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Published: Friday, 6/30/2006

FBI provides insight in prostitution fight

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A local group hopes its billboards reduce prostitution and help women trying to leave  the life. 
A local group hopes its billboards reduce prostitution and help women trying to leave the life.
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From her office outside Washington, Jamie Konstas has for two years followed the lives of hundreds of prostitutes, many of them from Toledo who they worked for, what aliases they used, when they were traded, where they were arrested.

Yesterday, the FBI s intelligence analyst had a different assignment: Talk to the folks in Toledo who are trying to reach out to those women and save others from going into the life.

She had good and bad news.

When it comes to commitment, You guys are doing a phenomenal job in Toledo, she told more than 30 people at St. Mark s Episcopal Church on Collingwood Boulevard. You re heading in the right direction in that.

Once a month, a group of social workers, medical professionals, court staff, and parents meets to understand why girls and women become prostitutes and to help those who want out of the sex trade.

In the past year, U.S. attorneys have indicted nearly two dozen Toledo-area men and women accused of running a national sex trade ring that recruited and traded girls and women. Most cases are pending.

Konstas, left. Konstas, left.
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In the meantime, the local roundtable group has bought billboards citywide calling clients of underage prostitutes sexual predators. They re also trying to establish a 24-hour drop-in center and develop a set of questions that social workers, medical workers, and other front-line providers could ask girls and women to determine whether they re prostitutes who would like help.

But on questioning, Ms. Konstas also had bad news.

Preventing other young women from going into the sex trade will take more than billboards and diagnostic questions. Toledo must first realize how so many of its girls and women were recruited, she said.

Pimps recruit prostitutes using different tactics in different cities, including outright kidnapping. In Toledo, she said, girls were lured through personal contacts.

It s the friend you went to school with, or somebody down the block, or a relative. What you re seeing is a lot of girls who will tell you, He told me I was pretty, He told me we could travel, and He told me we could make money. So it s more of a friendship they re establishing and then they re off, Ms. Konstas said.

The community must establish a support system in schools and elsewhere, just to get to girls and let them know they re important, that they ve got some kind of future, Ms. Konstas said.

Many pimps and their underlings are from Toledo, so vigilance is key, said Scott Smith, head of the Toledo FBI office.

They re going to keep coming back home and they re going to recruit again as they re making their circuits, he said.

Celia Williamson, a local professor who has spent years interviewing local prostitutes, said the roundtable members need collaboration with law enforcement.

Mr. Smith said the FBI can t share intelligence on pending cases. Still, he vowed to send an agent to future meetings.

Contact Robin Erb at: robinerb@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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