It’s the kind of case local authorities say is far too common in Sonoma County and across the nation: Vulnerable young women, girls and sometimes boys sold for commercial sex by others who profit from their emotional dependence or fear of violence.
Until recently, those providing the sex would likely be considered criminals. But increasingly, authorities are viewing some prostitutes as victims of a crime, not perpetrators. With new understanding of the dynamics of human trafficking, local law enforcement agencies are reassessing their approach to combatting prostitution and trying to change attitudes.
“We tend to think prostitution is a choice, (that) these girls enjoy turning six to eight tricks a night with six to eight different men,” Santa Rosa police Detective Chris Mahurin told a roomful of Sonoma County hotel managers and owners. More likely they’re working for someone who maintains strict control over their lives and their money, he said.
The revitalized Sonoma County Human Trafficking Task Force, led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Bill Brockley, has launched a campaign to raise community awareness and make the county inhospitable to people who traffic other humans for any purpose.
At a recent conference, 50 hotel and motel workers learned how to detect sex trafficking. Signs may include an unusual number of people coming and going from a room; women from outside the area, wearing skimpy clothing, who let their male partner do all the talking; a man who wants to register without showing identification or a credit card, or who uses the woman’s identification to register but pays cash for the room himself. If a guest can’t answer common questions like, “What brings you to the area?” or “What do you plan to do while you’re here?” it might be worth making a note or alerting law enforcement.
Once considered a “victimless crime” whose primary ill was the blight it brought on a neighborhood, prostitution is now viewed as a far more serious and widespread problem, Santa Rosa Police Detective Sgt. Mike Clark said.
Learn more at Mary Callahan’s Press Democrat article: Sonoma County authorities changing views toward prostitution.