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Cover Story

Sex For Sale

11/14/2012

Anyone out there looking for a “whopperlicious” woman for only 100 bucks? Perhaps a “sexy, mature, busty and beautiful cougar on the prowl” is more for you. There’s also the “discreet, friendly, upscale, playful and intellectually sophisticated” dream girl for businessmen 40 and older.                

Those are just a few of the headlines that call to lascivious browsers in all caps on the online “adult escort” classifieds section of Backpage.com, one of the prostitution industry’s latest vehicles for soliciting sex. Letting your perverted fantasies or desperate curiosity lure you into clicking “I agree” on the disclaimer page that enters you into the site is the first step in what could ultimately end in an embarrassing and life-changing arrest for prostitution.               

It reads: “I confirm and represent that I am 18 years of age or older (and am not considered to be a minor in my state of residence) and that I am not located in a community or local jurisdiction where nude pictures or explicit adult materials are prohibited by any law. I agree to report any illegal services or activities which violate the Terms of Use. I also agree to report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities.”                

Based on the recent prostitution busts that collared 10 women and 38 men (at least 18 of which are Des Moines metro residents) — most of whom were caught after allegedly soliciting such sexual services offered on Backpage.com — it’s safe to assume few users actually read the disclaimer or the site’s Terms of Use policy but rather eagerly ran a fast cursor to click on “I agree.”

 

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The world’s oldest profession

Despite its taboo attachments, prostitution is said to be the world’s oldest profession, evident by ancient hieroglyphics, historic scriptures including the Bible and tales from the Old West. Even West Des Moines’ charmed historic area has a past pocked by prostitution.                

In 1893, Valley Junction’s trolley line, wooden sidewalks and dirt streets were lined with three banks and three drug stores, but many of the buildings were boarding houses of “questionable character,” as the neighborhood association puts it.               

A hundred years later, prostitution had migrated to the seedy underbelly of one of Des Moines’ oldest neighborhoods. Most locals can remember when a drive down Sixth Avenue during the bewitching hour had the potential to yield “blonde bombshells” and “exotic barbies” draping themselves over the driver’s side window.                

“Years ago — like 10 to 15 years ago — there was a lot of prostitution on Sixth Avenue in Des Moines, and it was just like the normal thing you’d see on TV with these women walking up and down the street,” said Capt. Joe Simon of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, which is assisting in the investigation of the Oct. 17-18 prostitution sting that occurred in the metro.                

It’s a well-known fact among natives to Des Moines that Riverbend was the place to go for a hooker, and it wasn’t handled very discreetly either, according to Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, who spent a number of his years as a defense attorney, sometimes on prostitution cases.                

“People were engaging in sex right in front of people’s houses, discarding their condoms wherever, and the kids in the neighborhood would have to walk around them. They’d pick them up and play with them, thinking they were balloons,” Sarcone remembered. “People’s daughters were getting propositioned by the johns (men who solicit sex with prostitutes). Why does it have to happen in that neighborhood? We (the city) had to do something about it.                

“It still happens over there, but not as much,” he added. “That was 30 years ago. Now police have gotten more sophisticated.”                

And so have the prostitutes, Simon said.               

“This day and age, they use technology to their advantage so they don’t have to put themselves out there,” he said.

 

The modern-day prostitute

At the turn of the millennium, Craigslist was born, offering the prostitution industry a new online vehicle for its solicitation. In 2010, amidst pressure, its founders agreed to close that portion of the adult personals section. Over the past few years, Backpage.com has grown to take its place.                

Although many of the ads posted use codes, symbols and acronyms (see a full list HERE) to advertise different “escort” services offered, it does little to fool law enforcement detectives.               

“Undercover cops will go in there wired up, or the prostitute will come to a meeting place where video is hooked up,” Sarcone said. “It’s tough for the defense to win anymore, because it’s usually recorded or on video. The vast majority of these charges lead to convictions.”               

According to the law, it’s OK to pay for a woman to take off her clothes, like at a strip club. It’s OK to pay a woman to escort you as date on a night out. But if money is exchanged for a sex act, you’ve just broken the law. According to the Iowa Code section 702.17, the terms “sex act” or “sexual activity” mean “any sexual contact between two or more persons by: penetration of the penis into the vagina or anus; contact between the mouth and genitalia or by contact between the genitalia of one person and the genitalia or anus of another person; contact between the finger or hand of one person and the genitalia or anus of another person, except in the course of examination or treatment by a person licensed or by use of artificial sexual organs.”              

Once arrested, both the buyer and the seller are charged with prostitution, an aggravated misdemeanor that’s punishable by up to two years in prison and a minimum of $625 in fines. Often a conviction comes with a few years of probation as well.               

“It used to be that a judge might offer conditions as part of a woman’s probation,” explained Sgt. Jana Rooker of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. “She would receive a map of Des Moines, highlighting areas known for prostitution, and she had to stay out of those areas or she was in violation of her probation.”                

But sites like Backpage.com have made such conditions obsolete.

                 

Leaving the life behind

Once convicted, Polk County Correction Services has pre-trial release and probation programs in place focused on rehabilitating offenders on both sides of the crime. Using scientifically-validated risk assessments, officials determine the kind of treatment a person will need. They look at things like criminal history, substance abuse, educational background, mental health issues, employment history and the company the person keeps to determine a risk-needs assessment. It’s a very comprehensive report that looks at their strength areas as well as areas of need, according to Sally Kreamer, director of the Fifth Judicial District.                

“It’s a lot like when you go to the emergency room at the hospital,” Kreamer said. “In ‘triage’ we determine if a person is low risk or high risk. If they’re low risk, then that’s it; we chalk it up to just a poor decision, and we have research to back that up. For low-risk people, usually just getting in trouble is enough. But if they’re determined to be high risk, we do a full-blown assessment.”                

The usual precursor to this type of criminal activity is a tremendous amount of trauma, she said. While substance abuse plays a significant role in one’s criminal behavior, trauma early in life and the mental health issue that develops as a result is a big part of it, too.              

“The two usually go hand in hand,” Kreamer advised. “It’s really important to understand why people enter crime, because if you don’t understand why people enter crime, you can’t help them get out.”                

Many high-risk women end up in the Women’s Resource Center, where most stay for an average of four to five months, depending on the individual’s needs and progress. There they receive treatment for substance abuse, cognitive behavioral programming that works on helping her “change her thinking,” as well as exploiting employment opportunities, developing personal financing skills and housing resources.               

“We try to provide those things at the facility so women are not so overwhelmed. But at the same time, I don’t want probation to be the only place for them to get their needs met,” Kreamer said. “We want them to be able to navigate those resources and their relationships in order to stay out of trouble.”                

The Women’s Resource Center is usually at its maximum capacity and is the only such facility in the state (and one of only a handful in the nation) that allows children age 5 and under to live there, too, while their mothers start from scratch and rebuild their lives.                

Statistically, about 8.2 percent of people who go through the local parole or probation system return to incarceration, including those convicted of prostitution, a victory for the Fifth Judicial District correctional services division, Kreamer said.                

“We’re pretty excited for the third year in a row about our recitivism rate,” she beamed. “Overall, crime has gone down for anybody and everybody on parole or probation, especially in women and African-Americans. We’re exceptionally pleased with those results.”                

As far as corrections go, Iowa has been ahead of the game since the 1980s and continues to improve and upgrade the system. Kreamer said Iowa is also third in the nation for having an inexpensive correctional system per capita, and that’s because “we use community-based correction — a really smart way of doing it.”                

“Iowa’s very progressive. Des Moines was first in the nation to establish pre-trial release services in the 1960s,” Kreamer said. “We don’t guess that an offender is going to need treatment or not need it; we use risk assessment tools to help make those decisions.                

“We’re lucky in the Des Moines area because we have a lot of services and community agencies that we can refer people to,” she added.               

Kreamer said a recent example of Iowa’s pro-activity in corrections was the implementation of the mental health assessment tool that was recently added to the already science- and psychology-based system six months ago.                

“Now we conduct a mental health pre-screening on everyone in the pre-trial release program, because someone may score low in the risk assessment but high in mental health areas,” Kreamer said, which is sometimes the case for the johns.               

While it’s often correct to assume men seek out prostitutes because they’re pursuing fantasies or lustful desires which causes them to have a temporary lapse in judgment, some of them do possess mental health issues that dictate their criminal behavior. Such issues may not have been detected by the scientific assessment standards of the past.

 

Pimping

Pimping is another story. For pimps, the questions Kreamer asks: “Are they driven by money or are they driven by substance abuse?”                

“If it’s substance abuse, we send them to drug court, which is highly structured. But if they’re driven by money, we have a whole different strategy,” she said.                

That strategy involves containment such as prison and house arrest programs and close supervision, possibly involving a tracking anklet, as offenders require a lot of “cognitive restructuring.”                

“It’s like touching a hot stove — these people have to have immediate consequences,” Kreamer explained.

 

Recent arrests

In the case of the 48 arrested in October, only one — Jeremy Farris, 33, of Des Moines — was charged with pandering, which is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Of the 944 inmates currently housed in Polk County Jail, six are charged with prostitution and one for pimping, according to Rooker.                

Law enforcement officials have advised that much of the recent investigations that have led to prostitution-related arrests have depended on close monitoring of websites like Backpage.com. Often women who advertise there travel on a prostitution circuit from city to city, but the only place in the U.S. where it’s legal is the state of Nevada.                

So anyone in Des Moines tempted to search for a “sexy, hot, mixed bitch down for anything,” just remember, they’re watching. CV

 

Sidebar:

Thinking about seeking out a casual encounter online? Here’s a fact for you:

Craigslist personal ads were blamed for a 14 percent increase — about 6,500 new infections each year — of AIDs cases; syphilis cases saw a similar increase.

Source: “Internet’s Dirty Secret: Assessing the Impact of Technology Shocks on the Outbreaks of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” by New York University’s Stern School of Business, April 2012.

 

Fact

In 2011 Polk County saw 42 prostitution arrests, three pimping and one pandering.

 

Prostitution, pimping, pandering and their respective punishments, as defined by Iowa Code 725

PROSTITUTION

A person who sells or offers for sale a person’s services as a partner in a sex act, or who purchases or offers to purchase such services, commits an aggravated misdemeanor — punishable by up to two years in prison and a minimum of $625 in fines.

                

PIMPING

A person who solicits a patron for a prostitute, or who knowingly takes or shares in the earnings of a prostitute, or who knowingly furnishes a room or other place to be used for the purpose of prostitution, whether for compensation or not, commits a Class D felony — punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $750 to $7,500.

                 

PANDERING

A person who persuades, arranges, coerces, or otherwise causes another adult to become a prostitute or to return to the practice of prostitution after having abandoned it, or keeps or maintains any premises for the purposes of prostitution or takes a share in the income from such premises knowing the character and content of such income commits a Class D felony. If the same offense is committed by with a minor rather than an adult, it’s a Class C felony — punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.

 


Stated rules for posting an adult escort ad to Backpage.com

Cannot post obscene or lewd and lascivious graphics or photographs which depict genitalia, actual or simulated sexual acts or naked images;

Cannot post any solicitation directly or in “coded” fashion for any illegal service, including exchanging sexual favors for money or other valuable consideration;

Cannot post any material on the site that exploits minors in any way;

Cannot post any material on the site that in any way constitutes or assists in human trafficking;

Must be at least 18 years of age or older and not considered to be a minor in your state of residence.

Any post that exploits a minor in any way is subject to criminal prosecution and will be reported to the Cybertipline for law enforcement. Postings violating these rules and the Terms of Use are subject to removal without refund.

 

Cost to post a Backpage.com adult escort ad

Ads can be a maximum length of 500 characters.

Postings are $3

Postings can be automatically reposted to the top of the listing every three to 30 days, as specified.

Automatic repostings cost: $7 for four times, $14 for eight times, $21 for 12 times, $42 for 26 times.

 

Other prostitution busts in Iowa this year:

During a sting running from Feb. 16 – 24, 13 men were arrested for visiting an alleged prostitute in a Westown Parkway Residence apartment in February, answering an online ad. Among those arrested was Armando Villareal, the former head of the state’s Division of Latino Affairs under the Chet Culver administration.                

On Oct. 24 and 25, more than 30 people were arrested in the Cedar Rapids area after a three-day sting targeted multiple hotels in Linn and Marion Counties.

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