Life on the Streets: Prostitution in Steubenville Part III
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Prostitution has become a topic of concern in Steubenville. In this three-part series, Staff Writer Dave Gossett has offered an in-depth look at the problem and the lives that have been changed. Today, city officials discuss the problem and steps they are taking to help alleviate it. On Monday, readers met the people who are attempting to reach out to and help the women who work as prostitutes in the city. Sunday’s story featured interviews with those women.)
STEUBENVILLE – No one knows when prostitution first started in Steubenville.
According to Susan Guy, author of the 2014 book, “Mobsters, Madams and Murder in Steubenville, Ohio,” the city’s red light district on Water Street drew men from hundreds of miles away as well as underage runaways.
The 2013 book, “A Life of Love with Madam Judy Jordan” by Mary Paice told the story of Judy Jordan, who managed the Modern Steam Bath and Health Studio on Washington Street.
But the days of the red light district and brothels are long gone as prostitution in Steubenville is now seen on street corners where women will wave to passersby and occasionally call out to the male drivers.
The issue of street prostitution was raised during a January city council meeting.
“We can send a strong message that if you are caught soliciting we will put your photo on the city’s website and we will start prosecuting these men. Maybe the Herald-Star can publish the photos and the names of these men as well,” 2nd Ward Councilman Mike Johnson stated during a safety committee meeting.
Johnson said publicizing the names and photos of the men will get the attention of their employers and wives.
“What we are doing now isn’t working. We need to publicize the johns,” commented Johnson.
Third Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf said he, “feels bad for the young women caught up in prostitution and suggested the city should look for help for the women.”
Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna has been the leading voice on council to push for a cleanup of the North Street area.
“I ride around the city every day and I still see the prostitutes on the street. It is a poor image for the city, and guys are hooking up with these girls and then take a disease home to their wives. I received a letter from a woman who is now suffering from cancer because of the disease she got from her husband. That letter really stuck with me,” said Villamagna.
“The city must take this seriously. This is not a victimless crime. I keep bringing up this issue, but the city isn’t doing anything about it,” he added.
Villamagna served for more than 25 years on the city police force and said he was an officer, “at the tail end of Judy Jordan’s operations on Washington Street.”
“We knew about Judy and worked with the FBI on a case against her. Her operation and the Water Street businesses were all behind closed doors. Judy’s girls would actually go shopping at a couple of downtown stores on Saturday morning before the stores open to the public. At that time prostitution was all over town. It was like the gambling in those days. But there is a different attitude now,” declared Villamagna.
“The answer is simple. Set up a sting and get the johns. That will eliminate the customers. The girls are pathetic. They need to be arrested and in lieu of prosecution they should be put in rehab. The women are all over Fourth Street because we are not serious about crime. We are responsive but not proactive. Let’s do a sting and publish the names and photos of the johns in the Herald-Star. Our image is horrible and we need to do something about it,” said Villamagna.
“The prostitution problem can be solved by getting the women off the street and getting them some help,” he concluded.
According to a 2012 Domestic Sex Trafficking in Ohio report issued by Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, adults currently being exploited are sold in places that are more elusive to law enforcement. Adult prostitutes reported most often trading sex in the homes or offices of customers and in houses set up for prostitution. Using traditional venues, but less prevalent, subjects also traded sex in hourly motels, on the streets, in cars and at truck stops.
More than 80 percent of the adults currently involved through force were recruited largely by males who first acted like a boyfriend or who became threatening from the beginning. As children, these adult victims had similar experiences as those who were recruited before age 18 and those manipulated into the sex trade as adults, the report said.
“Those involved reported they were sold to men in various professions within and outside of Ohio. Those involved in buying sex were most likely to be middle-aged white and African-American men, followed by older white and African-American men, and lastly younger white and African-American men.
Statistics issued by the Steubenville Health Department indicate sexually transmitted diseases have risen so far this year.
Health Commissioner Shaleeta Smith said 67 chlamydia cases have been reported so far this year in the city with 18 gonorrhea cases, 36 Hepatitis C reports and two HIV positive results.
“These are all new cases reported by physician offices, the hospital or the health department. These numbers don’t include cases reported last year that may still be treated,” said Smith.
An August 2008 undercover prostitution sting resulted in the arrest of five women and 10 men who were charged with solicitation after undercover law enforcement officers from Weirton and Wells Township collaborated with city police for an afternoon operation.
“We have to do this periodically when the prostitutes become too visible,” said Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty said at the time.
He said seven out of the 10 males arrested lived outside of Steubenville. He said officers stop men in known prostitution areas for minor traffic offenses in an attempt to scare them out of the area.
“But the only way to stop them is to arrest them,” he said.
McCafferty noted many of the females arrested are drug addicts and the prostitution just feeds their addiction.
“It is a vicious circle that leads to other crimes,” he said.
One week after two local women were arrested in July for solicitation for prostitution, McCafferty said law enforcement would soon go after the customers.
“We had an undercover law enforcement officer participate in a sting operation. We are now planning a reverse sting for the men who are paying women for prostitution,” McCaffety announced in July.
He declined to say when the next step in the campaign to stop prostitution in Steubenville will occur but noted it will focus on men soliciting women for prostitution.
“In the past we have used a female decoy in order to arrest johns who are also breaking the law. We will be doing that again in the near future. This takes some time to set the decoy up and the operation is run through the Jefferson County Drug Task Force. We have to get the right people together for this,” said McCafferty.
“One of our problems has been when we arrest an alleged prostitute and the woman is sentenced to jail, the jail is often crowded and there is no room there. So the woman is released and can be back on the street,” he said.
“Any man who is arrested for solicitation of prostitution and pleads guilty or is found guilty could also face jail time and a possible fine,” noted McCafferty.
“And men who are paying prostitutes for sex should be aware these women are usually using drugs and may very well have a sexually transmitted disease. If the woman is carrying drugs when the car is stopped by the police, they will hide the drugs in the vehicle which could result in the seizure of the vehicle. And, if the man is arrested their wife, girlfriend, family, neighbors or employer will soon know what happened. The men need to consider if this is really what they want to do,” McCafferty declared.
“It is sad. We have girls out on the street selling their bodies to buy heroin,” added McCafferty.
“We don’t want to be doing what we do. People who see us on the street don’t look at us like we are human beings. We are just a piece of trash on the street. I want to get out of this life. I don’t want to do this. It just seems like no one cares,” said 23-year-old Emily, who works the streets of the city as a prostitute.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)