Prostitweeting: PGPD looks to Twitter to stop prostitution

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY (WUSA9) -- One Maryland county will turn to a relatively new phenomenon to fight the world's oldest profession.

Prince George's County Police will use Twitter to try to combat prostitution.

Like many police departments across the country, PGPD has live-Tweeted everything from traffic conditions at Redskins games to investigations with their K-9 unit but they said they may be the first to live-Tweet a prostitution sting, and they are inviting the public to come along.

PGPD Spokesperson Julie Parker said the department is taking the Twitter approach for safety and transparency.

"So much of what a law enforcement agency does is behind the scenes and the community is really intrigued by that work. We're simply putting it out in a very public forum," said Parker.

Twitter is about as public as it gets. Police have not released exactly what date, time and location they will perform the sting.

Parker stressed that the live-Tweet will target not sex workers, prostitutes, but "Johns" -- the people who solicit prostitutes -- and will potentially Tweet their names, charges and even photos. All this is public information, said Parker, when someone is arrested of a crime. But, obviously, Twitter makes that public information much more public.

Police say the internet has changed, not only the way they fight crime, but the way crimes are committed.

"There is not a specific pocket or a specific street, it's a hidden crime," said Parker about prostitution.

Sexual transactions are no longer just happening on street corners but online and on websites like Police hope Twitter will help deter the crime.

"Ideally, we'd have no one to arrest. There would be nothing to Tweet," said Parker.

Cyndee Clay with HIPS, a D.C. area group that "promotes the health, rights, and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by sexual exchange," according to their website; said live-Tweeting is not the way to fight prostitution.

"This seems to be a reality TV show masking as law enforcement," said Clay. "There's a sensationalism there that is exciting there for people but quite frankly these are real societal issues and again these are real people's lives we're dealing with."

She insisted that police stings break trust that should exist between police and sex workers and their clients. Sex workers who are being abused or are stuck in a sex trafficking operation against their will may be less likely to turn to police for help out of fear of being arrested for prostitution, explained Clay.

Similarly, she said, clients of sex workers who may see or suspect that a prostitute is being abused will also be less likely to inform police, fearing they may be arrested for soliciting prostitution to begin with.

"This still creates a culture of mistrust and quite frankly it wastes resources that would be better yet used investigating instances of violence or investigating instances of slavery or trafficking," said Clay. "We're just driving things deeper and deeper under ground."

Instead, Clay recommends to focus, not on the transaction between sex worker and client, but on abuse and trafficking. She insisted that the problem of prostitution will not stop through arrests but programs that help women break free of prostitution, through counseling and job training.

But police stress, to fight prostitution is to fight other crimes.

"Think of it as a gateway crime. Prostitution sometimes can lead to robberies, assaults, the women involved in prostitution can be harmed," said Parker. "We work to get these girls who are victims of human trafficking the help they need, help get them to safety and get them away from any criminal element."


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