Author's Note: This story contains explicit language and descriptions of real prostitution cases. Reader discretion is advised.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The man on the stoop told her she could keep $70 of every $100 she made if she came to work for him as a prostitute. He told her he would keep her safe. She told him he was under arrest.
In a probable cause affidavit filed earlier this month, the detective wrote that she was working undercover to investigate a complaint about prostitution in a nearby alley when 39-year-old Lamont King yelled at her to come over to him.
After asking for a light, King wanted to know what she was doing. The detective said she was “trying to work my hustle.” To that, she said, King replied that she was in the wrong spot. Then he suggested they “work together”
“This is my neighborhood, so I know everything that goes on, ya feel me?” King said, according to the affidavit. “I know you ain’t in the right spot, though.”
Explore the data on the map below to see every prostitution arrest in Indianapolis in 2017:
The detective told King she was “independent,” meaning she didn’t have a pimp. King, she said, suggested she needed someone to protect her. People “get killed out here,” he said.
King then began walking westbound, the detective said, and promised her that he knew everyone in the neighborhood and would be able to get her customers.
The detective asked what her cut of the business would be.
“He replied, ‘You give me $20 off each $100,’” the detective wrote. “He then changed it to, ‘$30 off of each $100.’”
When King then said he had a house nearby they could work out of, according to the affidavit, the detective signaled for her backup and King was placed under arrest.
Once he was in handcuffs, the detective explained that she was an officer, and that King was under arrest. She said he told her, “You still sexy, though,” and then asked about the charge he faced.
“He asked, ‘What is promoting prostitution like?'" the detective wrote. "'Like trying to sell somebody or something? Like trying to sell somebody and make some money?’
"Pimping," she said. King nodded his head. "Oh."
Without Backpage, Police Running Blind
King’s arrest was the first in Indianapolis on a charge of promoting prostitution since November (by comparison, a search of IMPD records just for 2018 turned up 48 prostitution reports). The cases, according to Sgt. John Daggy, an undercover officer with IMPD’s vice unit, have just dried up.
The reason for that is pretty simple: the feds closed police’s best source of leads, the online personals site Backpage, earlier this year.
“We’ve been a little bit blinded lately because they shut Backpage down,” Daggy said. “I get the reasoning behind it, and the ethics behind it, however, it has blinded us. We used to look at Backpage as a trap for human traffickers and pimps.”
U.S. authorities seized Backpage, which has been accused of facilitating human trafficking and prostitution, in April. Legislation signed by President Donald Trump in April known as SESTA-FOSTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) made it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate or support sex trafficking and removed immunity for civil liability that online services previously had. The result has been that other sites like Backpage, including Craigslist’s personals section, have gone dark.
The legislation was hailed as a win by groups that fight sex trafficking, particularly of minors. But Daggy says it also removed one of the best tools police had for finding trafficking cases.
“With Backpage, we would subpoena the ads and it would tell a lot of the story,” Daggy said. “Also, with the ads we would catch our victim at a hotel room, which would give us a crime scene. There’s a ton of evidence at a crime scene. Now, since [Backpage] has gone down, we’re getting late reports of them and we don’t have much to go by.”
Even with Backpage, the numbers weren’t stellar. A Call 6 Investigation in May found that, in Indianapolis, women were 20 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution than men were for promoting prostitution.
In 2017, Marion County prosecutors filed just four cases on promoting prostitution charges. All four cases stemmed from IMPD investigations through Backpage, including the case that nabbed Jason Young in November.
‘I post, he texts’
The ad on Backpage made it pretty clear what sort of “fun” was being offered. The posting – “young, sexy, thick ‘n fun” – was followed by a description promising a woman who “love[s] to pleasure Hats on at all times [sic].” “Hats” meant condoms. The ad ended with a phone number with an Indianapolis area code.
An IMPD detective responded to the ad. Someone texted back asking if he was “in or out” – whether he wanted to meet the girl at her place, or have her come to him.
“In,” he replied.
The response was a series of numbers, “100 140 180,” which signified the girl’s prices for a short visit, 30 minutes and a full hour, respectively.
The detective responded that he “could do 140.” He was told to head to a hotel at 86th Street and Zionsville Road, and to pick up a bottle of Gatorade on the way.
Before he arrived, he received a text asking if he was law enforcement. He said he was not. He then received a text directing him to the Fairfield Inn on West 86th Street.
When he arrived, the detective spotted a man, later identified as Jason Young, sitting in a black sedan smoking.
As he approached the room number he’d been given, the detective received another text. This one told him he’d been given the wrong address. He needed to go to the InTown suites next door.
By the time he got back to the parking lot, Young was gone. Another detective confirmed Young had relocated to the parking lot of the InTown Suites.
In a probable cause affidavit later filed in the case, the detective noted that prostitution promoters, or pimps, often serve as lookouts to ensure the customer is not a police officer.
When the detective got to InTown Suites he was directed to Room 117. There, a woman who identified herself as Britni opened the door. After a brief discussion about what services the detective would get for his $140, Britni instructed him to lay the cash on the TV stand. As he did, he gave the signal for other officers to move in and arrest Britni.
As soon as police moved in, Young sped out of the parking lot. Two other detectives pulled him over a short distance away and placed him under arrest.
Once both were in custody, the detectives asked Britni who Young was to her. She said he was her boyfriend, and that he was the one who arranges the meetups.
“I post, he texts,” she told officers.
She also told them all the money she makes – minus a small amount for expenses for her children – goes to Young. If the detective had been a real john, she said, the money she made that night would have gone to Young to pay for another night at the hotel.
Young, for his part, denied any knowledge of what Britni was doing at the hotel.
Detectives found $849 in cash in Young’s wallet and pockets. Britni told them she had made it for him through prostitution. All of the money was seized to be held for forfeiture.
Young pleaded guilty in April to promoting prostitution, a level 5 felony, and was sentenced to 3 years in community corrections with 148 days of jail credit.
Britni pleaded guilty in January to one count of prostitution and was sentenced to time served for 54 days already spent in the Marion County Jail.
A civil forfeiture action remains pending against the $849 seized in the case.
For Some Women, It’s Back to the Streets
“We assume it’s a great thing that Backpage closed down,” Stefanie Jeffers said. “And it is, because it’s horrible that Backpage existed and so much trafficking occurred through the users of Backpage. But I do think that it comes with its dangers too.”
Jeffers, the founder of the nonprofit Grit Into Grace, works with women who are engaged in street prostitution in Indianapolis to help them get out of the life. She says Backpage’s closure came as a shock to the women she talked to.
“The couple of women that I’ve talked to have said, ‘Well now we’re going to have to go out on the streets, and we haven’t been on the streets in years,’” Jeffers said.
Stefanie’s Story | A single mom becomes a stripper, and then a prostitute
For those who have a pimp – and many women working in prostitution don’t – the loss of Backpage doesn’t mean they get a pass on bringing in money.
“But especially if they have a pimp, then that becomes extremely dangerous for them,” Jeffers said.
The streets come with their own set of challenges. Daggy says he hasn’t seen a street pimp since he was a uniformed officer working the Near Eastside in the 90s. Over there, where IMPD works the bulk of its prostitution cases every year, addiction drives the sex trade, not pimps.
“The street girls, they’re mostly focused on just getting enough money for their next fix,” Daggy said. “They’re almost, I would say 99 percent of those girls are addicted to opiates or meth. I would say one I know of is just an alcoholic. We just don’t see… not that it doesn’t happen, but we just don’t see pimps on the street like you do in the shows. They’re hiding in cyberspace and at the hotels.”
Backpage was shut down while one woman Jeffers works with was being held at the Marion County Jail. Jeffers said the closure wasn’t welcome news.
“It was definitely a shock to the women I know, and it’s definitely going to change things for them,” she said. “Pimps are still going to make their money, traffickers are still going to make their money, it’s just going to change things for the women. And I wouldn’t assume for the better.”
A Change of Perspective
Shortly after Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl, Daggy was invited to give a presentation at the Conference of Attorneys General.
“I was badmouthing Backpage big time,” he said, “because, you know, we were getting all of our arrests off there. We made over 60 arrests and caught four human trafficking cases during the Super Bowl.”
After he presented, Daggy says the website’s lawyer came up to speak to him.
“She came up to me and said, ‘You know, if we shut down, the ads will go offshore and someone else will pick them up,’” Daggy said.
That’s when Daggy started viewing Backpage as a trap – a useful tool for police trying to find victims who rarely self-report, and perpetrators who rarely come out in the open.
“They’re there. They’ve been there forever,” Daggy said. “I’ve got a 100-year-old book talking about a girl being taken up from Cincinnati to Chicago on a train, and the same thing happened: tricked into prostitution. The guy up there partied with her, wined and dined her, and then put her into prostitution. You would think it was written today, but this book is over 100 years old.”
Daggy says he expects IMPD to make at least a few more promoting prostitution arrests before the end of the year, but he’s worried that the degradation of the cases they’re able to present because of Backpage’s loss will cause departments to refocus resources in the long-term to easier-to-prosecute areas like narcotics.
That’s a problem for the veteran officer, who says vice cops like him are already in short supply. He’s worried that without a repository of possible trafficking cases like Backpage, human trafficking investigations will revert to the less-proactive style that was common when he first became a vice cop.
“Ethically, I get it” Daggy said. “But it’s not safer for our kids by being shut down.”
This article is the third in a series documenting the sex trade in Indianapolis.
PART I: ‘Becoming Carmen’ | Sex work took her name, then everything else. Now she helps women take life back.
PART II: ‘Dear John’ | When men buy sex, it’s the women who pay for it.