Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 19, 2013

Regional scourge — Prostitution crackdown a must

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Let’s get one thing straight: There is nothing positive about having prostitutes working U.S. Route 52, Mercer Street in Princeton, and other parts of Mercer County.

The scourge of prostitution is devaluing our neighborhoods. It is hurting businesses in our cities. And it’s an unnecessary eyesore for residents and out-of-town visitors who are visiting our region — and driving down Route 52 — to utilize the new Hatfield-McCoy Trail in Bramwell. What are these out-of-town visitors to think when they see prostitutes trying to wave down motorists on Route 52 on their way to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail?

It’s unacceptable, plain and simple. And so are those prostitutes who continue to openly work their trade along Mercer Street in Princeton — a downtown area that city leaders are diligently trying to revitalize. And what about our children? Young children, sadly, are often unable to play outside without being exposed to this unacceptable behavior. Some parents correctly fear for their teenage daughters, who they say could be propositioned by the “johns” who pay for the services of the prostitutes.

Skip Crane, head of the Bluewell Improvement Association, implored members of the Mercer County Commission to help last week in cleaning up this unacceptable behavior. Crane says prostitutes are often seen along Route 52 from 4 to 7 p.m. He adds they frequently walk onto the highway and try flag down motorists.

“They’ll wave at you,” Crane told the commissioners last week. “It seems like the last month or so, it’s been a major problem. Ladies in pink are all over Bluewell.”

 Motorists who travel Route 52 on a daily basis can attest to this assessment. The prostitutes are a problem.

The new foot patrols launched last week by the Princeton Police Department on Mercer Street will certainly help. According to Lt. J.W. Howell with the Princeton Police Department, officers will be present on Mercer Street throughout the summer months. The department plans to patrol Mercer Street at different times of the day and use different officers. Besides helping business owners, Howell hopes the foot patrols will cut down on prostitution and public intoxication.

Additional enforcement is also a must on Route 52. Having prostitutes trying to stop vehicles on this heavily traveled primary corridor is a prescription for a chain-reaction crash. And it’s also an embarrassment for the region when visitors to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system must be exposed to this sad situation.

There is no excuse for prostitution. Area judges, and prosecuting attorneys, must exercise the maximum penalty that can be imposed upon prostitutes, and those men who pay for their services. Send a strong message. Let them know their behavior will not be accepted in our cities and communities. Then, and only then, can we begin to get a handle on this problem.

We also need to see increased patrols, and more undercover operations, aimed at getting the prostitutes and their customers off our streets. Let’s address this problem now before it gets worse later this summer.

Finally, area lawmakers need to strengthen prostitution penalties in the Mountain State. That should be a no-brainer. Yet this very obvious problem doesn’t appear to be on the radar screen of lawmakers. Why?