Smile Politely

Prostitution in C-U, Part Two

This is the second of a two-part article on prostitution in Champaign-Urbana. Part one, about Champaign, appeared yesterday and is available here.

The combined forces of the Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois police have arrested four prostitutes in 2008. In the past five years, a total of 35 prostitution arrests have been made in the Champaign-Urbana area, 33 of which were made by Champaign police.

Lieutenant Bryant Seraphin of the Urbana Police Department said that since a motel at University and Cunningham was torn down and replaced by a Walgreens, there have been no specific problem areas for prostitution in Urbana.

“Usually when we deal with prostitution, it’s the result of some civilian citizen complaints,” Seraphin said. “Nowadays [we’ll get] an email, or they’ll call Crimestoppers.”

Seraphin said that in previous years, Urbana police have set up undercover operations by calling phone numbers listed in the Yellow Pages under “massage therapy” or “escort services,” and arresting prostitutes once they arrive on the scene.

“We have not done a single prostitution detail in 2008,” Seraphin said. “Prostitution is not a high-frequency crime.”

Seraphin said that enforcing prostitution laws is not a high priority at monthly police force meetings, because other crimes warrant more attention. “The number-one complaint is robbed car stereos,” Seraphin said. “So that’s what’s going to get emphasis.”

Griffet said police have to determine “probable cause” in order to arrest someone for prostitution. “It’s not necessarily payment for sex, it’s where there is an agreement as to something in exchange for the sex act,” Griffet said. “When that occurs, arrests can be made.”

Prostitution is a misdemeanor in the state of Illinois, which carries a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, a third conviction is a felony, sending a convicted offender to prison. Griffet said women who are repeatedly arrested have a lot of contact with police and “a lot of chances at probation.”

Craigslist’s Champaign-Urbana “erotic services” section currently lists 24 ads under “women seeking men,” promising a good time. Some of these ads are from the same women posting repeatedly.

One advertises “Michele’s $150 special,” and the same phone number is listed in the Yellow Pages under the heading “Massage-Therapy,” with addresses listed in Urbana and Savoy. Others ask for a “donation for time and companionship.” None of the police officers interviewed knew of any investigation being done with such ads.

The Urbana city council is set to vote on a “nuisance property” ordinance later this month that would give the police chief discretion to fine property owners $300 to $750 after two police reports of criminal activity have been made. The ordinance names 18 specific crimes, three of which are related to prostitution.

Bernie Carver, outreach coordinator for Positive Options, Referrals and Alternatives, a Springfield organization offering a treatment program for former prostitutes, said he is not opposed to any measure that would address prostitution. However, he was skeptical about the effect of such an ordinance.

“I have difficulty seeing how landlords would enforce that,” Carver said. “In low-rent neighborhoods, people are poor and in many case they don’t have anything to sell except their bodies. I would feel that [the landlords] may be innocent victims in some cases from that kind of ordinance. The more proper target is the purchasers of sex acts, because they outnumber the sellers by about 10 to one.”

In Springfield, an ordinance was recently passed which allows police to hold the vehicle of anyone charged with solicitation of a prostitute for 24 hours.

“We feel that’s going to be a disincentive for people to come here,” Carver said. “They come from other areas and surrounding towns, and it’s going to have a deterrent effect.”

There are no specific programs in Champaign-Urbana to rehabilitate prostitutes. “I think it’s all done with drug and alcohol counseling,” Griffet said in regards to getting prostitutes out of this line of work. “If you can help the person correct or get rid of this drug and alcohol problem, then they won’t have the need to do this.”

Champaign and Urbana mayors Jerry Schweighart and Laurel Prussing, Urbana city attorney Ronald O’Neal, Champaign alderwoman Gina Jackson and Urbana city council members Lynne Barnes, Brandon Bowersox, Dennis Robertson and Heather Stevenson did not return messages in time to be interviewed for this article, so their views on this issue remain to be seen.

“People lose their homes and businesses and families because of [prostitution]. It’s an enormous social cost,” Carver said. “I view all the people involved in this as being dysfunctional and in need of help.”

More Articles