Huntington Gets Creative in Effort to Stop Prostitution

Nov 10, 2015

As prostitution arrests continue to rise in the Huntington area, city officials have come up with some unique ideas that they hope can begin to decrease the number of prostitution arrests. Among those ideas is the decision by the Huntington Police Department to begin posting  pictures of those arrested for soliciting a prostitute.

On an electronic billboard in downtown Huntington they’re posting pictures of those who are convicted of soliciting a prostitute. Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli said it’s about supply and demand--even in the prostitution market.

“It’s a concept not unlike the supply and demand when we’re talking about illegal drugs, but there is a supply and demand in the prostitution situation," said Ciccarelli.

"So the men--the customers are the demand side--so if we can break that cycle and eliminate that demand side or diminish that demand side then we’re going to have some success in that regard.”

Expanding the Drug Court Program

The second prong to the new approach to combat prostitution is expanding the already existing drug court in Cabell County. The renamed Cabell-Huntington Drug Court has added 20 new spots (up from 40 to 60 participants) and created the Women’s Empowerment and Addiction Recovery program. It’s designed specifically for women engaging in prostitution to support a drug habit. Ciccarelli said the drug court addition is essential.

According to data from the Huntington Police Department, there were 352 prostitution related arrests from 2001 to 2013.

 “This is absolutely critical because this is what’s going to solve that problem. The prostitution issue is a subset of the larger drug problem," said Ciccarelli.

"Every one of these prostitutes is a drug addict. [Until] we fix the addiction piece, we’re going to have to deal with the prostitution piece.”

The drug court follows the same one-year model as original drug court, but with changes that cater to female clients, such as domestic violence counseling, family planning trauma treatment and a course about health sexuality.

Prostitution arrest have more than doubled in Huntington since 2010 as heroin use has steadily risen. Law enforcement officials blame the resurgence of heroin as a cheaper alternative to prescription pain pills for the upswing in prostitution related arrests.

“It’s a hand-in-hand situation and these are all interrelated problems so you have to address them comprehensively. You have to be attacking the drug problem; you have to be attacking the prostitution problem," Ciccarelli explained.

Ciccarelli said the city has seen a a 74 percent increase in prostitution arrests this year. However, he said he’s not sure if the numbers are as dramatically higher as it might appear or if it’s the additional attention the issue has received as of late.

"I’m not sure that there is any more prostitutes than there have been in the past, but certainly we’re paying much more attention to them,” said Ciccarelli.

Ciccarelli said when you look at those high numbers you also notice that many of the arrests happen in the same areas. He said customers go where they know the prostitutes are during that time period.  He said over his 35 years in law enforcement in the area those areas in the city have changed here and there, but he said they’re noticing lately when they are able to drive it out of one area it just moves to another area in Huntington.