Prostitution is a major issue in the Wausau Area, in fact, police said it's one of the biggest problems they face. That's why several area municipalities put in place ordinances over the last few months to help legally differentiate legal escort services and illegal prostitution.
After speaking with the officer in charge of several prostitution stings in Wausau, Lt. Matt Barnes, said because the ordinances are so new, he couldn't speak to how effective they are quite yet, but he said it's a step in the right direction.
In the Wausau Area, prostitution is done almost exclusively online on websites like backpage.com. Barnes said prostitution is not a victimless crime as those involved as well as their loved ones can all be harmed by the acts.
"We find that the vast majority of the prostitutes that we've dealt with in our investigations have children," he said. "We've had children brought to the undercover operations and expected to sit in a car while their mothers are inside performing their prostitution acts."
He said he believes the wives of the men hiring out prostitutes are also victims, as they are not only subject to sexually transmitted diseases, but also mental and emotional harm.
"It can break up a family," said Barnes. "It goes on and on with the negative impacts and I can't think of a positive one."
He added that not all prostitutes are doing this with their own free will, some are being trafficked.
"It's not always a case of people making their own decisions and saying this is what I want to do and why don't the police just let me be. It's a case of there are people being held agains their will and forced to perform sex for money, much of the money that they don't ever see," said Barnes.
That's why Wausau, Rothschild, Weston, and Schofield have all passed similar versions of an escort licensing ordinance to help not only combine their forces, but also allow officers to site offenders with not having a license, rather than having to catch them in the act.
"If someone wants to operate a legitemate escort service, and a legal escort service in the city of Wausau, they're more than entitled to do that," said Barnes. "We just want to be able to track that and ensure that this is a legitemate business being operated, not a front for prostitution."
Before these ordinances were put in place, officers could only cite people after conducting expensive undercover stings. They said the majority of those listed as escort services online are actually fronts for prostitution. Now, they can simply check to see who is listed as an escort and cite those without licenses, but officers said having this option doesn't take undercover stings off the table.
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