|By Natasha Clark|
Assistant Managing Editor
HOLYOKE Police Chief Anthony R. Scott is sending out the message that prostitution is not welcome in the city of Holyoke.
Through ongoing efforts to crack down on sex workers, the Holyoke Police Department, in conjunction with the Massachusetts State Police, has arrested 32 individuals in the last two weeks thanks to operation "John Sing/StreetWalker VII."
A number of prostitutes have been seen working in the city's Central Business District. Mayor Michael J. Sullivan said, adding this has a negative affect on business owners and quality of life.
"I had observed open prostitution going on in a number of neighborhoods during the day. I was with a person on a Saturday giving them a tour of Holyoke, a potential developer, and we were on Elm and Appleton and a car stopped in front of us [to solicit sex]," Sullivan said.
Though the mayor said he contacted the authorities and they came to the scene, there is little officers can do, other than a verbal warning, unless they witness people having the transaction. The "John Sting" operation is a way of catching perpetrators of this crime.
However, Scott said, the judicial system doesn't make the job any easier. "The 21 individuals arrested during the first two days of this operation have been arraigned over 330 times and come from most of the cities surrounding Holyoke," Scott said in a released statement.
Those arrested came from the nearby communities of Chicopee, Springfield, Wilbraham even as far away as Brattleboro, Vt.
"They're constantly being released. You pay the clerk's $40 fee. Every time he releases somebody he gets $40. That's no bail," Scott told The Chicopee Herald. "On the first night of the operation he released one woman and four hours later she was arrested again."
Sullivan said it's hard to argue that the system is working "when you have one or two of the individuals arrested twice in one day. It's hard to make an argument that the three-legged stool [police. legislation and the courts] is working. You have to say that when people don't at all feel threatened or have enough respect for the court that they would cease and desist what they are doing."
Scott said the health hazards associated with prostitution also pose additional risks.
"There is a tremendous correlation between crime and drugs. There was a study done in Chicago where they drug tested every arrest and over 90 percent had some type of illegal drug in their system. A lot of these individuals involved in prostitution are doing it for the drugs," Scott said.
"The other unfortunate thing is there are a number of services for people with drug addiction and people working in the sex crime trade in that neighborhood," Sullivan added.
One of the places offering those services is the Center for Education, Prevention and Action (CEPA), which was started as a women's program in the early 1990s. Located on Appleton Street, not far from where many sex workers operate, Daniela Falvo, program director, said they offer many services that are beneficial to a person attempting to leave that lifestyle.
"We offer [sex workers] services. Drugs and prostitution do go hand-in-hand and we refer them to detox and offer them harm reduction products. We've been hearing from the sex workers in town that the female condoms [we offer for free] help," Falvo explained, adding that safe sex is a high priority considering that many Johns do not like to use protection.
The most important aspect of escaping sex work, according to Falvo, is to "have a plan."
"The biggest thing we see is relapse. Always have a plan. Know what your next step is. Prostitution comes with either drugs or a really good paycheck. It's a lifestyle change," Falvo said.
Scott plans to continue to host sting operations. "It's got to be taken seriously by people other than the police," he said.
For more information on CEPA, contact 536-8721.