AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – An Austintown detective who investigates sex crimes said the area’s drug epidemic is now creating a different problem for investigators.
He has been seeing more women and men involved in prostitution to support their drug habits.
On March 7, Austintown police arrested a woman who was six months pregnant and admitted to being involved in prostitution to support her child. Police said she also had a heroin addiction.
Of the prostitution arrests in Austintown this year, police reported that six suspects admitted to having a drug addiction or were found with drug paraphernalia during their arrests.
Jeff Solic has been working as a detective in Austintown since 1991. He said prostitution isn’t like most people imagine.
“It’s not the glamorous Pretty-Woman type scenario where the prostitute is doing things to make ends meet, and they want to go to beauty school and this and that. And Richard Gere comes swooping in – the dashing millionaire – ready to rescue them,” he said. “It’s the girl with two kids that are at home with the mom while she’s out trying to get $40 while engaging in oral sex or God knows what to buy a little bit of heroin so she doesn’t have withdrawal symptoms for the next 12 hours.”
Major Jeff Allen, who at one time headed a human trafficking task force in the Mahoning Valley, said girls that are being forced into prostitution, and even those who do so willingly, are overwhelmingly involved due to drugs.
“These girls need to supply their habit; they can’t afford it on their own,” he said.
Solic said girls can make decent money in prostitution, but that line of work comes with very real risks – being arrested, robbed, assaulted or even killed. He said even with those risks, women see the reward of getting a quick fix. Even if they’re caught, they’re soon out on the street again because prostitution and solicitation are misdemeanor crimes.
He said he’d like to see a harsher sentence, if only to get the men and women with drug addictions clean. He’s also a proponent of the drug court program, in which a person’s felony charge may be suspended if he or she completes a drug treatment program while staying.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. So we’re trying to lead them to water by arresting them and getting some criminal charges on them… It’s my belief you’re a lot safer in jail than you are on the street if you’re a user,” Solic said.
He added that there needs to be a societal shift in the way that prostitution is viewed.
“Society, in general, needs to make a change and until we wake up, I guess, as a society and realize that we can’t patronize these folks,” he said.
The Needle’s Eye in Youngstown offers those with drug problems, including those who have been involved in prostitution, a safe place to go. The center offers a Christian-based, 12-step program to fight addiction.
Needle’s Eye Executive Director Emaline Smith and Patient Assistance Resource Educator Rev. Joseph McNeal said victims are often led into human trafficking because they are controlled by their addictions.
“When they find out they are powerless, they are pretty much led by whatever it necessary to get the drug or the alcohol, and that’s what happens. And so, addiction and prostitution… is just a part of it,” she said.
COMPASS Community and Family Services also works with women who are sent for counseling after police departments become involved. Program Manager Dawn Powell said it’s often a two-part approach – getting the women into drug rehab and offering them counseling.
Often, she said, there is resistance to getting help. Prostitution is often glorified to those involved.
“Some victims, basically, don’t recognize themselves to be victims,” she said. “They see their circumstances in a human-trafficking situation as better than being at home, sometimes. So a lot of times, those are the vulnerable population that you will see being victims of human trafficking because the lifestyle at home and what they were exposed to at home is just as bad as what they’re exposed to right now.”
In that way, Powell has a big challenge. She said she pushes that these victims not be prosecuted but instead be given alternative options so they can get out of the lifestyle.
You can reach COMPASS at (330) 782-3936 or Needle’s Eye at 330-744-1582.
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