News & Politics

Prince George’s County Police to Live-Tweet Prostitution Arrests

Advocates for sex workers call it an exercise in publicly shaming sex workers.

Photograph by 360b via Shutterstock.

Next week, the oldest profession will meet the latest thing, as Prince George’s County Police Department plans to live-tweet a prostitution sting sometime next week, possibly with pictures.

“We won’t tell you when or where, other than it’s somewhere in the county sometime next week,” a police press release issued Thursday reads. “The PGPD’s Vice Unit will conduct a prostitution sting that targets those soliciting prostitutes and we’ll tweet it out as it happens. From the ads to the arrests, we’ll show you how the PGPD is battling the oldest profession.”

Prince George’s Police maintain one of the more active social-media presences of local law-enforcement agencies—the department previously alerted its Twitter followers when rounding up rowdy football fans at FedEx Field. But advocates for sex workers say widely distribtuing photos of prostitutes is different.

“You set them up,” says Cyndee Clay, the executive director of HIPS, a DC-based organization that “promotes the health, rights, and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by sexual exchange.” Clay says sex workers depicted in Twitter photos will immediately risk being abused, isolated, or shunned by their acquaintences and family members. Sharing a sting operation over social media, Clay adds, will not increase public safety. 

“This isn’t reality televison,” she says. “This is the actual police. If they must do it they don’t need to mask it at armchair voyeuristic entertainment.” Clay adds that her group will respond by live-tweeting its own services while the police sting is going on.

Julie Parker, the department’s spokeswoman and probably the most active tweeter among our local police flacks, responded that the sting operation will target johns more than it does sex workers.

“The intent all along has been to put on notice and/or arrest the very people who exploit women and even young girls in our community,” PGPD says in a another press release issued after the initial criticism. “We’ll give our community real-time access to the PGPD’s Vice Unit which is dedicated to shutting down this type of illicit business and seeking help for its victims.”

Still, that doesn’t entirely shake the fact the initial announcement for what  PGPD calls a “progressive” social media tactic was originally accompanied by a photograph of a woman being led away in handcuffs during an previoius prostitution bust.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.