a good debate!

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squareinch | April 4, 2009 at 1:14 p.m. (report)

we are babies comparing to Russia lets say. website like http://www.dosug.nu are their "online ordering" for girls (read amazon.com) with user reviews, raitings, and etc.

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Z_boy | April 4, 2009 at 1:11 p.m. (report)

mitchgat: I, too, don't want to start an online blog battle. But I had to reply to your comments only because some of the examples you used aren't quite valid. The rule of thumb isn't "It doesn't affect me, so who cares," the rule of thumb is really "What two (or more) consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is up to them, so long as it doesn't hurt me or them or others, then that's fine." Your example of graffiti, then, doesn't apply. Because one, it's harming another person's property, and two, it's harming a community by creating a sensation of crime and carelessness. Your example of the prostitutes and johns constantly pulling up and doing their "business" is also affecting you and others by having to witness this. I mean two lovers typically don't start fornicating right in broad daylight, right? Same principle. The prostitute and john need to be discreet about it. This is where the online forums like Craigslist come in handy. The prostitute and john agree to their transaction in private, then quietly meet at some destination, do their business, then close up shop and go home. I see nothing wrong with that (for those who are interested in that sort of thing, that is). I totally agree that most criminals probably start small and then graduate onto bigger and better crimes. But what I also understand is that if a person is going into prostitution for drugs (both men and women do this), that is a drug-related crime. And their only reasons for going into crime are to feed their addictions. And as far as johns purchasing a prostitute, it's to fulfill a sexual need. I doubt they're thinking, "Wow, I just bought a prostitute, I think next time I'm going to have to do a little purse snatching." So the little crimes that affect me and others, then, yeah, go after them (i.e., the graffiti people, the prostitutes and johns conducting their business in broad daylight in front of others, drug transactions in the middle of the street, etc.). I hope that clarifies matters. I didn't want you to think that I had the attitude of "If it's harming someone else, but I don't know about it, then I don't care." That's not what I was getting at (see my definition above for consenting crimes to be considered okay, if you need a reminder of what I consider okay).

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mitchgat | April 3, 2009 at 4:17 p.m. (report)

Z-Boy - Trust me, I'm not trying to start an online blog battle but one of the weakest excuses as to why someone should be able to do whatever they want is the old "two consenting adults" line. Prostitution isn't legal in Wisconsin so until it is, the police SHOULD be cracking down on this nuisance crime. There are plenty of people who think graffitii is OK. It doesn't hurt anyone, right? Or how about swearing in front of children that aren't yours? Big deal, they'll hear it someday, right? What's the difference. I have a real problem with people who use the old "it doesn't hurt anyone so why worry about it" excuse. What they're really saying is "I don't care, as long as it doesn't affect me." Look the other way. Haven't we done that enough in this county? Former NYC mayor Guiliani is far from one of my favorite people but I will give him his props in that he realized that big problems start small. (Supposedly) petty crimes, like prostitution, grafitti and the like grow into bigger issues - blight, businesses not wanting to move in, selling one's body to make money for drugs, petty theft, armed robbery. You do understand that most criminals start of doing petty crime and "graduate" to bigger and badder crimes? To me, when people say "it doesn't affect me" it just cracks me up because by the time it starts affecting you, then it's too late to do anything. One more thing... boy are you right about prostituion taking place each day and night! I live across the street from an elementary school. The whores and their John's have parked in front of my house, in broad daylight, on a school day and started going at it. Neighbors had to chase them away. About a month ago, about 2 o'clock in the morning, a car is running in front of my house, that cars' rocking like crazy and the windows steamed up. Boy did they get a surprise when police quietly showed up and arrested them both.

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boozehound | April 3, 2009 at 2:32 p.m. (report)

i'm kind of disappointed that its 2009 and we're still wasting resources to arrest prostitutes. it doesn't bother me one bit that someone is willing to pay for sex.

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