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Boston community tackles prostitution

Police, residents air their concerns

They can been seen late at night or early in the morning, sometimes in a group and sometimes alone on the corner: prostitutes plying their trade along Dorchester Avenue.

Dorchester residents said they are fed up with what they call a rampant problem in their neighborhood.

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“I wake up in the morning, and I see them out there when the kids are going to school,” Gail Stapleton, a lifelong Dorchester resident, said at a public meeting Monday night. “There are fights sometimes. It’s just so sad.”

Stapleton’s story echoed that of others at the meeting, held at St. Mark’s Church. The gathering attracted nearly 100 residents, several elected officials, and members of the Police Depart­ment.

Frank Baker, who represents Dorchester on the Boston City Council, organized the meeting after receiving complaints from constituents from Savin Hill to Ashmont and after witnessing the problem first-hand.

“Every time I drove up Dorchester Avenue, I saw at least one prostitute on the avenue, and it could be at any time,” Baker said. “It’s a quality-of-life issue, and I don’t want us to become numb to this.”

The Police Department pledged to tackle the problem from all angles, but acknowledged that it is difficult to contain.

“We hear the stories about the activity going on in your neighborhood, but the more enforce­ment on the avenue the more we push them out into the neighborhoods,’’ said Captain Richard Sexton, commander of District C-11 in Dorchester.

Police Superintendent ­William Evans said districts will need to work together. “The problem is when C-11 pushes it, it goes into South Boston,” Evans said. “What we have to do is have a dual strategy, and in Dorchester and South Boston we need to hit it hard.”

Evans added that while ­resources are stretched thin, the department is committed to curtailing the problem.

Meanwhile, some at the meeting thought the community should seek solutions.

Some suggested a public shame campaign, posting photos of the prostitutes and their johns in local newspapers. ­Another idea is to erect lighted traffic billboards, often seen at construction sites, to display a message to customers and prostitutes that their type of business is not welcome in the neighborhood.

“The best way to approach this is through enforcement, but also shame,” said state Senator Jack Hart, who represents portions of Dorchester and South Boston. “The idea would be to create as much of a deterrent as possible.”

Many residents and advocates said the problem reflects a lack of social resources and the scourge of drugs in the city.

“People’s lives are very complicated, and it’s not a simple solution here,” said Cherie Jimenez of the Family Justice Center of Boston, a nonprofit that works to support victims of abuse. “It’s a long-term solution. There are absolutely things that will work, but it takes a lot of resources. They [the prostitutes] need safety and a way out.”

Patrick D. Rosso can be reached at patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. For more on Boston neighborhoods and neighboring towns, go to boston.com/yourtown.
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