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Special Report: Prostitution Crackdown

We browsed the online ads, made a couple of calls, when one of them picked up.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- In 2009, law enforcement agencies put intense pressure on Craigslist to crack down on prostitution ads appearing on its popular online community. While much has been done, it still isn't hard to find posts soliciting sex popping up in the Little Rock Classifieds.
 
The Little Rock Police Department has a dedicated Vice Unit that works these ads to deter illegal sexual activities from happening on the streets. As a matter of fact, it's the one of the only law enforcement agencies in Arkansas with a team to investigate prostitution. The Vice Unit says it's a whole different world than it used to be.
 
"If you wanted an internet prostitute, or date as it's called in the world these days, you went to Craigslist," says a LRPD Undercover Agent. "It was the new evolved from the street prostitution."
 
Ladies have taken their business from the streets to online and are going on popular sites like Craigslist and Backpage.com, clearly promoting illegal sexual activities. Detectives say there are no regulations on these websites and they're actually legal. If you browse the online classifieds, it's proof that it's a big problem in Little Rock, which is considered the main hub for those commuting from Dallas and Memphis. Craigslist and Backpage are also helping ladies reach a bigger network.
 
"If you want a date, you can go right here on this website and pick out a number, pick out a picture, pick out what you like and what your preference is and make a phone call, see if you can make a date," says Undercover Agent.
 
So FOX 16 tried it out. We browsed the online ads, made a couple of calls, when one of them picked up.
 
"I accept donations, and it's a lot of fun," says woman on the phone.
 
The woman says she only discusses her services face to face, and is charging $140 for 30 minutes; $180 for a full hour.
 
"I can pretty much guarantee you that uh, it will be worth your while," she says.
 
Only five minutes into our conversation, "Did you want to come see me?" she asks.
 
"When?" asked FOX 16.
 
She responds, "Whenever you're ready baby."
 
She wanted to meet at a motel in West Little Rock, which is another place many ladies frequent for business. Motels are a place where undercover agents make their arrests, but also anywhere else you could imagine.
 
"Laundry Mats, back seats of cars, truck stops, on the streets," the undercover agent says.
 
FOX 16's Susanne Brunner joined the Vice Unit on their undercover ride through Little Rock's neighborhoods, which reveal some of the city's hot spots for prostitution.
 
"There's actually a lady sitting right there on the step, you see her? That is one of our ladies," they said.
 
As we drove along 26th and Arch Streets and 13th and Woodrow, we caught many women with prior arrests for prostitution back in the act.
 
"She is definitely looking for a date. There's another one right here on the left. I'll have to look at her, in the green pants."
 
Detectives say these ladies are also known as "Street Walkers" and look just like your average neighborhood lady. They also look to prostitution as their only source of income.
 
"That's what they do usually. They sit there and they walk back and forth within a block or so area, trying to get a car and flag them down."
 
When the Vice Unit works Craigslist and Backpage advertisements, it has a good idea who it wants to target. Undercover agents have either dealt with these ladies in the past or they're under age. They've arrested women from as young as 15 to as old as 60 years of age. It's when they're able to catch both men and women in the act that they can help make a change.
 
"We try to figure out how she got into the business, who's pushing her into this business, and that's when we make our federal cases or our cases a lot and try to get her to stop doing this and try to get her back to family who's actually caring for her," the undercover agent said.
 
Detectives believe getting them in the system and showing these ladies they now have a record is a reminder this isn't the easiest and safest way to make money.
 
"You're battling your life every time you go into one of these rooms because you don't know if you're going to get physically raped, beaten or killed or stabbed or what's going to happen to you," the undercover agent said.
 
It's a battle that keeps police online and on the streets.
 
The exchange of sex for money or anything of value constitutes as prostitution. Police say prostitution is a misdemeanor in Arkansas.

To keep up with Susanne Brunner's stories, "Like" her Facebook and follow her on Twitter
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