By Zachary Barnes, Emily Elconin and Sakiya Duncan
Old Town Lansing Times Staff Reporters
A secret rose to the surface after Detective Amber Kenny-Hinojosa was investigating Tyrone Smith for involvement with human trafficking activities. This investigation led to the discovery of a case that involves Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney Stuart Dunnings III who is facing 15 charges across three counties, including Ingham County, for allegedly engaging in prostitution.
The problem, though, is far more than just of an alleged rogue prosecutor.
There were 381 commercialized sex/prostitution offenses reported in 2014 in the state of Michigan according to Michigan Incident Crime Reporting database. In 2013 and 2014, 12 men and 15 women were arrested for such crimes in Lansing. Prostitution may be more alive than many are brought to believe. This also begs the question whether or not law enforcement is doing everything they can to limit what many call, “the oldest profession.”
Director and Professor in the Michigan State School of Criminal Justice, Mary Finn, feels prostitution is a difficult crime to identify because the women are not deemed as victims because they are willing to exchange sex for money.
“It is hard for police to monitor prostitution. This type of activity usually occurs behind closed doors. I think it is a difficult crime to try to address,” Finn said. “It takes a victim willing to come forward and file a complaint . You have to hope that someone with any position of authority will act with integrity.”
Despite finding that Dunnings has been involved with various prostitutes since 2010, including soliciting sex from a woman who has no prior history as a prostitute, Detective Lt. Scott Wriggelsworth doesn’t believe this event changes how East Lansing Police Department will handle these types of cases.
“We’ve had some involvement in human trafficking cases in the past and we’ll continue to if it’s on our radar and we get any wind that there is any,” said Wriggelsworth. “That (the Dunnings III case) happening isn’t going to change our standard operating procedure going forward.”
Professor of Social Work and Director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute from the University of Toledo, Celia Williamson, believes law enforcement isn’t doing enough to limit prostitution offenses.
“If you really want to reduce the problem then you would focus on reducing supply (the prostitute) and demand (the customer). Cities typically have a majority of their focus on supply,” said Williamson, a human trafficking and prostitution expert.
Williamson also says the ones that are being arrested aren’t the ones who will stop what they are doing. They are damaged, uneducated, and poor women who need help. The middle class man, who is usually a law abiding citizen, is the one that needs to be targeted if this offense is to be limited.
“You have vulnerable women who are in need of treatment, not incarceration,” Williamson said. “But most of the efforts are focused on arresting the vulnerable and not arresting the actual buyers of sex, who are not vulnerable, even though every time they are buying sex, they are committing a crime.”
Despite Dunnings allegedly being a great example of how it is the man with the means that is soliciting sex, Wriggelsworth doesn’t see procedural changes. They will, though, always remain labor-intensive cases for the ELPD in how much work they put into them.
“I don’t think what happened last Monday plays any role how hard we look into these cases and how much we investigate them,” said Wriggelsworth. “Now that a person of prominence came under scrutiny and has been involved with it (prostitution), it doesn’t mean we’re going to ramp up our efforts. We take all these cases seriously.”
Speaking on the idea that prostitution is one of the oldest crimes, Williamson says it should still be treated as thoroughly as any other crime.
“If they (law enforcement) were serious about the issue they would at least arrest equally. If you arrest customers and make them go to court and hold them accountable then you see the men are less likely to reascend. Then you let the community know that if you come around and do this, the likelihood of you getting arrested is high. So you’re deterring some men.”
Department Aide at MSU Women’s Resource Center, Meg Abebe says the number one thing to do is to not be complicit. The Women’s Resource Center is currently fundraising to establish The House of Promise, a restorative healing home that will be located in Lansing to help young women or girls who escape sex trafficking and have a safe place to stay.
Abebe feels it is important to look for the signs of sex trafficking.
“There are a lot of women being sex trafficked by people and law enforcement should be trained to look for signs,” Abebe said. “We need to have have a stricter sentencing to send a message that this is not acceptable in our community.”