Despite state and national efforts to combat prostitution by having law enforcement focus on demand, an article from The New England Center for Investigative Reporting shows that many Massachusetts cities are still arresting disproportionate numbers of women in prostitution, instead of the men who buy sex.
Why is there such a gender divide in these arrests? According to the NECIR, it often comes down to lack of time and resources—and state laws that make it easier to target prostituted women.
For example, charging attempted buyers usually requires a “sting” in which a man propositions an undercover female police officer. To be effective, these operations must be well coordinated; they require planning, training, and multiple officers. Arresting prostituted women, however, is far easier. A woman standing on a street corner can be arrested under suspicion of soliciting sex by any officer who sees her.
With the burden of proof required to arrest sex buyers so high—and so little needed to target prostituted women—the state’s one-sided arrest records for this two-participant crime starts to make more sense.
In fact, a representative of the Worcester Police Department—whose arrests for prostitution are 92% female—told NECIR that prostituted women’s increased visibility over their male customers is why they are arrested more often. In a written statement, Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme admits that law enforcement generally focuses its resources on “reducing the visible presence of prostitution” and admitted there are “significant investigative challenges” to arresting sex buyers. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for prostituted women.
It’s not all bad news, however. One shining exception to Massachusetts’ dismal, gender-biased arrest records for prostitution is the city of Lynn. Their impressive anti-demand tactics have led to the arrest of 67% more men than women for prostitution related crimes in the past year. As reported by WGBH, Lynn’s successes are due in larger part to Lt. Stephen Haberek, who is committed to stopping the harmful practice of prostitution in his beloved home town by focusing on demand. Listen to the WGBH story on Lt. Stephen Haberek below.