WASHINGTON — The Prince George’s County Police Department says it will take to Twitter as the Vice Unit conducts a prostitution sting next week.
“We’re using this progressive, and what we believe unprecedented, social media tactic to warn any potential participants that this type of criminal behavior is not welcome in Prince George’s County,” a news release says.
Police say the photos of suspects and information will be tweeted as the sting happens.
Still, advocates are outraged by what one organization calls a “horrible decision” that could endanger the lives of these sex workers.
“I think it’s terrible. It’s awful,” says Cyndee Clay, executive director of HIPS, a nonprofit organization that “promotes the health, rights, and dignity” of people affected by sexual exchange.
“Shaming doesn’t work.”
Clay says campaigns like this don’t decrease prostitution or help address the issues that lead someone to become a sex worker.
“If they are in a trafficking or abusive situation, posting their picture on the Internet isn’t doing anything to help that situation,” she says.
“You’re also potentially outing these people to their friends, family and to their neighbors. This puts them at increased risk of violence or isolation.”
In response to the police department’s decision, HIPS will live tweet a day of service at its D.C. center and a night on its outreach van, which connects sex workers with counseling, HIV and hepatitis C testing and other “safe sex materials.”
“We want to build real and effective community responses,” Clay says.
Prince George’s County Police clarified the mission later Thursday. The sting will target those who choose to solicit a prostitute, not prostitutes themselves, the department said in a news release.
“The intent all along has been to put on notice and/or arrest the very people who exploit women and even young girls in our community,” the release says.
Police say they hope the advanced notice of the sting acts as a deterrent to would-be johns who choose to engage in the illegal behavior.
The department says the sting is part of its commitment to transparency.
“We’ll give our community real-time access to the PGPD’s Vice Unit which is dedicated to shutting down this type of illicit business and seeking help for its victims,” the release adds.