ALBANY (AP) -- Albany County's chief prosecutor has established a website about sex trafficking victims where he plans to post mug shots of patrons in an effort to dent the demand side of that illicit market.
Traffickers increasingly use the Internet to advertise and arrange sex between customers and sex workers, including young women from tough circumstances who are recruited and victimized, District Attorney P. David Soares said Tuesday. Online contacts establish another level of secrecy where customers may feel safer, he said.
The first criminal profile on the site is 38-year-old John Hammond, sentenced last month to two to six years in state prison for attempted trafficking of a young woman at a suburban Albany motel in 2012. According to authorities, Hammond coerced her, convincing her that she had to work as a prostitute to pay her sister's debts, and then her own, and supplying her heroin. The investigation stemmed from an ad on backpage.com.
"It would be impossible to eradicate this modern-day plague from our society without first and foremost providing the best possible care to victims and the individuals like Christine who are kept as slaves," Soares said. He was referring to the young woman who at the Tuesday press briefing recounted having been put into a hotel room in Florida by gang members and forced to have sex for money until she escaped after a week.
"I was treated like a caged animal," she said. "It took every ounce of courage to get away."
The office's crime victims unit helps with referrals to shelters and health, drug, mental health and trauma services and relocation, but officials said victims are often fearful of both law enforcement and retribution.
In the past year, Albany County prosecutors have handled about 50 cases involving prostitution or related crimes, most from hotels in Colonie or Albany, often in sweeps or sting operations, spokeswoman Cecilia Walsh said. Patronizing a prostitute is a misdemeanor that rises to a felony involving a child under 14.
"If you are a john patronizing in Albany County, you can expect your face also on this screen for the world to see, for your girlfriends, for your wives, for your family members to be able to go and see, for your bosses," Soares said. "This is the deterrence."
Authorities haven't yet decided precisely which convictions will put a john's name and face on the website called Frontpage.
Web postings will be made upon conviction, not arrest, Soares said. In the next few weeks, before the thoroughbred racing season ends in nearby Saratoga, his office will be letting municipal and judicial officials around the county know about the approach, he said.
"When you have destination locations like Saratoga and when you have events like track season, this is when you can expect the highest amount of trafficking taking place," Soares said.