Feb 3, 2012 7:52 PM by Drew Trafton
BILLINGS- The police are aware that prostitution is taking place in Billings.
Also, they know where it's taking place.
"In the last 10 years it's slowly just gone to massage businesses, escort businesses and through the use of the internet," said Deputy Chief of the Billings Police Tim O'Connell.
O'Connell, one of the officers who took prostitution off of the streets of Billings, particularly Montana and Minnesota Avenue, says it doesn't take much effort to find the prostitutes.
In fact, a simple search online revealed 14 different spas in Billings which had reviews attached detailing various sexual services the writer claimed to have received from the spa.
So, why aren't these places being investigated for prostitution?
According to police, there are several reasons.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John says one of those reasons is that prostitution is only investigated on a complaint basis.
"Unfortunately, it's an out of sight, out of mind," said St. John. "If people aren't seeing it and the police aren't seeing it then we're not all that active on it."
Another reason police say, is that it's far more difficult to perform a sting operation on a massage spa than it is when "johns" and prostitutes initiated the sale on the streets.
Q2 spoke to a former "john" who wishes to remain anonymous.
However, the john did shed some light on how difficult it would be for police to complete a sting operation.
The john says upon entering a spa, it's not as simple as just walking in and asking for sexual services.
"You're questioned, until they actually know who you are and stuff like that," said the john. "But nothing is directly spoken to. It's all assumed."
Even if you assume an officer could or would be allowed to go far enough to get into a room in the spa, a process which sometimes involves getting showered by the prostitute or stripping down completely naked, the prostitute could claim they are operating independently.
The risk, in that case, would of course be with the prostitute.
That's why the old circuit system which was implemented during the street walking days is still in place.
The john says from the west the girls come in from Seattle and Spokane, while in the east they come from Chicago and Minneapolis.
"Sometimes, you might see the same girl a couple of weeks in a row, and other times they would be gone," said the john.
Although he's heard rumors within the community, the john says he does not believe he has seen an underage girl at the spas.
The john says most of the prostitutes come from broken homes or are trying to get over drug addictions and are looking for high paying jobs.
"In a situation like that, it's either go work at McDonald's or make what they'd make in a week in a day," said the john.
However, when the story is boiled down, the guise of a massage business and the circuit is really designed to model a corporation which protects the people that really need to be stopped if prostitution is to cease in Billings.
"The owners kind of remove themselves from the situation, so, they're almost bullet proof," said the john. "It's a commodity: it's supply and demand."
So, for those who wish to see prostitution eliminated altogether in Billings: get used to disappointment.
What is commonly called the world's oldest profession has enjoyed longevity for a reason.
However, as long as that's the case, busts similar to that put the McFarland's behind bars earlier this week will continue to happen when complaints are filed and long term investigations take place.
Just don't expect them to happen often.