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Group Tracks Unsafe ‘Johns’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Once or twice a week, Christine Barber heads down Central Avenue to talk to prostitutes, gathering testimonies in a database of johns known for raping and assaulting them.

Barber is a co-founder of Safe Sex Work, an organization that started in January and has so far compiled a “bad date list” of about 30 johns accused of picking up prostitutes and assaulting and/or raping them in Albuquerque. Some of the accusations warn of men who impersonated police officers, drugged and beat prostitutes or raped them for hours.

Other entries begin with “repeat offender” typed in capital letters.

“Our entire goal is to keep the women as safe as possible,” Barber said.

In addition to the “bad date list,” the group also will maintain prostitutes’ family contact information, in case they go missing, and hands out condoms and literature.

“It’s easy to get lost and be missing for several days before people realize they’re gone,” Barber said. “It’s a difficult population to target.”

Last week, the organization introduced itself to the Albuquerque Police Department’s Vice Unit, whose detectives said they’d be interested in working alongside the group if it builds up its credibility, said APD spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Gibbs said the department is most interested in pursuing violent crimes against women, even if those women are committing misdemeanor prostitution when officers aren’t present.

“We don’t really give a rip about what they’re engaged in,” Gibbs said. “We care more about what they’re alleging.”

That’s what Barber said is the most important for any type of relationship with APD.

The group will provide useful information to law enforcement “as long as they can guarantee not to prosecute prostitutes.”

The group said its database could be helpful in solving the West Mesa murders.

Safe Sex Work’s other founder, Cynthia Jaramillo, is a former prostitute and last known victim of David Parker Ray, aka the Toy Box Killer, who kidnapped her for three days and tortured her.

Jaramillo escaped from Ray’s trailer at Elephant Butte in March 1999 wearing nothing but a dog collar and a chain. Ray died in prison in 2002 but is believed to have dozens of victims, many of whom could have been murdered, according to the FBI.

Barber, a writer, became involved in the organization after reaching out to Jaramillo in order to write about her.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal