Knoxville Police Chief Sterling P. Owen: Prostitution is not a victimless crime

Sterling P. Owen IV
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Prostitution is a problem that challenges nearly every law enforcement agency in the country. It is a dilemma that has plagued civilization for hundreds of years.

Since I became chief in 2004, prostitution remains one of the top five complaints that I receive every year.

There are widely different perspectives on prostitution. Some view the clients as responsible for the prostitution problem in their community, while others view prostitutes as the main reason.

No matter how you view the problem, prostitution creates many dilemmas for the surrounding community and for law enforcement that have to deal with these issues. It is a cycle of engaging in prostitution, getting arrested, going to jail, paying fines and returning to the street.

Many street prostitutes use illegal drugs. Numerous prostitutes develop drug habits before turning to prostitution, while others start using drugs as part of the prostitution lifestyle.

Drug-dependent prostitutes are generally more vulnerable to violence and more likely to rob their clients. These issues create other problems for our communities. Street prostitution and street drug markets are often linked to each other.

The mere presence of a prostitution problem can negatively affect the area economy and possibly reduce property values, and it can be an enticement for undesirable individuals. That is why prostitution is not a victimless crime, as many people believe. The negative effects can create hardships far removed from just the encounter between the prostitute and the client.

Health concerns are a major problem among prostitutes. Prostitutes and clients can spread sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, herpes, and AIDS. Used condoms, syringes and other drug paraphernalia left on the ground can be potentially hazardous. Again, these are issues that endanger more people than just the prostitute and a client.

The Knoxville Police Department has aggressively attacked prostitution through specialized enforcement efforts in addition to frequent undercover sting operations. In the past two years, the department has made 766 prostitution-related arrests. Although that number may seem high compared to other major cities throughout the state, it represents the fact that we are concerned about prostitution in our community and our commitment to vigorously enforce the law.

These efforts have been successful in disrupting the problem but only for short periods of time. It will take an active involvement from the community to help rid our neighborhoods of this problem. Neighbors need to demand stronger enforcement for offenders through aggressive prosecution and penalties.

Citizens need to take a stand and let these individuals know that this type of activity will not be tolerated in their community. By working together we can make a positive long-lasting impact in our neighborhoods.

Sterling P. Owen IV is police chief for the city of Knoxville.

Link to original at Knox News

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