LEWISTON — Police on Wednesday charged seven more people in what investigators say is a crackdown on human and sex trafficking.
Police said they arrested seven people on charges of engaging in prostitution as a result of ongoing investigations. In contrast to similar arrests made in recent weeks, police on Wednesday did not release the names of those charged.
“This operation was part of a continuing effort by the Lewiston Police Department to address the issues of human and sex trafficking,” according to a Lewiston police press release at about 10:30 p.m. “The Lewiston Police Department is conducting investigations to determine if these individuals are being forced into prostitution for the financial gain of sex traffickers. Arresting sex traffickers will continue to be the primary objective of these investigations.”
The investigation has been conducted by the Lewiston Police Selective Enforcement Team and the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department. Police have charged nearly 20 people with engaging in prostitution in the past month. Most of those were the result of sting operations conducted on Ash Street.
Police did not say whether those charged Wednesday were men or women, although the sting operations were focused on men who attempt to pay for sex in downtown Lewiston.
“Investigations have shown that sex traffickers often use force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex acts from those suffering from substance use disorders,” according to the news release. “Those involved in the sexual exploitation of others are also involved in other criminal activities such as selling drugs and violent criminal acts.
“The intent of these investigations,” the release continued, “is to target the larger issue of sex trafficking rather than the typical arrest and prosecution of prostitutes, which typically would result in a fine-only sentence unless there was a prior conviction within the past two years. An individual who has two convictions for prostitution is also entitled to court-appointed counsel who could advocate on their client’s behalf to align them with the proper services to combat their problems.”