Advertisers have long known sex sells.
But many drug addicts have known for just as long that sex also buys.
In order to raise the money necessary to feed their drug habits, some users resort to selling their flesh to strangers.
Forget red light districts, bordellos and bunny ranches -- prostitution in this region goes on in residential neighborhoods.
Tricks of the trade
A middle-aged woman who lived in Sandusky until recently said she makes a living through offering sexual favors for cash.
Skinny with shoulder-length hair, the woman claims the flesh business is steady in this area.
With a little head nod, the woman signals passing motorists traveling along Sandusky’s downtown streets that she’s a working girl.
“You just go walking around — you try to head downtown to an area that’s populated and you just watch every car that rolls by,” the prostitute said. “If I can see that it’s just a man in the car, doesn’t matter what age, I’ll turn my head and look. If they look back at me, I’ll just nod, and they’ll either perk up or roll on by.”
The ones who perk up come from all over — Perkins, Huron, Norwalk.
Most want oral sex, which runs about $20, but some seek intercourse, which costs at least double that, she said.
Interested men pull over, invite her in and off they go, heading to some nook in the city or to her home.
A Sandusky man in his 20s said he got his start as a sex worker at the age of 17 at truck stops along Ohio 2. Lonely truckers, starved for attention, paid him good money for sex.
His clientele grew as he learned to work the city streets and parks in this area. His business operated much like that of the working girl.
“It’s a lot of eye contact,” he said. “You just nod, walk real slow, give them a chance to see you’re interested.”
Although he knows girls who “trick” — as prostitution is known on the street — he said he was one of the only gay prostitutes working this region.
For a long time, he said he made $60 to $200 a night trafficking in carnal offerings.
He had about five regulars and countless sporadic customers.
Adapting to the times, the man said he took his business online and met 25 to 30 clients from all over the area via the Web site Craigslist. A section of the site allows members to post personal ads, which proved to be a cash cow for him.
He said many of his customers were men who wore wedding bands and drove nice cars. They were the picture of normal — people who could have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
The drug connection
Most of the money he made went up his nose or was fed into his veins. He has battled a cocaine addiction since he was in his teens.
The woman is also a drug addict. Her long love affair with stimulants eventually turned into a deep and powerful need for crack cocaine.
Crack is not cheap, especially for addicts who need larger and larger doses of it to get high.
Addicts often have trouble holding onto steady jobs and when their money runs out, they turn to the one thing of value they still have — their bodies.
Drug dealers might not accept personal checks or credit cards, but they certainly make allowances for women willing to trade sexual favors for drugs, police officials said.
“We’ve learned from informants on the street that women are prostituting themselves to get heroin,” Huron County Sheriff’s Capt. Ted Patrick said. “In an effort to get the drugs, these people will go to any means.”
Bellevue police Capt. Matt Johnson said he is familiar with several women who regularly finance their crack habits by offering up a payment of flesh.
“Usually what they’re doing is having sex with the dealer for the drugs,” Johnson said. “If they would work, they could get money, but it’s laziness.”
Back in the fall of 2003, Monroeville police officers said they busted a couple — Timothy Chandler, 37, of Willard and his former wife, Amy Jewel — for soliciting sex in the parking lot of a truck stop on the outskirts of town.
Monroeville police Sgt. Frank Gleason — who went undercover to arrest Chandler — said he firmly believes raising drug money is the most common motive underlying acts of prostitution and may have played a role in this bust.
“I don’t think a lot of people are doing that to go buy baby formula,” Gleason said.
Chandler was arrested for heroin last summer by Greenwich police.
With virtually no other source of income, the local prostitute said she used to sell drugs to support her habit, but the occupation was too risky.
Prison time awaits most dealers who get caught, and police agencies devote a fair amount of their resources and time battling the drug trade.
Caught in the act
Prostitution is a different animal entirely.
Unlike drug sales, which are felony offenses, sexual solicitation is a misdemeanor crime.
“I figured I’ll just turn tricks, it’s a misdemeanor, I am not going to do real prison time over it,” the woman said. “And I’ve never been charged with solicitation.”
To the best of his knowledge, Sandusky police Det. Sgt. John Orzech said it’s been about five years since the last prostitution bust in the city.
“It’s a complaint-driven thing since there are not females out in Sandusky obviously flagging cars down,” Orzech said. “We used to have sketchy reports that women were doing that, but we haven’t experienced that activity in the last few years.”
Part of the trouble in catching prostitution is there is usually no one to report it. The activity goes on in dark alleys and behind closed motel and apartment doors.
Privacy is the name of the game.
The working girl said her neighbors — who watched one man after another come and go from her apartment — caught on to her profession, but never leaked the information to police.
Police said they almost never receive complaints of the crime.
“The people who are getting the services out of it aren’t going to be complaining to us,” Orzech said. “It’s hard to track down and not one of the crimes people call us about all the time.”
Erie County Sheriff’s Capt. Paul Sigsworth shares this view.
“Obviously, prostitution’s occurring, there’s no question about that, but it’s one of these situations where people aren’t calling us to say, ‘Hey, I was a prostitute’s customer last night,’” Sigsworth said. “We investigate those types of complaints when we get them, and we take them very seriously, but nobody’s complaining.”
Although police don’t pose a huge threat, prostitutes say there are other occupational hazards.
The working girl has been raped at knife point.
She claims while walking the streets in a nearby community she was pulled into a van and sexually assaulted by several men brandishing knives.
The 20-something Sandusky man learned he had chlamydia about three months ago from selling sexual favors for drug money. He also has been left out in the middle of nowhere by a customer and raped.
Also, the 26-year-old Toledo woman whose bound body was found strangled to death in an Ottawa County marina had a history of prostitution and drug abuse.
The job is inherently dangerous: Meeting strangers in isolated areas is generally not a great idea, authorities said.
The working girl has been beaten up and robbed. Her body has been damaged in other ways.
Although she carries condoms with her at all times, the woman said she has contracted at least one sexually transmitted disease from her line of work.
Both the Sandusky man and the working girl say there is nothing morally wrong with prostitution.
They talk about the activity as though it is a logical extension of capitalism and economics. Both like to name other parts of the world where it is legal and more acceptable.
Capt. Sigsworth said people who claim prostitution is a victimless crime are dead wrong.
This is because the destructive drug trade is inseparably linked to prostitution — they fuel each other, he said. Drug crimes give rise to a slew of other problem behaviors like violence and theft.
Both of the local prostitutes say they’re trying to turn their lives around by getting off drugs and cutting back on or eliminating their days of walking street corners.
The man said his life is going too well to continue down the path of debauchery.
“There’s some good things going on in my life and I don’t want anymore all the bad things associated with it,” he said.