Lexington police treating prostitutes as victims, focus on Johns and pimps

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Counselors, rehabilitation specialists and community outreach organizations all sat around a conference table. It was the first time they had all gathered together. "The police department's thought process now is, we're doing it wrong," Lexington Police Detective Rick Lynn told the room. The group was there to figure out how to fix an underground danger that is happening in broad daylight.

Lynn explained to WKYT's MIranda Combs, " Putting a prostitute in jail for three days and she gets a $200 fine, it just means she has to turn three more tricks or spend two days in jail to pay her fine."

WKYT spent several days with Detective Lynn, trying to understand the problem. Seventh Street in Lexington is a popular area for prostitutes, Lynn said. He immediately found two women he has dealt with on the streets for years. "I used to be the biggest thing out here. Ricky Lynn's got me a couple of times," one of the women said.

But Detective Lynn's goal these days isn't to lock up the prostitutes, it's to help them learn a new way to live. He said 90 percent of prostitutes he sees are also drug addicts. "We're not going to target women who are involved in prostitution, we're going to treat them more as a victim and try to get them help."

"When's the last time you had heroin?" Combs asked a 26 year-old woman on Seventh Street. "Probably about ten minutes before you all pulled up," she admitted. "When did it start for you?" Combs asked. "I was 19 when I started to get out on the streets, using drugs. And to fuel my addiction, I started prostitution and that just, from there it really went downhill." The proof was up and down the inside of her arms. Seven years of marks and scars, reminders of how far she's fallen. "Once you use a spot for so long, your vein dies, is what I call it. You have to move to another spot. That's why I have the marks," she explained.

She doesn't have a home, not even a packed bag. She lasts just a few hours before she needs more money for more heroin. "You can make more, but the least you'll make is $20." She said the smallest amount of heroin you can typically get is about $20 too.

Stories like hers are the reason Detective Lynn said the plan has to change. "Our focus is on the johns and the pimps. If you take the money out of the equation, the only thing the girl is going to have is to go get help."

Natalie's Sisters in Lexington is one of the places she could go to get help, when she's ready. The organization is inside a home just down from where the prostitutes tend to roam. "Every week we see more and more ladies coming in," said Natalie's Sisters Program Director Jani Lewis. Natalie's Sisters is a first touch ministry to get the prostitutes help, when they are ready. Until then, the group takes bags of food and essentials to the women on the street.

Natalie's Sisters partners with police. So far, they've helped 200 girls find a different life. The group is one of the organizations coming together to help this population. "Most of the girls don't want to be out here. Most want to get off the street. They don't know how, or the drugs are to a point where they're just lost," said Detective Lynn.

If a Lexington resident has a concern about possible prostitution or a disturbance in their area, police will still address any public concerns regarding prostitution.

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