SOUTH PORTLAND — Police arrested eight men as part of a prostitution sting by area police and are expected to appear in court later this month.
The alleged solicitors were charged Dec. 7 with one count each of engaging a prostitute, a misdemeanor crime, according to a Dec. 30 press release from Detective Christopher Todd.
Bernard Powers, 49, Victor Sanga, 39, John Ricker, 57, Branko Pishev, 56, Douglas Fales, 47, Adam McOwen, 40, Orlin Diaz, 39, and James Bryant, 44, were placed under arrest. No addresses were listed for the defendants, who are scheduled to appear in Cumberland County Unified Court Jan. 17.
According to bail bond documents, the men were arrested at a hotel in South Portland. No complaints have been filed at the courthouse that detail the nature of the arrests.
South Portland, Portland, and Scarborough police departments were involved in the operation.
South Portland Lt. Frank Clark on Wednesday said the sting was part of a routine practice used to deter the demand for prostitution. It is hoped the sting operations will change the behaviors of those seeking sex for sale, he said.
Clark said often the public may think of prostitution as a victimless crime, between two consenting adults. ” What needs recognition is that it is not victimless,” he said.
A 2015 report on human trafficking in Maine by South Portland-based Hornby Zeller Associates for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimated the prevalence of sex trafficking in Maine ranges between 200 and 300 cases annually.
According to nationalhumantraffickinghotline.org, there were 11 human trafficking cases reported in the state in 2017 – 11 sex trafficking cases and four labor trafficking cases.
Clark said a paradigm shift occurred five to 10 years ago in how prostitution cases are investigated. He said the previous practice was the cases were investigated, and the prostitutes were charged. That’s where the case finished.
Now, questions about why people prostitute themselves are coming to the fore, including the possibility of coercion or being forced by another person. Clark said prostitutes are now also treated as victims.
The lieutenant said awareness has grown as there has been more education about human trafficking and prostitution statewide, and task force efforts, as well as training from federal agencies for local police departments.
He said there is collaboration between law enforcement agencies at all levels, with the goal of reducing prostitution and human trafficking.
Clark said there have been cases where underage girls were prostituting themselves. Besides coercion or human trafficking, drug addiction is another insidious element often tied to the work.
When asked if prostitutes are still charged with solicitation, Clark said it is case- specific.
The lieutenant said police departments work closely with social service agencies such as Family Crisis Services and victim support services to connect women with resources so they are able to access help with addiction, learn core skills and job training.
“There are success stories, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Clark said.