Prostitution in Denver: Women busted more than men, punished more harshly
As for what motivates law enforcement to go after johns, interviews and surveys revealed two major motivations: stopping crime and helping victims. Denver police have adopted a victim-centered approach focused on getting women out of "the life." Detectives told researchers that they would forgo arresting prostitutes or johns to focus on arresting those further up the food chain, such as pimps and traffickers.
For patrol officers on the street, however, prostitution arrests can be frustrating. If an officer comes across two people about to engage in an act of prostitution -- or in the middle of such an act -- the officer must get one of them to confess in order to make an arrest. One said, "When you are driving big white (a patrol car), it's gonna take about five seconds to pull over, and they are gonna come up with a story."
Furthermore, many patrol officers said they avoid making prostitution arrests because they feel they don't have adequate training. "Honestly, most of our officers are too intimidated when it comes to prostitution," one officer told researchers. Of the 48 officers who responded to a survey, only 27 percent received training on human trafficking.
And city officials don't view fighting prostitution as a priority. Often, decisions about what the police should focus on revolve around the types of complaints they hear. Out of 5,640 complaints received by the Denver police Vice and Narcotics Bureau from 2005 to 2011, the overwhelming majority -- 76 percent -- were related to drugs. Very few were related to prostitution, though 11 percent were related to a combination of prostitution and drugs. "There is still a perception that prostitution is a victimless crime," one officer said -- though most police officers told researchers that they disagree.
The study includes several recommendations. Among them: more training for police, prosecutors and judges; creating forums to discuss the intersection of human trafficking and prostitution and how to respond; and coming up with legislative remedies that better distinguish between the buyers and sellers of commercial sex.
As the study says, Colorado's current laws "are often framed under the guise of 'plight' of the prostitute, but are then used to criminalize and punish the same individuals they are purportedly meant to protect." However, lead study author Meagan Morris said the conversations she had with police officers revealed that many people working in the area of prostitution enforcement want to help. "It gave me a little bit of hope," she says.