By Max Johnston, Eve Kucharski, Ella Kovacs, and Nakea Paige
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporters
A year-long investigation proves that prostitution can involve the reputable in society, as Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III found out after being charged with allegedly soliciting prostitutes, among other crimes, earlier this month.
“I think it’s a way of showing you can’t trust every person with a nice smile and a good speech,” Lansing resident Carlos Torres said.
In 2001, Ingham County Prosecutor Dunnings formally took over the prosecution of prostitution and prostitution-related crimes. Fifteen years later, on March 14, Dunnings was charged with some of the same crimes he was fighting against including: one count of prostitution-pandering, 10 counts of engaging in the services of prostitution, and four counts of willful neglect of duty.
If convicted, Dunnings faces up to 20 years for his alleged crimes that took place between 2010-2015.
In a statement, State of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette praised Dunnings’ work fighting prostitution and human trafficking while condemning his alleged actions.
“Dunnings has served as Ingham County Prosecutor since 1997 and has been an outspoken advocate for ending human trafficking and prostitution,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “I have worked with Stuart Dunnings … I am saddened that an elected official who holds trust from voters and is the chief prosecutor in our capital city would allegedly engage in conduct causing felony and misdemeanor charges to be filed.”
Laura Swanson, director of a documentary on human trafficking and prostitution called “Break the Chain,” said public and legal figures like Dunnings may be involved in these activities more often than the public realizes.
“A lot of the people involved in sex trafficking, that I spoke with, would often say that they did have people that were attorneys or great people within the area that you would never suspect that solicited their services,” Swanson said. “Finding out about [Dunning’s case] was, I don’t think, as big of a surprise for people that had suspicions within a certain community, as it was to the public.”
The Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office refused to comment on this case.
According to online law site, HG.org: “Every year in the U.S., between 70,000 and 80,000 people are arrested for prostitution, costing taxpayers approximately $200 million. The breakdown of arrests: 70 percent female prostitutes and madams, 20 percent male prostitutes and pimps, and just 10 percent Johns.” However, it is difficult to get accurate information about prostitution, due to the clandestine nature of the crime.
Dunnings’ case has also exposed the complex nature of targeting and prosecuting prostitution by law enforcement.
Professor of Sociology at George Washington University and advocate for prostitution legalization Ronald Weitzer says that distinctions must be made when targeting different kinds of prostitution.
“My condensed view is that indoor prostitution should be a low priority for the authorities unless there is evidence of coercion, minors, or trafficking involved,” Weitzer said. “But street prostitution is different, because of the myriad problems associated with it, including higher risks of victimization, youth involvement, pimping, and neighborhood nuisances disruption.”
The charges against Dunnings have brought attention to the psychology behind prostitution and human trafficking, with some, like Lansing resident Benjamin Jones, reacting strongly.
“Every person is a willing participant. If you didn’t want to do it you wouldn’t have done it. We are all adults. He didn’t put guns to their heads and make them do anything. They could have said no and went to his boss if it was an unwanted advance,” Jones said. “For those who willingly did it, I don’t know why they are complaining. You do it for a living. Now because it’s high profile everyone wants a piece of the pie.”
However, Laura Swanson said that the idea that women willingly enter prostitution is a misconception. According to Swanson, many women, including one of the women that Dunnings allegedly solicited sex from, are coerced into these relationships by others.
“I think that the biggest problem is that people think there’s one way people get into it and that one way is that the people just willingly go into it,” Swanson said. “But most likely in human trafficking cases what you have is this perpetrator or ‘pimp’ will be able to sense out a weakness in somebody: the need for food, the need for shelter, the need for safety, and will present that to the individual in the form of a relationship.”
For more information on prostitution and human trafficking, and how to get involved, the following are sources to contact:
- National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), a national, toll-free hotline.
- Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/en/qa-policy-to-protect-the-human-rights-of-sex-workers/
- Prostitution Research & Education: http://prostitutionresearch.com/
- Sex Workers Outreach Project: http://www.swopusa.org/
- Children of the Night: https://www.childrenofthenight.org/