Internet Changes Vice Investigation Routine


On the Internet and in local weekly newspapers, hundreds of women in the Seattle area advertise as scantily clad strippers, massage therapists, and escorts. Many are prostitutes. The Seattle Times says that a case this week of two women arrested for running an alleged online prostitution operation highlights a new twist to the world’s oldest profession: Prostitution is a booming high-tech business.

“In the old days, if you went to the strip, you’d know it,” said King County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Urquhart, a former vice detective. “But now, people are making appointments on the Internet, the condoms are getting flushed down toilets at motels and nobody knows about it. The impact that one has is vastly different than the other.”

Some police agencies choose not to deal with online and newspaper prostitution. “It’s like enforcing marijuana use,” said Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer. “The public tells us regularly that vice crimes, escort services are at the bottom of the priority list.”

Still, Seattle police detectives this fall posted a fake ad in a local weekly paper and set up a place for unwitting customers to meet a policewoman posing as a prostitute. By the time they were done, they had arrested 59 “johns.”

Bellevue, Wa., police detectives arrested at least three prostitutes at local hotels after undercover officers responded to ads in the weeklies and made “dates” with women.

Police are patrolling the Internet and classified ads and making routine misdemeanor busts. “But it’s a constantly revolving door,” said Lt. Richard Hybak of the Seattle police vice squad. “You can arrest 20 people tonight and there’s 20 people waiting to take their place.”

Women who engage in prostitution can be charged only with a misdemeanor, which means they’ll probably face a small fine and no jail time. Same with the men who solicit them.

Street prostitution still exists. “You would not believe some of the prostitutes out on the streets,” Urquhart said. “They just want $20 for the next rock of cocaine, and if you don’t have $20, they’ll take $10.”


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