Columbus Police Focus In On Sex Trade At Area Hotels

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UPDATED: Thursday September 19, 2013 11:53 PM

Columbus police say state Route 161, near interstate 71, has become an area where prostitution is overlooked and even allowed.

Investigators say there are things about the area that just invite criminal activity -- a cluster of hotels and easy access in and out via the highway.

But they say some hotels aren't doing enough to close their doors to the sex trade.

They're hoping a recent sting sends a message.

It starts with an online ad.     

Then a phone call:  

"Hey Kendall, this is Mark. I saw your ad, and I was hoping to maybe meet up with you later on tonight."

Mark isn't a customer -- he's an undercover Columbus Vice Detective.

"She said she was full service, which means to me that she offers sex for money," he says.

Renee has an ad online, and Thursday she was busted by Columbus police.

"I feel like such a letdown,” she said through tears. “I feel like a letdown to my family, my kids, myself."

She says she has three children and a degree in accounting.

She also has an addiction to heroin.

Officers found boxes of used needles in her room.

She's been used, beaten and raped, all, she says, for her addiction.

"I woke up on the floor. I'd been knocked out for six hours,” she recounted. “He raped me. I've been raped a few times."

"I think that the vast majority of women involved in prostitution are, or at some point, were victims of human trafficking," said Lt. Mark Lang of the Columbus Vice Squad.

He says the Columbus Division of Police has come to recognize these women and girls as victims, turning its attention to the men behind them.

"Those are really the people that we're after,” he said. “The pimps that are out there, the ‘Johns’ that are making this a worthwhile business for those pimps."

But investigators say the pimps and Johns aren't the only ones playing a role.

They say so are businesses that turn a blind eye to what's happening.

"You can only arrest so many drug dealers and prostitutes from the same hotel before common sense takes over, and you have to say that that hotel, if they don't know what's going on, they're in on it," said Lang.

In the past three days, police told 10TV that they've found two human trafficking victims, one of them 17 years old.

They've arrested two women for solicitation.

Those women will be referred to the CATCH Court prostitution docket.

And they've arrested one man they identify as a pimp or trafficker -- 32 year old Wayne Miller.

He is charged with felony promoting prostitution.

10TV News spoke with one hotel manager, who would only say that they recognize prostitution is a problem in the area, and that when they suspect it's happening, they order the people involved to leave.

She insisted it is not something they're tolerating or looking past.

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