Local men in prostitution sting

Maine is no stranger to headlines about prostitution, with the Kennebunk prostitution ring featured in Vanity Fair in 2013. Now Maine’s capital has its own solicitation scandal. Between the dates of August 11 and September 17, the Augusta Police Department, the Waterville Department Police Office, and the Kennebec County Sheriff ’s Office came together to coordinate a sting, where they arrested 21 men in Augusta and Waterville. Three of the men hail from the Waterville area.

Suspecting prostitution was becoming an issue in central Maine, the three law enforcement institutions placed advertisements and social media solicitations on the Internet in hopes of drawing out men and women who were looking to pay for sex. The police forces conducted the investigation by posting a phone number as bait on the popular sex advertisement site, Backpage.com. Within an hour, they began to receive calls asking questions about what kind of sexual acts could be solicited, the cost, and how long the acts would last.

Those who showed interest were then told to meet at a predetermined location under the expectation that there would be a money exchange for a sexual experience. 21 men took the bait and were charged with Class E misdemeanors, which, entails up to 6 months in prison and a fine up to $1,000. Walter McKee, an Augusta defense attorney, argued to Central Maine that their names being released to the public is “the lesser of the punishments”. The ages of the men charged ranged from 23 to 71.

Some of these men were also charged for separate crimes such as crack cocaine trafficking and possession of drug paraphernalia. The hearings for most of these men will be held at Waterville District Court or in Augusta’s Capital Judicial Center between October 5 and November 30.

The teamwork used to organize this sting is exactly what Hohman Sprague, member of the Maine Sex Trafficking Victims Support Fund, believes will reduce the prostitution problem. He stated to The Portland Press Herald: “We don’t have one go-to organization in the state, so it makes it critical that multiple organizations work together to meet the complex needs of the problem”.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey agreed: “we will absolutely continue to work with other departments when time and resources allow us to do it. These stings also make people think twice about looking for sex because they realize they could be walking into a sting.”

As we have moved into the technological age, prostitution is more discrete and often organized online. “Prostitution has always led to human trafficking and is a serious issue in our community and communities around the country. It has been a priority for police to cut down on human trafficking and many of us in law enforcement and non-profits that provide support for sexual abuse victims believe that prostitution is no different than human trafficking” Massey said.

Maeghan Maloney, the Kennebec County District Attorney, told the Portland Press Herald in an interview, “With prostitution, a woman is making that decision and is in charge of herself. With sex trafficking, we’re talking about targeting and recruiting vulnerable women and manipulating them to engage in sex. The difference is who is in control, who’s in charge.” In both cases, the people driving this industry are clients, also known as Johns.

Massey points out that “It is not a victimless crime. [The prostitutes worked] to support their drug habits or their children and unfortunately in that order. It is dangerous job and it is alienation and exploitation.”

As for what Colby students and faculty can do to help eliminate these acts of injustice, Massey claimed, “Education is a good start and if you get involved in outreach programs it is very helpful. It is just unfortunate that people, usually women, find themselves in this situation trying to survive or support their drug habits. It is a vicious cycle and it is difficult for them to get out of it but with help, it is possible.”

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