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Worcester Still Battling Chronic Prostitution

Monday, October 01, 2012

 

About a dozen of the city's roughly 50 active prostitutes are working on a daily basis, according to a new report from the Worcester Police Department. A number of Worcester's other prostitutes are currently incarcerated, enrolled in drug rehabilitation programs or not active.

The report from Chief of Police Gary Gemme comes in response to calls by members of the City Council for more action on the persistent problem, which is centered mainly around the city's Main South area.

New Approaches to an Old Problem

"There are no easy solutions to eradicating the problem of prostitution especially where drug dependency is the norm among women engaged in sex for a fee and the cost of narcotics and maintaing that dependency contributes to a high recidivism rate," said City Manager Michael O'Brien.

O'Brien said the City will ramp up its efforts to reduce the chronic issue of prostitution by beginning a joint effort between the city's Division of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts Medical School to research long-term solutions for Worcester.

The grant-funded work will look into the prostitution-related health issues of drug abuse, violence and sexually transmitted diseases using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's five-step Strategic Prevention Framework. The initial work is scheduled to begin over the next several weeks.

Meanwhile, the Worcester Police Department has continued its two-prong approach of going after both the supply and the demand sides of the city's sex for a fee transactions.

Officers monitor and arrest known prostitutes for common nightwalker offenses, and plan clothes officers target both active prostitutes and their customers, the so-called "Johns."

The city has arrested 210 males for attempting to purchase sex for a fee since 2007, about one-fifth of a total of nearly 1,000 arrests for prostitution-related offenses during the same period.

A September 8 sting by the city's Vice Squad in the Main South area resulted in 16 arrests, and a July 19 operation netted five more.

Community-Based Solutions

But Gemme said arrests alone will not solve the city's problem.

"Long term solutions need to focus on addressing drug dependency and changing behavior," he said.

The city's police department is already engaged in two community partnership programs aimed at helping individuals on both sides of the sex for a fee transaction.

Currently in its ninth year, Developing Alternatives for Women Now (DAWN) is run in conjunction with the YWCA, Worcester District Court Probation Department, District Attorney, Worcester Police Department and other community groups. The four-week, eight-session intervention program is designed to help women with previous prostitution-related offenses exit the cycle.

The Community Approach to Reduce Demand (CARD) program, organized by the same shareholders as DAWN, is directed at the purchasers of illegal sex, with the goal of educating them on the impact of the crime.

"Effective strategies require community partners and collaboration by the entire criminal justice system as exemplified by the DAWN and CARD programs," said Gemme.

District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera has been outspoken about the need for more action by the city in its fight against prostitution. In August, the Council voted in favor of pursuing legislation that would allow police to impound the cars of "Johns" who are charged with purchasing illegal sex. If the bill is approved by the state legislature, it would come back to Worcester's City Council for another vote before going into effect.

Currently, the Worcester Police Department sends out a postcard to the registered owner of any vehicle in being operated by an individual attempting to purchase sex at the time of their arrest. 

 

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