Sting operations targeting sex workers in New Haven will be put on hold following discussions between the New Haven Police Department and local activists.
NHPD Interim Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 met with members of Sex Workers Ally Network — a group established on Nov. 16 in response to the stings — and agreed to end the operations, according to Beatrice Codianni, a SWAN member and managing editor of the criminal justice advocacy website Reentry Central. At a Nov. 18 rally in front of City Hall, activists announced to those gathered that the NHPD had just recently decided to shut down the operations.
NHPD spokesman David Hartman said the sting operations are “probably suspended for a while” given that certain groups within the city, besides protesters, are interested in exploring other ways of getting people to leave sex work. He did not expand on whom these groups might include.
However, he said police officers cannot ignore criminal complaints and that pimps should be placed behind bars. According to Hartman, prostitutes themselves are victims as they are often assaulted, raped or manipulated by others.
“The issue is this is very delicate: We can’t ignore that they’re breaking the law,” Hartman said. “What makes this heartbreaking is that they are victims, but they very rarely come to the police themselves.”
Campbell could not be reached for comment.
Codianni said she first reached out to Campbell for a meeting after reading about an Oct. 26 sting that led to the arrest of 13 women on charges of prostitution.
“I emailed [Campbell] the day I read about the sting in the paper,” Codianni said. “He agreed we should meet.”
She said Campbell also told activists he would talk to the prosecutor about dropping charges on the women who have yet to go to court.
But, Codianni said it is fear of arrest that often prevents sex workers from seeking legal help. She said SWAN’s members participated in street outreach work and that the sex workers they encountered were frightened of the police.
Many women become sex workers out of economic necessity, Codianni said, and many list housing among their top needs. One worker she spoke with had just been released from prison and had no place to live, while another was living with an abusive partner.
Brett Davidson ’16, executive director of the Connecticut Bail Fund and a member of SWAN, said many sex workers have a complicated intersection of needs including health, housing and legal support. SWAN must balance short-term needs with long-term changes in laws and policing, Davidson said.
Going forward, SWAN plans to conduct more street outreach, Codianni said, and the group is currently in the process of contacting different organizations to see what resources they can provide to sex workers. The group hopes to put together a resource brochure to be distributed alongside winter supplies, such as hand-warmers. A media committee has also been formed to talk to members of the press about how they cover sex workers’ arrests.