GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The sex trade is moving from the streets to the Internet, and that seems to have made an already dangerous industry even more risky.
A 33-year old Grand Rapids prostitute is in need of “significant” reconstructive surgery and remained hospitalized Thursday after being attacked early Sunday. Twins Michael and Peter Versluys are accused of beating, raping and robbing her.
The Grand Rapids Police Department says the sex industry used to start in the open, on the streets.
“It wasn’t unusual to see a girl walking down the middle of Division Avenue on a Friday night at one in the morning. Short shorts or underwear, high-heeled shoes, and walking right down the middle of the avenue,’ GRPD’s Lt. Pat Merrill said. “That just doesn’t happen anymore.”
But “a lot of the activity has now translated to online,” Merrill said.
Websites such as backpage.com allow sex trade customers to check out who’s for sale from the comfort of their living room and set up a meeting online.
“It makes it a hundred times more dangerous,” sex worker advocate Anny Donewald said.
That’s because sex workers can no longer see who is approaching them like they could when customers would drive or walk by. They can’t judge customers on sight using intuition, Donewald said.
“You can put something on backpage.com and you never know who’s coming or you never know where you’re being sent to,” she said. “You never know who’s on the opposite end of the phone call or who’s soliciting you at all.”
Lt. Merrill said blind hookups set up online are riskier not only for the workers, but also for the customers.
He also said violence against sex workers is as old as the trade itself and technology has not changed that.
“While engaging in criminal activity, they tend to be the victims of crime routinely,” Merrill said. “Whether it’s being assaulted, being robbed, being raped. Those are common occurrences in that community unfortunately.”
So why don’t prostitutes simply find a safer occupation?
Donewald says the sex industry has a separate culture with its own rules and that it’s hard for anyone to get out.
“A lot of times, these girls were conditioned in the sex industry since they were 12 and 13 years old, and so they don’t know another way,” she said.
Donewald, a former sex worker, started Eve’s Angels in Grand Rapids four years ago, providing Christian support for women trying to leave the sex trade. She said women need the kind of support organizations like hers provide to get out.