A man walks the train tracks in east Dayton. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Dayton’s prostitution problem closely tied to drug issues

More than two-thirds of the women in the sex trade charged in Dayton have at least some drug history, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of local court records.

Dayton’s new campaign aimed at curbing prostitution in the city focuses on the men who pay for sex instead of the women who sell it.

Supporters of the new “buyer’s remorse” initiative —which will try new ways to target those who pay for sex — say women are not prostitutes by choice because they struggle with substance abuse and addiction and usually have untreated psychological trauma.

A study by a Wright State University professor and doctoral students also found that nearly all the women they talked to in the Montgomery County Jail who exchanged sex for money or drugs had drug-related problems.

MORE: Dear Johns: Dayton police warn suspected prostitution customers

“Dayton’s issues with prostitution are tied in very closely with our broader addiction crisis,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. “As such, we need to treat the women involved with compassion and work to get them into treatment.”

Earlier this month, Whaley held a press conference unveiling the new buyer’s remorse program, which seeks to shine a light on the men who try to buy sex in the city, also known as “Johns.”

The city soon will start publishing the names and other identifying information of men who are convicted of prostitution-related crimes on buyersremorsecampaign.com.

Shift in strategy

Years ago, authorities used to focus enforcement and prosecution on the prostitutes themselves.

But attitudes and policing strategies have evolved: Last year, women accounted for less than one-third of the people charged in Dayton with misdemeanor soliciting and loitering offenses, according to Dayton Municipal Court data.

Roughly seven years ago, Dayton police shifted their focus to the sex consumers instead of the sellers, and today they try not to arrest the women and instead try to get them into recovery, said Dayton police Major Brian Johns at the press conference announcing the buyer’s remorse program

“In my early years in the vice unit, which began in 2000, our focus was the women,” he said. “To be quite honest, it was very ineffective.”

Police try to get the women treatment because that is the root cause that explains whey they are out on the street, Johns said.

RELATED: Looking to buy sex? Welcome to John School

Last year, about 50 women were charged in Dayton Municipal Court for prostitution-related offenses, according to court data obtained by this newspaper.

More than two-thirds previously had been charged or convicted of drug-related crimes, including possession, drug abuse and possessing drug abuse tools or paraphernalia, this newspaper found.

And this newspaper only checked a fraction of the court systems in the state for prior charges or convictions. Also, not all drug users and people with substance abuse issues are ever busted for drug violations.

Not a women’s issue

Prostitution is not a women’s issue or a simple transaction, because it is relationship predicated on imbalance and disparity, power and control, said Shannon Isom, president and CEO of YWCA Dayton.

Trauma and abuse are underlying causes of prostitution, substance abuse and crime, Isom said.

She said research shows that overwhelmingly people in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children, homeless at some point, were physically assaulted or raped while prostitutes and want to stop but feel they don’t have other options for survival.

RELATED: HIV+ woman arrested again on prostitution charges

“We hope that this initiative is another step forward toward how we, as a community, view and treat women who are visibly grappling with the manifestations of untended trauma,” she said.

Jeffrey Cigrang, associate professor with the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University, said he and doctoral students met with more than 100 women in Montgomery County Jail between 2015 and 2018 who reported exchanging sex for drugs or money within a year prior to their arrest.

Nearly all (92 percent) had substantial drug-related problems, and 73 percent scored in the most severe range of drug addiction, Cigrang said.

“The women consistently reported that prostitution was the direct result of their drug addiction,” he said. “It was rare to meet with a woman who reported that prostitution was unrelated to their drug addiction.”

MORE: Buying sex in Dayton: Prostitution-related offenses on rise

National surveys of women struggling with drug addiction show that those who report engaging in prostitution are clearly a more impoverished subgroup, Cigrang said.

More than half of the women at the jail interviewed had significant levels of depression and two-thirds screened positive for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he said.

Many had not graduated high school and had limited job experience. Women who engage in prostitution are more likely to report being sexually abused as a child.

‘Expensive on the system’

The city’s new program also will use targeted ads on social media to try to let these Johns’ friends, neighbors, family members and employers know they were caught trying to pay for sex, officials said.

The city is going after Johns to reduce the demand for sex, because prostitution is not a victimless crime and harms the women involved, said Mayor Whaley.

RELATED: 3 arrested in online prostitution sting

Prostitution also hurts neighborhoods because women and girls walking the streets get propositioned and harassed by men looking to buy sex, she said.

The mayor said women who sell their bodies for sex need and deserve help getting treatment.

“These are humans who are living in our community who are hurting,” Whaley said. “And also, if you are not interested in that, they are expensive on the system.”

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