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Monday December 5th

Carrboro police crack down on prostitution in sting operation

Carrboro police cracked down on prostitution last month after receiving dozens of calls from concerned residents of Abbey Court Condominiums.

The development, located off Jones Ferry Road, was plagued by ongoing reports of prostitution over the summer, Carrboro Police Sgt. Chris Atack said.

He said the department received numerous calls from residents who reported women soliciting sex within the neighborhood, which Atack said houses many low-income residents and Hispanic families.

While police records indicate that prostitution is not an obvious problem in Carrboro and surrounding towns, local officials say they believe some prostitution occurs discretely, below the radar of police.

The requirement that police must have an exchange of sex for goods to arrest someone for prostitution also contributes to the few number of cases the department sees, Atack said.

He said the complaints from Abbey Court led the police department to implement a proactive sting operation during the first two weeks of August to address the growing problem in the complex.

Of the eight women targeted by the sting, only three were arrested.

Erica Massey, 31, Nancy Burger, 56, and Cara Stallings, 40, were arrested on misdemeanor charges of prostitution, according to Carrboro police reports.

Charges were pending for Massey and Burger as of Tuesday.

Stallings pleaded guilty to prostitution charges in court this month.

The sting

Carrboro Police Officer Brad Ward, who implemented the sting, said the operation came after the department received about 30 calls about the women starting this summer.

Ward said the calls the department received about the group were not all about prostitution.

Many calls were to report crimes such as larceny and trespassing related to prostitution.

To address the complaints, Atack said undercover police officers contacted the women to set up a time to exchange sex for payment.

He said when the women agreed to the exchange and met with officers for the delivery of services, they were arrested.

Two women targeted by the investigation were found not to be involved with prostitution anymore, Ward said.

Another woman was almost arrested but backed out of the exchange, Ward said.

He said the two women the department received the most calls about were not arrested.

Ward said unlike most prostitution cases, the women at Abbey Court were unusually public with their solicitation.

“These types of prostitutes have been around Carrboro for years, but it is a small group and they haven’t always been so bold and caused so many problems,” he wrote in an email.

Theresa Dollard, an Abbey Court resident, said she has been approached by men in the neighborhood who asked to pay her for sex before.

“I’ve been asked if I do business,” she said.

Since the sting, Ward said complaints from Abbey Court residents about prostitution have decreased dramatically.

History and problems

Atack said Abbey Court’s location on a heavily trafficked road across from a gas station makes it particularly vulnerable to illegal activity such as trespassing.

Atack said the department’s proactive approach to stopping crime at Abbey Court also could play into a higher number of arrests.

“We’re there to alleviate a problem, and with that, you’re going to get more arrests,” he said. “Now, Abbey Court is active, but there have been times when it’s been quiet.”

Judith Blau, a UNC sociology professor, has been working with children and families in Abbey Court since 2009.

She said many of the residents of the apartment complex are undocumented Latino and Burmese immigrants, and because of that status, they face many difficulties.

“Being vulnerable and at risk of losing one’s human rights is evident at Abbey Court,” she said.

Atack said police have been aware that some of the women were prostituting for years, but it can be difficult to make arrests in prostitution cases.

For most criminal activity, police can use witnesses, surveillance and reports to make arrests — but for prostitution, there must be an exchange, which he said can be difficult to set up.

Ward said there is likely more prostitution occurring in the town than the department is able to regulate.

“Most of the prostitutes have regular clients who contact them via cellphone,” he wrote in an email. “When the interaction stays on that level, they don’t tend to bring attention to themselves unless they are trespassing at an apartment complex.”

Chapel Hill

Though it’s just miles down the road, Sabrina Garcia, sexual assault and domestic violence specialist for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said she does not think Chapel Hill has a significant problem with prostitution.

Garcia said Chapel Hill doesn’t have a specific part of town where prostitution incidents are more common, making it difficult for police to track.

“When you don’t have an area that you can watch, the focus gets diminished,” she said. “If prostitution does go on, it’s very under-the-radar.”

According to police records, the last reported prostitution incident in Chapel Hill occurred on Aug. 9, 2009 at 135 Lincoln Lane.

No arrests were made in the incident.

Police records show there were also three incidents reported —and arrests made — between 2004 and 2005.

Shana Judge, a former UNC Public Policy graduate student, researched links between prostitution and sex trafficking in North Carolina.

She said the town’s low rates of prostitution and sex-trafficking could be related to the high income level of residents and low number of minority residents in the town.

Donna Bickford, director of the Carolina Women’s Center and an advocate against sex-trafficking, said prostitution and trafficking are happening in the town, but in ways that are difficult to see.

“In bigger cities, you might see more street prostitution,” she said. “But really, all communities are vulnerable.”

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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