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— News this spring of a six-month undercover operation by the Syracuse police and the 41 arrests made in connection with Internet prostitution in Syracuse shed a stark light on the seedy underground sex-for-money business, and how the police are enforcing laws against it.

But are these arrests the first step in helping prostitutes turn their lives around and get back on their feet, or is the system of prostitution enforcement a revolving door that fails to provide real change in the cycle?

How sex sells in Syracuse

Lt. John Corbett, executive officer of the SPD special investigations division, has worked in vice, narcotics and operations since the fall of 1987. Prostitution falls under the umbrella of vice crimes, along with gambling, child pornography and alcohol beverage control, and in 24 years Corbett has seen changes in the way sex sells in Syracuse.

Thirty years ago, prostitution activity was centered in downtown, Corbett said.

"Now, that's all changed," following a concerted effort to clean up the downtown area, he said. "Prostitution activity seems to follow drug activity. As neighborhoods get exposed to drug selling, prostitution tends to gravitate to those areas."

The crime has moved beyond street-level pick-ups, too.

"We have absolutely noticed that the average number of streetwalkers we observe is down from what it was just a year or two ago, and we attribute that to an increase in internet-based prostitution enterprises," Corbett said.

After a six-month long undercover operation, the police have arrested 22 of the 23 female suspects, and 19 of the 21 men they were looking for, Corbett said. One of those suspected males, he added, is currently overseas in Afghanistan.

A waste, or worthwhile effort?

Enforcing laws prohibiting "the world's oldest profession" has often been attacked as a waste of police resources.

But to say these are victimless crimes, Corbett said, is really a misnomer.

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