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Despite the fact that for the past year Massachusetts has been armed with a new law to crack down on human trafficking and the people who pay for sex, a New England Center for Investigative Reporting report found that most men arrested in Suffolk County for buying sex, known as "johns," get their charges dropped. This is part three in a four-part series on the challenges police encounter when going after "johns.
In an unmarked SUV — the color of which blends with the night — Lt. Stephen Haberek drives along rain-drenched Union Street looking for signs of illicit activity in downtown Lynn. Haberek heads the city of Lynn's Special Investigation Unit responsible for taking on drugs, guns and sex crimes. You find them where traffic is going to come by. That drives his ambition to stamp out the street prostitution and related vices that have given Lynn a reputation in the underground trade — drawing in undesirable elements to this city who feed on a smorgasbord of taboos.
They come to Lynn. Over the past year, Lynn has been doing what many other municipalities across the state are not: Police are arresting men who solicit sex in greater numbers than the girls and women who are being prostituted on the streets. Impressive numbers, yes, but as is often the case, lopsided numbers. In , 75 women were picked up, but only 10 johns found themselves in handcuffs. A year later, when Haberek took over the unit, police stepped up john stings.
There have been five on his watch. It could be male. It could be female. But we recognize that these john laws are effective so we also arrest the johns. In that same year police arrested 55 women. Fifty-seven miles away, NECIR and WGBH News uncovered a picture on the streets of Worcester that is a complete statistical reversal of the current scene in Lynn: In Worcester last year, by one count, only three men were arrested for soliciting prostitutes.
Marianne Sarkis, a professor of social movements at Clark University in Worcester, repeats the number three in astonishment.