UPDATE: 4/21/14 11:12
The City of Wausau is one step closer to implementing an ordinance that would require escorts and escort services to obtain licenses in order to operate legally in the city. The Public Health and Safety Committee met Monday evening and approved the proposal to go onto the City Council.
This ordinance is identical to the already enacted ordinances in Weston and Schofield. The Wausau Police Department proposed the new ordinance in a collaborative effort with other Marathon County municipalities to combat the rising prostitution.
Patrol Captain Benjamin Bliven and Lieutenant Matthew Barnes said in Wausau, prostituting is almost completely handled online through sites like backpage.com and craigslist. They said people place posting under the "escort services" heading, but through their sting operations and investigations into these postings, have found that clearly escorting is not what the posters are planning.
"Masseuses and someone that wants to provide companionship as an escort, they generally don't advertise with their top off and a thong bent over, smiling at the camera," said Lt. Barnes in the committee meeting.
Barnes and Bliven said the process for citing prostitutes is much more complicated than just using an ad. It often requires elaborate and expensive sting operations.
"When we go online on backpage.com and we look at a phone number, and we look at the picture, we're like, we know who that is. That's so and so and we look at their number and that's the same number that matches up with our in-house records," Barnes said in the meeting. "We should be able to write them a ticket. We shouldn't have to do a big undercover sting."
Licensing escorts would allow police to differentiate between legitimate escort services and prostitution cover-ups. Some of the requirements to get a license include being at least 18 years old, having no convictions or no contest pleas to a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude, prostitution, obscenity or other crime of a sexual nature in any jurisdiction.
If approved, any violators of the ordinance could be fined about $2,000 and any licensed escort services found to be illegitimate, would lose that license and receive a fine. Barnes said licensed escorts and services run the same risks as unlicensed ones wherein they will monitored for legitimacy.
Dr. Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a national private nonprofit with a mission to help child prostitutes and others looking to get out of prostitution said this ordinance will not change the behavior of these prostitutes, only the working conditions.
"I think that they are taking women who are already prostituting and they're kicking them out of the field and they're encouraging escort operators to recruit young women have not been convicted who are not, you know, to turn them into prostitutes. I think it encourages and promotes prostitution," she said.
In response to Lee's comment, police said this ordinance would help lower the threshold in order to cite those people prostituting because they could be fined for not holding an escort license.
NewsChannel 7 also made a call to a posting on the backpage website under escorts. A woman who wanted to remain anonymous said she has been working independently in the escort service for 13 years. She said this new ordinance would be a positive move for her industry as well.
The city of Wausau is looking to enact an escort licensing ordinance following Weston and Schofield's lead with their new laws.
If enacted, escort service businesses would be required to apply for and obtain a license in order to operate in the Wausau area. But police say this ordinance is not them promoting prostitution. It's actually meant to do the opposite.
"Being an escort service does not mean you can provide prostitution legally. They're two separate things. So we are not legalizing prostitution, we are making it easier for us to hold accountable people who are prostituting and soliciting prostitutes,” explained Wausau Police Dept. Captain Ben Bliven.
The Public Health and Safety Committee is meeting to establishing licensing requirements Monday night.
NewsChannel 7's Emily Davies is at the meeting will have updates during NewsChannel 7 at 10 p.m.
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