Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

September 15, 2010

Cracking down on prostitution

Ashland police arrest two would-be johns

ASHLAND — The Ashland Police Department is attacking the city’s growing prostitution problem from both the supply and the demand angles.

In addition to arresting prostitutes, the APD is going after the men who seek their services.

Officers on Tuesday conduced a sting operation and arrested two would-be johns after they allegedly solicited paid sexual acts from a female informant posing as a hooker.

Phillip M. Stephens, 36, and Ryan E. Chapman, 24, both of Ashland, were lodged in the Boyd County Detention Center, charged with solicitation of prostitution.

The arrests took place in the alley between Carter and Central avenues, in the 2400 block of the city’s downtown. The informant had directed both the men to meet her there. The conversations between the two suspects and the informant were recorded via a body wire worn by the woman.

The APD has used the same tactic, but essentially in reverse with male decoys, to arrest actual prostitutes.

APD Chief Rob Ratliff said he hoped Tuesday’s arrests would serve as a warning to men who might be tempted to patronize the streetwalkers who have been increasingly plying their trade in the downtown area, primarily the stretch between the 2200 and 2900 blocks of Winchester Avenue.

“We’re going to do everything we can about this problem,” he said. “We’re going to use everything we have in our arsenal.”

Prostitution has been on the rise in the city for approximately a year. Ratliff said there was little doubt it was tied to the ever-rising tide of prescription drug addiction, and that the vast majority of the women involved in it are selling their bodies to support their habits.

In that regard, Ratliff also noted that men who use prostitutes not only help keep the women addicted; they help keep drug dealers in business.

Police also are concerned with the public health risk posed by prostitution, Ratliff said. At least several of the 13 women identified by the APD as known prostitutes are carriers of Hepatitis C and possibly other sexually transmitted diseases, he said. Men who patronize them in turn run the risk of carrying those diseases home to their wives or girlfriends.

“The people who solicit these women are putting their health at risk, and putting others at risk as well,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons the old notion that prostitution is a victimless crime simply doesn’t hold true, Ratliff said.

“When it really hits home is when you pull (a john) over and see a child safety seat in their back of their vehicle, or they’ve got their wedding band in their pocket,” he said. “That’s when you know there are other people involved.”

Additionally, Ratliff said, the APD is concerned about the safety of the prostitutes themselves. Streetwalkers are frequent targets of violence and have been known to be badly beaten or even killed by their clients.

“We don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” he said.

Numerous complaints about prostitutes have come from businesses on Winchester, fast-food restaurants in particular, Ratliff said. Many of the women have been known to approach patrons of those establishments while they’re waiting in the drive-throughs, he said.

Another troubling aspect of the city’s prostitution issue is the brazenness shown by both the women and their clients, Ratliff said. Both of Tuesday’s arrests took place in broad daylight.

“It’s definitely not just a nighttime problem,” he said.

Ratliff said members of the public can assist the APD in combating prostitution by serving as the department’s “eyes and ears” and reporting such activity whenever they see it.  

Tips about prostitution and other crimes can be submitted anonymously by calling the Silent Witness hotline at (606) 329-1771.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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