Tri-State prostitution moves online

By Nathan Ryder - bio | email | Twitter
Posted by Natalie Yarbor - email

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Tri-Staters might think activity like this couldn't possibly be happening here, but nothing is further from the truth.

A lot of online prostitutes advertise on Craiglist, travel into the Tri-State for a couple of days, and then disappear.

"Sergeant Jones," an undercover officer with the EPD said, "It used to be that people cruising for hookers in Evansville would head to areas like Fares Avenue or the corner of Governor and East Riverside.

"Sgt. Jones" said, "It used to be a lot more prevalent and now it's slacked off a bit."

But this undercover officer with Evansville Police Department's Vice Squad said it's not because business has gone belly up.

Instead, prostitution is moving to a virtual street corner on websites like Craigslist, and it is happening right here in the Tri-State.

"Jones" said, "There's just not that much out in the public view, and they may not realize it as much."

Browse through items posted for sale and job listings, and you'll also find an erotic section where people advertise a different type of service, many complete with provocative pictures you might find in a triple-X magazine.

"I've seen some actual advertisements where there were actually some sexual activity going on in the website, but they say it's not an ad for prostitution," Sgt. "Jones" said.

News of the trend has hit the airwaves lately after the Cook County Sheriff in Chicago filed a lawsuit against Craigslist for allowing prostitution-related ads.

Just this past week, there was more news on Craigslist after a murder, kidnapping, and assault in Baltimore.

Authorities there said all the victims were women who met the so-called Craigslist killer after they posted ads for erotic services on the website.

It's a trend that has alarmed authorities all across the country.

"Jones" said, "If it's not a murder, it could be a robbery and that does happen too. People are robbed. They think they're getting one thing, and then they end up getting beaten up and robbed."

Candice DeLong, former FBI profiler, said, "Predators see the Internet as a happy hunting ground, and they can pick and choose who they are going to lure."

And that hunting ground is deep.

On Craigslist alone, there are 40 million new postings each month, and only 24 staffers to surf for trouble.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said, "While our staff go to great lengths to keep crime off the site, and law enforcement is obviously working to keep crime at bay, it is important for individuals to also be vigilant."

In a recent agreement with law enforcement in 40 states, including all of the Tri-State, Craigslist tightened its rules, requiring posters of questionable ads to provide phone numbers, addresses, and even credit card numbers.

DeLong said, "What we need to be able to do too, is to trace back as to where those criminal locations are made, and I believe that we can certainly technically do that."

In Owensboro, where the last prostitution related arrest was made two years ago, police are also tracking the trend in their Internet crimes division.

Marian Cosgrove of the Owensboro Police Department said, "I'm sure there is prostitution going on out there but it's very limited and it's not out there for the general public itself. We know it's something that does occur in all sizes of cities, and it's something we'd definitely address if we saw those trends."

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are reportedly growing frustrated because they feel like they're fighting a losing battle with the online prostitution ads now popping up constantly.

"Sgt. Jones" said, "As long as there are people who use those, they probably won't go away. Somehow, it will occur as long as there is a demand out there."

Add to that another major challenge as prostitution digs deeper into the World Wide Web.

"Sergeant Jones" said his officers could make four arrests an hour running surveillance on a street corner, but the net now making it much more difficult.

"It might take you six or eight hours to get one, one arrest or one day or in a couple of days to just work on one case," said "Jones."

"Jones" went on to say, "We're always on the lookout, so just a warning to those who want to participate in that, you know we could very easily have you stopped or identified some night or arrested."

Cosgrove said, "The bottom line is it's against the law."

EPD has already arrested two people associated with online prostitution in the area.

On Wednesday, the Connecticut attorney general demanded that Craigslist not allow people to post pictures, and it has also asked that they charge people $1000 if they violate website rules.

Buckmaster said since they've implemented the credit card requirement, ads in their erotic section have dropped 90%.

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