Caught in the act: Bird's eye view of prostitution sting
RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WACH) - COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Prostitution continues to be a major issue around the world and here in the Midlands. Local law enforcement is cracking down on this crime.
In South Carolina soliciting sex is illegal, and often it's part of a much larger criminal operation.
Investigators say men and women are soliciting sex online on sites like Backpage, Criagslist, Adult Friend Finder and Twitter.
Richland County Sheriff's Department recently organized a sting operation targeting the "Johns."
"All of the angles play into the problem, it's not just one sided, it's not just about targeting the traffickers or trying to help the girls out, but also targeting those who are soliciting for it," said Sgt. Maria Yturria with RCSD Victims Services Unit.
Once the "John" agrees to the sexual acts, a price and then presents his money, an arrest can be made.
"Everybody has to understand that it's not something we're going to tolerate in Richland County," warned Sgt. Yturria.
According to statistics from HG.org, a legal resource website, every year nearly 80,000 people are arrested for prostitution, costing tax payers almost $200 million dollars.
Richland County Sheriff's Department investigators are taking on the issue from every perspective.
"Some of the individuals that they are targeting are young, underage females that are being trafficked we definitely want to make sure that they are not coming in contact with them and we want to help the individuals that are placed in that situation. It's usually combined with drugs, narcotics use and all of that plays in together," explained Yturria.
During the sting operation one "John" had his suspicions, telling the undercover officer she looked like a cop and left.
"The minute he came to the door and he saw the undercover that we had he automatically left. By him doing that they understand that it's not something that they should be doing, but still it's going on," Sgt. Yturria said.
All three men deputies arrested the day of the sting operation were charged with soliciting sex.
Since this was their first offense, the men could face 30 days in prison or a fine up to $200.
A second offense could get someone 6 months in prison and a $1,000 fine
Any more offenses could draw a $3,000 fine and more than a year in prison.
But investigators say this operation is just the beginning.
"If they are out here committing a crime if they are soliciting anywhere online, we're monitoring them all. We're monitoring every single one and we're out in the different areas of the community doing this stuff, so it's not just one specific area that we're targeting, we're targeting everything in Richland County," Sgt. Yturria said.
It's a message that law enforcement hopes is heard by everyone in the community.