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New tack targets patrons, prostitutes

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SANTA FE – It’s time for a fresh approach to the crime of prostitution, according to two Albuquerque lawmakers.

Democratic Sens. Linda Lopez and Tim Keller are sponsoring a proposal to divert first-time offenders – prostitutes and those who patronize them – to an education and intervention program.

Those who successfully completed the program would have the charges dismissed.

The legislation “affords us the opportunity to talk about this whole issue of prostitution,” Lopez said. “How do we really try to address this?”

Lopez cited the 11 young women whose bodies were found in early 2009 buried on the West Mesa, believed to be victims of a serial killer who has not been identified. Many of them were involved in drugs or prostitution.

“A lot of those young ladies were caught in the system and never got the proper help,” Lopez said.

Under Senate Bill 512, a first-time offender could be placed on probation for six months and required to complete an education and intervention program. Those convicted of second or subsequent offenses could also be required to attend the program, but their charges wouldn’t be dismissed.

Under the law, a first offense for prostitutes and those who patronize them is a petty misdemeanor; subsequent offenses are misdemeanors.

The bill would require the Department of Health and other agencies to set up a program for prostitutes that includes education and counseling on topics including sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases and human trafficking; alcohol and drug treatment; and help in getting to a safe house.

A second component of the program would be seminars for those convicted of patronizing prostitutes, including information about legal and health consequences, impact of prostitution on the community, and help or treatment for addictive or compulsive behaviors.

A $250 fee for the program would be charged to those who patronize prostitutes, but not to prostitutes.

“What the studies show is that prostitution is one of those crimes that can be reduced through specific programs,” Keller said.

The legislation would “give judges and prosecutors more tools to combat the problem with,” the lawmaker said.

Joanne Landry, president of the Trumbull Neighborhood Association, said prostitution and related drug addiction have been a long-standing concern in her community.

“It’s very important to me that we see what we can do to help these women and men,” Landry said.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal

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