By Nancy Reardon
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Nov 01, 2008 @ 03:30 AM
A prostitute working a corner is an unlikely scene south of Boston, but behind closed doors, sex is for sale in most South Shore communities. The popularity of online classified services like craigslist.com has allowed prostitution to seep into the suburbs with little attention from the public or police, local officials say.
"It's definitely one of those things that flies under the radar," Marshfield police Lt. Michael McDonough said.
In 2006, a Patriot Ledger survey over a two-week period found 180 sex-for-hire listings in the "erotic" section of craigslist by people operating in local towns or willing to travel anywhere on the South Shore. This week, 133 such listings were posted Thursday alone.
"It's a quality-of-life issue for a community, but when it's not out in the open, it's a different story," said A. Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association. "It's very difficult to find out where it's occurring, and there are not enough police resources to check things like craigslist and personal services every day."
The postings are not explicit. Stephanie, in Braintree, offers a good time by a "$$$ Greek goddess so call me $$$." Several other ads, many with graphic images, simply offer "late night specials."
"It's the electronic version of the gal with the short skirt on the street waving to people," said Daniel Williams, a law professor at Northeastern University, which has a criminology program.
Many police departments on the South Shore monitor craigslist postings for their towns at least once a week.
"For the last few years, I haven't come across a prostitution case where (craigslist) wasn't involved somewhere," said Sgt. Richard Fuller of Weymouth, where police check the site two to three times a week.
The town has two motels, and one of them, a Super 8, sees some prostitution business, Fuller said.
"We see the prostitutes get a ride down and they rent the room for an extended period, more than a night," he said. "I'll get calls from the manager, 'Hey, I think we got a problem.'"
If a motel manager calls with a problem guest, police most often just kick the person out. Prostitution charges require proof or probable cause that money was exchanged for sex, and when it happens behind closed doors, it's hard to get to that point, Fuller said.
The department has only arrested one person on prostitution charges in the past year, he said.
"Unfortunately, it's not a huge priority for us," he said. "If we have a choice to work a prostitution or a drug case, it's what time allows. … We've got a lot of drugs."
In Quincy, police monitor craigslist weekly but mostly act on complaints of suspicious activity in businesses or residential areas, said a detective whose name is being withheld because he works undercover.
In the past three years, Quincy police have made about 20 arrests for prostitution, he said, and they all stemmed from illegal massage parlors.
Going after the operations run out of private homes is the challenge.
"Without a complaint, there's really nothing we can do," the detective said. "It's tough to target, and if we do, we need to get someone coming out of the home tell us what's going on behind closed doors."
One route for police departments is a sting operation. Last weekend in Rockland, craigslist checks led to a prostitution bust at the Best Western Hotel on Route 228, after a detective noticed the same sex-for-hire ad three Friday nights in a row.
Police arrested two suspected prostitutes from Marshfield and charged seven men with soliciting sex for a fee.
It was the first such sting for the department, and the second arrest in three months by Rockland police of a suspected prostitute who had advertised services online.
Police stings work but require planning and at least six or more detectives for several hours - resources many departments don't have. And stings usually only deter activity for a little while, before it starts up again.
"For any type of enforcement to be successful, it has to be consistent," Sampson, of the police chiefs association, said.
Most Massachusetts communities have mutual aid contracts, but regionalization works best for cracking down on drugs or house breaks, where suspects work across town lines and sharing information can be critical, Sampson said.
But with prostitution, people tend to pick a motel or work from their apartment or home, developing a repeat client base that is selective, he said.
"A lot of these communities did not experience prostitution before the Internet," he said. "This is a whole new crime.