Finding prostitutes online was easy.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department obtained permission to use a private home. Deputies trolled the Internet, looking up ads for erotic services. They phoned dozens of women.
When the women showed up at the home a deputy posing as a customer greeted them at the door.
Once the discussion turned to money for sex, deputies made the arrest.
The increasing use of the Internet among prostitutes is changing the world’s oldest profession, say people who study sexual relationships. It’s moved prostitution from the street, attracted a more sophisticated clientele and raised new questions about the danger this method of prostitution brings to society.
“In this age, Internet prostitution is the biggest thing going,” said Riverside police Detective D. Woolley.
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He noticed a spike in the number of ads on Craigslist three years ago and at the same time the number of prostitutes walking University Avenue, a once-popular strip for streetwalkers, has been whittled down to a handful of prostitutes.
“There are maybe four prostitutes on University Avenue who work just long enough to get a fix (of drugs) and rent a motel room for the night,” Woolley said.
Julie Albright, a professor at USC and an expert in online relationships, said Internet venues attract an entirely new type of customer and prostitute.
“The Internet gives people the opportunity to explore things they never would have before because the Internet provides a cloak of secrecy,” Albright said.
But it’s unclear whether that cloak of secrecy tempts more into the business.
George Washington University professor Ron Weitzer, a prostitution expert, said no studies have been done on Internet prostitution to determine if anonymity leads people into selling their bodies.
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Weitzer and Albright believe the Internet insulates prostitutes from some of the violence inherent in street prostitution and protects communities where streetwalkers work.
Lt. Jarrod Burguan announced that investigators from the San Bernardino Police Department just completed a multi-week operation targeting prostitution in the City. The operation just culminated in a two day undercover operation conducted by the Vice Unit that resulted in the arrest of 32 people:
24 people arrested for prostitution (including 1 juvenile – 16 years old)
6 people were arrested and charged with pimping / pandering
2 others were arrested with aiding in prostitution and drug possession
This operation targeted the crime of prostitution that is made available through the internet and other popular technology mediums.
Riverside police Detectives Woolley and C. Lanzillo say pimps are typically gang members who trade in women instead of drugs.
Enforcement of prostitution law varies, even between Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The crime is punishable with up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to state law, but first-timers rarely receive jail.
Riverside police have been arresting Internet prostitutes and their clients regularly for the past three years. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department conducted a couple of stings recently.
But the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department says it only makes prostitution arrests if it receives complaints, choosing instead to focus its efforts on violent crime.
“Prostitution is not something we are having ongoing issues with. Gangs, gang violence, violent crimes and narcotics are serious issues that the department is aggressively targeting,” San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said.
However, Riverside County sheriff’s deputies and police say they believe periodic stings curb online prostitution.
“If we started at 20 and now we have trouble finding three (prostitutes), that means we’re having an impact,” said sheriff’s Cpl. Geoffrey W. Green, who participated in the Sun City sting, the second sting deputies have conducted.
But Albright and Weitzer said prostitution will grow despite these efforts.
“I’m not so sure (law enforcement) is going to be able to catch up,” Albright said. “It’s just so big … There is an unending supply of vulnerable women.”
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In another sting operation, police found and shut down a Riverside brothel known for its prostitution practices.
The operation took place in a Vail Avenue house which has been under police surveillance for an extended period of time.
During the sting operation, police arrested 23-year-old Manuel Lopez-Garcia and 36-year-old Francisco Israel Gonzalez-Chavarria and charged them with a third degree felony of promoting prostitution, 23-year-old Faviola Garduno-Estada and 22-year-old Berenice Rojas with a misdemeanor of prostitution and 33-year-old Luis Gabriel Mateus and 24-year-old Emigdio Rayes with a misdeamnor of promoting prostitution.
Lopez-Garcia and Gonzalez-Chavarria ran the brothel in the house, charging $100 per visit from each “John.” Police are still investigating and are looking for any additional information.
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