PROVO -- Nine men from around Utah were cited in Provo recently in a prostitution sting over the Internet.
Provo police Capt. Cliff Argyle said police conducted a sting on Web sites like Craigslist and Backpage after officers noticed some ads on the sites. Although the ads were not explicitly for sex, Argyle said it was clear they were prostitution ads, setting up times and places to meet.
"We also got several calls from citizens who also noticed these ads," he said.
Argyle said police decided to set up a sting for the "demand" side of the prostitution, or the "johns." A phony ad was placed on Craigslist and Backpage, saying the woman would be in town on May 7. Within hours, he said, nine men were arrested in the sting.
"All nine of them were arrested on the 7th," Argyle said.
The nine men came from as far north as Park City and as far south as Santaquin looking for sexual services, police say. They ranged in age from 22 to 58, from businessmen to blue-collar workers. Their names have not yet been released, and the men were sent on their way with a citation for patronizing a prostitute, a class B misdemeanor. Police are wrapping up the investigation, and will release the men's names. No cases have been filed in court yet.
Argyle said several claimed it was their first time trying to meet a prostitute, while others admitted they had done so before. All of them knew what they were doing, and police made sure the men were actually looking for a prostitute.
"I don't think there were any mistakes made," he said. "They knew why they were going there."
Argyle said it is rare to arrest someone for prostitution in Provo, and a sting of this magnitude has not been done in several years. It is a growing problem across the Wasatch Front, he said, and police are working to get on top of it. Argyle said Provo police worked with the city attorney and agencies that have done stings in the past in order to get this one done right. Because of the experiences of cities like Orem and Salt Lake City, Argyle said he was not surprised that the sting netted so many offenders.
Although such a sting is not common in Provo, Argyle said officers are trying to combat prostitution, and they may take the battle to the source.
"The next sting may very well be on the supply side of the prostitution," he said.
Utah County prosecutor Tim Taylor said there has been an increase in prostitution lately in Utah County, some with felony exploitation charges. Although prosecutions have gone up, Taylor said there hasn't necessarily been an increase in the crime.
"It's probably always been going on, but I think we're probably doing more of a concerted effort," he said.
An increase in prostitution around the country can likely be attributed to the Internet, Taylor said. It has become much easier for prostitutes to reach thousands of clients through only a few Web sites. Taylor said the Internet makes it more difficult to track offenders, as there are myriad ways to put the services online.
Taylor said most prostitution citations are misdemeanors, unless there is an exploitation charge for a madame or someone working behind the scenes in the prostitution business. Because the charges can be less severe, he said, agencies have to decide how much manpower they want to commit to fighting prostitution.
Prostitution is a serious problem because of the collateral consequences of the crime, Taylor said. He compared the offense to a broken window -- a broken window is not the worst problem in itself, but it provides a way for more serious crimes to be committed. With prostitution come drugs, disease and violence, he said.
This case is just the latest of several prostitution incidents in Utah County. According to an Orem police press release, 16 men were cited in late February in a similar sting conducted by Orem police. A Cedar Hills couple was recently sentenced for running a prostitution business from their home, and Brenda "Joy" Anderson was arrested along with her granddaughter and another woman in Lindon for running a similar business from their home for the last 10 years, police say.