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Uncovering Prostitution in Northwest Arkansas

As clients go digital, police follow right behind them.
FAYETTEVILLE, AR - There's a new way law enforcement is fighting prostitution in Northwest Arkansas.

Officers are using the online and texting worlds in their investigations.

Last year, the four big cities combined (Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville) reported 16 prostitution-related arrests.

Compare that to 27 in just five months of 2013.

The statistics are significant enough for a team of undercover detectives to take action.

"People around here don't think that prostitution is a problem, but it's very real and it is happening here every day," says Kelli Holiday, a detective for the Benton County Sheriff's Office.

Paying for sex. An illegal transaction profiting the world's oldest profession.

Sure, you probably won't find mini-skirts circling street corners in Northwest Arkansas because that kind of advertising is ancient.

Nowadays, the "clients" are drawn in digitally, and the Benton County Sheriff's Office knows it. 

"So, tonight we are setting up a prostitution sting," Holiday says as she clicks away at a computer mouse. "We post an ad online because that's the way this generation is."

That's the first phase of this undercover operation, phase two begins within minutes as a flurry of phone calls and texts come pouring in.

The digits-gone-public become an instant hotline with Holiday responding to every ring.

"My role is to talk to these guys when they call because they're going to expect to hear a female voice," she explains.

And she almost immediately begins to hear a lot more than she bargained for. These charming 'Casanovas' soon go from confident to downright cocky, describing, in graphic nature, what sexual acts they're willing to pay for.

Enter phase three.

Deals are made and appointments are scheduled.

Holiday undergoes a brief wardrobe change, then with heels in one hand and a firearm in the other, she travels with her street crimes unit to a local motel where a few unsuspecting 'Romeos' will receive the ultimate rip-off.

"I think we're going to have a lot of upset individuals," Holiday says. "Because you have to think of what they think they're going there for and then all of a sudden they're smacked in the face with the reality of they're going to jail."

Phase four: the takedown.

Eyes widen and eyebrows raise as surprised expressions come to the faces of each gentleman who arrives, greeted within seconds by a team of undercover detectives.

"This is just a really fast-paced operation," says Sgt. Corey Coggin, of the Benton County Sheriff's Office. "As soon as we arrest one, we have another one coming."

Coggin helps process the suspects in an adjoining room that quickly fills with faces of confusion, stacks of cash and more condoms than a convenience store.

And next door, deals are still being dialed in.

Just a couple hours into the sting, emotions run high as some takedowns get extra physical and the motel becomes a makeshift interrogation room.

"I mean it's public once they are arrested for this, if they're a business person, then their company can know about this," Holiday says.

Which brings us to the final phase: loading up.

Twelve men end up illustrating the walk of shame.

A 71-year-old told detectives he was in town from Oregon. Others were from as far away as California and Maryland. All looking for pleasure, but end up leaving as prisoners.

"This is our home, for most of us, and we're not okay with prostitution or the things that come along with it," Holiday adds. "Stay out of our county."
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