Denver suburb licenses escorts to curb prostitution
ENVER, Colorado ” In a bid to crack down on an increase in prostitution, Lakewood is following the cities of Denver and Aurora by requiring legitimate escort services to be licensed.
Lakewood’s law goes into effect Saturday and requires the handful of legitimate city-based escort services ” which provide companionship without intimacy ” to apply for licenses. It allows police to go after prostitutes operating under the guise of an escort service.
“There’s been some confusion about licensing escorts and people have interpreted that to mean we’re licensing prostitutes. That’s not what we’re doing,” said city spokeswoman Stacie Oulton.
“If the police come in contact with someone who claims that they are an escort, they can be prosecuted for failing to be licensed as a legitimate escort service,” Oulton said.
Licensing requires a background check and fingerprinting. The penalty for operating without a license is the same for prostitution: A $1,000 fine, up to a year in jail, or both, Oulton said.
Through March 4, Lakewood police had made 22 arrests for pimping or pandering a prostitute, compared to 12 arrests in all of 2008. There also have been 12 prostitution arrests. Police blame the increase on the recession, and say more prostitution activity is being arranged through the Internet.
“What we have found is that our arrest numbers are down on Colfax (Avenue) and they’re just skyrocketing online,” Struck said.
In January, Lakewood police posted decoy ads for erotic services on Craigslist and arrested 26 people who responded to those ads in a two-day sting operation.
“The girls can just make so much more money” online, Struck said. Street prostitutes in Lakewood typically make $20 to $50 per half hour, while prostitutes arranging services online can charge from $100 to $150 for a half hour and up to $500 an hour because services typically go to the highest bidder, Struck said.
Lakewood’s ordinance also is designed to help police crack down on child prostitution by allowing officers to better track the business and who’s out there, said Struck.
In February, Lakewood police rescued two 16-year-old girls working in the sex trade, he said. A third was rescued in December.
“We could do this once a month. We’d get juveniles every time, because once we rescue some there’s more to replace them,” Struck said.
Internet ads make it easier for pimps to solicit underage girls. “They think they’re getting an 18- or 19-year-old girl. They don’t know they’re getting a 14- or 15-year-old,” said Struck.
Struck recently pulled about 30 ads for escorts off Craigslist. He said half of them were for underage girls advertised as 18 or older.
An increase in the sex trade isn’t uncommon during a recession, argued Marina Adshade, an economics professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“You get two things happening: More women going into the sex trade because their options start disappearing,” and an increase in men using the sex trade because it’s cheaper to hire a prostitute than to have a committed companion, Adshade said.