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Keep fighting prostitution

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The fact that legal escort services are fronts for prostitution is hardly news. People with their fingers on the pulse of the city have been well-aware of this for years.

That's why the Deseret Morning News refuses to run classified ads for these services or for private dancers or entertainers, forfeiting hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential revenue. The Salt Lake Tribune, on the other hand, has a practice of accepting these ads and the money they generate. These are conscious decisions. Most prostitutes no longer walk the streets. They advertise in classified ads.

Police are certainly aware of this, too. But citizens at-large may not be. That's why a Deseret Morning News expose last Sunday on escorts, undercover police stings and the culture of local prostitution was so important.

This is often referred to as a "victimless crime," a way of making money that is as old as the planet itself, even showing up in biblical references. True, it is an old practice, and it is something that probably is impossible to eradicate completely, but it is hardly victimless or harmless — particularly if someone you love is involved.

That much is made clear by simply interviewing escorts, many of whom are desperate and unhappy, victims of abuse at home and on the streets. Their johns sometimes abuse them. Sometimes, they are beaten, raped or even killed, and they are exposed to a variety of diseases. Nor are they treated well by pimps.

Several counties in Nevada have approached the problem by legalizing and taxing it. But that is hardly a solution, nor does it get to the heart of the issues that make a woman want to sell herself in the first place, or that make a man want to pay for a selfish pleasure that dehumanizes an intimate act. It does nothing to help people regain self-respect and begin contributing positively to life.

Because this is a crime with real victims and real consequences, police owe it to the public to continue conducting stings that net both prostitutes and their customers. To do any less would be to turn a back on people who are suffering and to condone all the bad that comes with this age-old vice.

Statistics show that arrests for prostitution are declining in Utah. This may be good news. More likely, it means the practice has become harder to detect or that police are not devoting enough resources to the problem. Add to this the ever-present glamorization of promiscuity on television and in movies. Too many people may view sex for hire as a harmless way to make a buck.

It is not. Rather, it is a crime that carries with it enormous dangers. And it ought to be discouraged and prosecuted vigorously.