Social media should not be used to deter crime

Kati Gardella, Crier Staff

The judgement of the Lewiston Police Department of Maine was scrutinized after they decided to post on Facebook the names of women who had been arrested for prostitution. This generated concerns that the Lewiston Police Department was publicly shaming women who were victims of sex trafficking, and therefore had to become prostitutes unwillingly.

The status reads “The Lewiston Police Department has been addressing the issue of prostitution taking place predominantly in various inner city areas. Detectives and Officers of the Lewiston Police Department have been working in close collaboration with the Office of the District Attorney and area social service advocates during these recent investigations.

As a result of our on-going efforts and investigations into this illegal activity, the Lewiston Police Department announces three recent arrests; all for the charge of Engaging in Prostitution. Arrested are [the names and ages of three women] all of Lewiston, Maine.

These individuals have been offered a variety of social services in hopes assisting them to make positive changes in their lives. The Lewiston Police Department will continue addressing this issue by targeting those who engage in prostitution or solicit prostitutes.”

The status is relatively considerate, and has a positive tone. The major conflict, however, is that naming the women detracts from any sense of respect or possible restoration into a more positive self-perception.

Even if this is not the intention of the status, naming the women who have been arrested publicly shames them.

The status also gave rise to other concerns in the community, such as worries that any of the arrested women were actually victims of sex trafficking, and had not become prostitutes by their own discretion.

It is unclear what the goal of the police department was in publicly identifying the women as prostitutes. It was a petty move on the part of the department, as the suspects had already been arrested and detained.

Possibly, the post was a halfhearted attempt at deterrence; to spread the message that if you are caught, your charges will be shared with anyone who views the Facebook post, and you will be judged by countless strangers on the internet.

Publicly labelling the women as prostitutes further envelops them in stigma, and concerns about a stigmatized reputation can be extremely psychologically harmful.

Prostitution, similar to drug crimes, is classified as a victimless crime. It is considered to be detrimental to society overall, rather than a particular individual.

Those who engage in prostitution as well as non-violent drug related crimes are much better suited to rehabilitation rather than detainment in a prison. They are of a vulnerable class that needs treatment much more than punishment.

Furthermore, for crimes that have already happened, with the perpetrator already identified, it is not essential for the police department to post about every arrest made. If the crime is significant enough, it will be covered by local news.

The Lewiston Police Department Facebook page has also posted statuses similar to this. I saw another status on the page that described the city’s opioid epidemic and provided a resource hotline number, without identifying anyone particular who had been arrested in relation to opioids.

I believe that the status was written out of pure frustration. This stemmed from the hopelessness of the community members, who were tired of crimes occurring so blatantly out in the open.

One commenter, an elderly man, wrote as a comment “It’s about time, Our Young School kids are exposed to this NASTY behavior, And I say to expose their Names, weather (sic) it’s a her or him, Let it be known who the NASTY Prostitutes and Johns are, Please clean up our STREETS.”

I disagree that simply “exposing” people is a constructive response to criminal activity, but the commenter also makes a point that it is not only the fault of the prostitutes, but the people who solicit them.

Another reaction to the status was that they should only name the solicitors, and not the women.

A good role model for how police departments should conduct both approachable and effective social media pages is The Bangor Police Department Facebook page. It is famous for its humorous writing, and is well-liked by the community.

The fact that it is regarded in a positive light makes it more helpful when they use statuses to ask the public to be on the lookout for a specific individual, such as an unidentified individual who had been recorded stealing an object on a security tape.

The status by the Lewiston Police Department may not be the greatest controversy, but it caused enough debate for a story to appear about it on local news.

It is helpful to always think twice about what you post on social media, and how viewers may react to it. Typed words can have much more of an impact than expected.