Prostitution fueling southern Indiana HIV problem, but the crime is hard to fight

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Drugs and prostitution are common in Austin, Indiana. The town of about 4,000 people is at the center of a public health emergency, with the number of confirmed HIV positive cases at 159.

"You've got dual transmission. You've got the sexual transmission and the needle sharing -- or whatever -- as well, so it does complicate it,” said Donald Spicer, Austin Police chief.

Authorities have been arresting drug dealers, trying to combat the problem, but police say putting prostitutes in jail isn't as easy.

“We have to be able to prove what they're doing and why they're doing it,” Spicer said.

In fact, Spicer says it's nearly impossible.

"We get calls that certain individuals have been picked up on a corner by a pickup truck or a car or whatever and that's not illegal,” Spicer explained.

Undercover work is the best way to arrest a prostitute but Austin only has six officers and most of the prostitutes know who they are, making undercover work tricky.

"We need to be able to bring officers in from outside and I believe the state police can help us do that and other departments that the public's not as familiar with and maybe we'll be able to get some of those people picked up,” said Jason Mount, Scott Co. prosecutor.

Samantha Polly, 22, and Kelly Combs, 29, served time for prostitution after they were arrested back in January.

“They do go to jail. They have a bond that's set usually between $1,000 and $2,000 which is a lot of money for a misdemeanor,” said Mount.

Mount says the first two times someone is arrested for prostitution, it's a misdemeanor.

The third arrest is a felony.

Anyone charged with prostitution is also required to take an HIV test.

"I think in Scott County, the penalties should be stricter but the fact of the matter is, we have to have the same penalties in Scott County as we do in Marion County, as we do in Lake County, as we do in Floyd County,” said Mount.

"We understand they're doing a lot of this for income to support a habit of drugs -- or whatever -- so that's kind of what drove most of them to do what they do,” said Chief Spicer.

Spicer says more resources would help stop prostitution in Austin.

More: You can find complete coverage of the HIV outbreak in southern Indiana here

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