Women's Justice Center, Centro de Justicia Para Mujeres
Home, Pagina Principal, About, Sobre Nosotras, Funding, financiamient
What's New What's New, Que Hay de Nuevo
Help. Ayuda
The Maria Teresa Macias Case, El Caso de Maria Teresa Macias
Criminal Justice, Justicia Criminal
Women in Policing, Mujeres Policia
Guest Book, Lobro de Vistantes
Workshops / Talleres
jContact Us, Contactanos



Letters to Authorities

Back to Letters to Authorities Index

Prostitution Crossroads on
Santa Rosa Avenue

April 15, 2003

DA Stephen Passalaqua,
SRPD Chief Michael Dunbaugh,
Sheriff William Cogbill
Santa Rosa, CA

RE: Prostitution Crossroads on Santa Rosa Avenue

Attached Find: Oregon Study of 800 Prostitutes

Dear DA Stephen Passalaqua, SRPD Chief Michael Dunbaugh, and Sheriff William Cogbill,

We're writing to bring your attention to the harmful clash of efforts that occurred with the high profile sweep and arrests of prostitutes that was carried out last Friday night by the SRPD and Sheriff teams.

We urgently ask you to consider and support an alternative approach to prostitution that we, some of your sex crimes detectives, and the DA sex crimes victim advocate have been working on for the last month. It's an approach we hope you'll agree holds potential benefits for law enforcement's ability to fight serious violent crimes, as well as benefits for the safety of all women and children throughout the community, and for the safety of prostitutes. It's also an approach that has also already involved many of your patrol officers as well as the county Public Health HIV street team, the DAAC street team, family planning clinicians, and some ex-prostitutes who have joined in this effort.

We also hope you'll see that the sweep and arrests of prostitutes last Friday not only undermines the outreach effort already underway, but it also undermines the credibility of other groups who had joined in the effort.

The History: Over the last couple months, in the course of expressing our concerns about the volley of violent crimes against women on the Avenue, we were hearing frustrations from officers of both departments regarding the difficulties of getting the information and cooperation from local prostitutes they needed in order to solve the crimes. As you know, this recent rash of violent crimes on the Avenue includes, but isn't limited to, the unsolved January murder of 21 year-old April Lynn Misenhimer, an attempted murder of a prostitute, and the brutal rape of a vulnerable teen who was mistaken for a prostitute.

In meetings last month with sex crimes detectives, the DA victim advocate, and ourselves, we and others laid out the following ideas for obtaining needed cooperation of prostitutes with law enforcement:

  1. That research shows that prostitutes everywhere are ongoing victims of serious violent crimes. (See attached study of 800 Oregon Prostitutes and other references.) The research also shows that prostitutes rarely report these crimes to law enforcement. Clearly there would be immense benefit to the investigation and prevention of the assaults, rapes, and murders of prostitutes if prostitutes would entrust these problems to law enforcement.

    But there would also be a much broader benefit to the prevention of sexual violence against all the women and children of the community. This is because sex offenders use the prostitutes on Santa Rosa Avenue. These offenders are known to prostitutes and the prostitutes know who is violent and who's not. As such, having prostitutes willing to talk with law enforcement would serve as early warning on all the sex offenders in the county and on many other violent offenders as well.

    In fact, in the investigation of the case of the non-prostitute who was raped near the avenue, the detective later found a prostitute who had been raped by the same perpetrator many months earlier but who hadn't reported the rape to police. Clearly, if this prostitute had trusted law enforcement to report her rape at the time it occurred, it's virtually certain that the subsequent rape of the young woman would not have happened.

  2. Law enforcement both locally and elsewhere has long practiced the policies of ignoring a minor crime in order to get at major crimes.

    * In probably the most analogous situation, law enforcement agencies around the country and more recently local law enforcement, have seen the wisdom and necessity of refusing to participate in INS actions aimed at arresting non-documented immigrants for misdemeanor violations of immigration laws. This is because police recognize that successful policing is impossible in an atmosphere where entire segments of the community fear the police. Police recognize that it is in their own interest to ignore the minor violations of immigration laws. In our own community, once law enforcement stopped joining in INS raids, there's been a complete and dramatic turn around on the willingness of immigrants to go to police. Non-documented crime victims and witnesses who previously refused to communicate with police now routinely come forward. Only rarely does a non-documented victim even ask us anymore if police will get them deported.

    But there are other examples too:
    • In individual cases of serious violent crime, if the victim of the crime was simultaneously involved in a minor crime such as drug use or a probation violation, law enforcement routinely ignores the victim's minor crime in order the solve the major crime,
    • In drug crimes, law enforcement has a long and widespread history of teaming up with drug users and minor dealers in order to get information on major drug criminals. In exchange, law enforcement frequently grants the minor perpetrators immunity.

  3. Prostitute unwillingness to report violent crimes against them to police, similar to earlier immigrant unwillingness, is based on a long and pervasive experience of being routinely arrested by police for the misdemeanor crimes of prostitution and drug use. In addition, prostitutes both locally and elsewhere report that, in general, they are treated very badly by police, and that they are routinely harassed by police.

  4. If police in their relationship with prostitutes would prioritize their role as enforcers of felony violent crime laws and de-emphasize their role as enforcers of misdemeanor prostitution and drug crimes, police would immediately begin to reverse the unwillingness of prostitutes to talk with them, and prostitutes would begin to provide the crucial information for solving and preventing violent crimes that your detectives have said they so badly need. It's also an approach that has much greater potential for connecting prostitutes to services that can help them move out of prostitution.

    Also, in all cases in which a minor is engaged in prostitution, the minor should always be treated as a victim of sexual assault rather than as a perpetrator of misdemeanor prostitution.

  5. The traditional law enforcement response to prostitution of revolving door misdemeanor arrests has failed everywhere, through all times, to make even a dent in prostitution and it's concurrent problems. The alternative approach, we feel, in addition to it's certain benefit to solving and preventing violent crime against women, also has a long term potential of curtailing prostitution by getting at the pimps. Once you begin arresting pimps for their routine beatings and rapes against the prostitutes, those violent crime arrests of pimps are going to have a much bigger effect on curtailing prostitution than the revolving door misdemeanor arrests of the prostitutes.

Based on these meetings and discussions, a number of aspects of a fledgling no-cost project has already been implemented. Other county groups who work with prostitutes have become involved. And within just a matter of weeks, the project has begun to bear fruit.

A. Sgt. Steve Baer, head of SRPD sex crimes unit, along with detective Litchfield, and Sgt. Greg Contos, head of the Sheriff's sex crimes unit, along with Dep.Terry White, drafted roll-call briefing memos which were relayed to patrol sergeants of their respective departments and from there passed on to patrol officers. In addition, they helped draft and then passed out to patrol officers the attached blue handout to be handed out on the streets to the prostitutes. As far as we know to this date, SRPD patrol officers were taking these handouts to prostitutes on the streets and in at least a dozen instances the prostitutes responded by giving their names to the officers to be passed back to the sex crimes detectives.

B. The principle message on the handout which also includes resources and safety tips for prostitutes states:
Your Safety Comes First
Recently there has been a series of violent attacks against women in the area of Santa Rosa Avenue. Your safety is our first concern. If you know of individuals who are violent, or if you yourself have been a victim of physical or sexual violence, no matter what the circumstances, please call us. We want to help in any way we can.

C. The county Public Health HIV team sets up on Santa Rosa Avenue every Tuesday evening to work with prostitutes on relevant health and safety issues. After we and sex crimes victim advocate Miriam Gaon talked with the Public Health team about the project, they also began handing out the blue handout. They also helped distribute the SRPD police flyer informing of repeat sex offender and pimp Paul Andrew Scott who was recently released from prison. ( This Scott case, by the way, is another case in which your sex crimes detectives and the DA are near certain this man will re-offend, another case in which prostitute willingness to talk to police can provide early warning and likely prevent a rash of sex crimes this man could perpetrate throughout the community.)

D. In addition to the public health team, a number of Santa Rosa Avenue ex-prostitutes have been involved in the project. And just last week we met with the DAAC street team that provides a range of services to the prostitutes on Santa Rosa Avenue who also expressed interest. These cards are also being handed out at low cost family planning clinics frequented by prostitutes.

E. In addition, we have extensively researched and catalogued the long term services available in California for prostitutes. And we have set up a voice mail system for prostitute crime victims so they can maintain two-way contact with law enforcement.

Having said all this, we probably don't need to belabor the contradictory effects of last Friday night's raid on this beginning effort to build trust and communication between prostitutes and law enforcement.

Aside from the obvious setback to the principle goal, we feel deeply concerned for any injury that may have resulted to the credibility of the other community groups who joined in the effort to get this message out to prostitutes. These groups depend on the hard won trust they have developed with the prostitutes over time to carry out their own equally important missions of health and welfare.

The Friday night raid on the prostitutes clearly didn't consider the damage that could be done in undermining all the work of these groups too. It seems pretty clear that the units that carried out the raid knew about the ongoing work and made no effort to warn anyone. Even if they didn't want to reveal the plan, they could have easily suggested that this might not be the best time to do this work.

We ask you to please take some time to consider the benefits of giving the alternative approach a chance. We look forward to talking with you on this subject at your earliest convenience.


Marie De Santis Stephanie Serra
Director Victim Advocate

c: DDA Ken Gnoss
Asst. Sheriff Gary Zanolini
Sgt. Greg Contos, Sheriff's Department
Deputy Terry White
Lt. Brad Marsh, SRPD
Sgt. Steve Baer, SRPD
Det. Eric Litchfield, SRPD
DA Victim Advocate Miriam Gaon
Gloria Young, United Against Sexual Assault
Janette Ethridge, Public Health

Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,

All rights reserved © 2010 by Woman's Justice Center
Web site by S. Henry Wild