Residents fight to reverse toll of a 'victimless' crime


PROSTITUTION has been called a "victimless" crime. Officer Patty Silver of the Southeastern District might disagree.

Silver was working a Friday night sting detail about four weeks ago in the area of Dundalk and Holabird avenues. Working undercover and posing as a prostitute, Silver was picked up by a john. Eventually, she identified herself as a police officer and told the man he was under arrest.

The man fought with Silver. He bit her once on the right forearm near her elbow and three more times on the left hand, inflicting nerve damage that may require surgery. Silver has returned to duty, and police charged 37-year-old Jose L. Delacruz with soliciting prostitution, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.

Now, Delacruz faces not only the charges when he goes to court, but also Cynthia Gaver.

Who, you might ask, is Cynthia Gaver? A woman not to be trifled with, if you're a prostitute or a john. Gaver is vice president of DAART - the Dundalk Avenue Area Residents Together - an anti-crime group started about 2 1/2 months ago by neighborhood residents who had had their nerves plucked beyond all reason by prostitutes, johns and drug addicts. Melissa Techentin is president of DAART.

Prostitutes, johns, druggies and assorted scofflaws might not want to run afoul of her either.

Gaver has already prepared a "community impact" statement for the judge who hears Delacruz's case.

Gaver's letter tells of how the man "escalated a situation that already threatens to unravel the fabric of our community - sex and drug solicitation - to an even more heinous and dangerous level."

She then tells of the attack on Silver and of the impact the "victimless" crime of prostitution has on her community.

"When a prospective 'john,' like the defendant," Gaver wrote, "visits my neighborhood, he will find prostitutes - many of whom are addicted to the hardest, most unforgiving substances like crack. ... [They] carry one or more of the diseases transmittable through sexual intercourse and needle exchange and the transmission of body fluids. ... These are very sick women walking and working on our sidewalks."

Baltimore District Court Judge Charlotte Cooksey confirmed Gaver's observation that prostitution is a health crisis. At a DAART meeting Sept. 21, Cooksey, who had been invited by Gaver and Techentin, spoke of the problems associated with prostitutes.

"Many are physically and mentally ill," Cooksey said. In addition to AIDS, some suffer from liver and heart problems. Such women, Cooksey said, are sending the female prison population ever upward. More women are getting locked up for offenses such as theft, fraud, writing bad checks and prostitution.

"The crime is drug-driven," Cooksey told those assembled in the back yard of Techentin's house. There are 500 women in the Women's Detention Center. Some 100 have been sentenced. The rest wait for their trial dates. Cooksey estimated that 60 percent of the women in the detention center are mentally ill.

There is more bad news. In addition to the problems caused by women's prostitution, there's the problem of the teen-age boys who trick for gay men, boys Cooksey called "chicken hawks." The boys can be found in the Patterson Park area. Some of them, Cooksey said, are third- and fourth-generation male prostitutes.

Between the prostitutes, johns, chicken hawks and drug addicts, it's easy to see why Baltimore has such a high rate of HIV-positive and AIDS cases. That's the bad news.

The good news is that people like Gaver and Techentin are determined to save not only their communities, but the prostitutes, johns, chicken hawks and drug addicts from themselves.

Techentin said she, Gaver and other DAART members call and write "everybody and their uncle we can think of." Their efforts have resulted in police stings that have netted 243 john or hooker arrests since DAART started.

Techentin said she used to see five or six prostitutes at all hours of the day. Now it's only one or two, and they're discreet enough to hawk their wares around 5 or 6 in the morning.

Techentin wants to see a long-term, inpatient drug treatment facility in Baltimore and a "johns school" for men who pick up prostitutes. The school would cost the men $350 and help them cure their sex addiction.

"I'm angry at the prostitutes," Techentin said, "but I'm also angry at the men for exploiting them."

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