City cant stem a booming sex trade
'Anorexic' three-officer vice squad overwhelmed by problem's magnitude
Minors are working as prostitutes in Portland because there are not enough vice officers to stop them, according to Larry Kochever, acting captain of the Portland Police Bureau's drugs and vice division.
In fact, Kochever said, Portland has more adult sex businesses per capita than any other American city, but fewer vice officers Ñ just three Ñ than any major urban police force.
'I firmly believe the city doesn't take this seriously enough,' Kochever said. 'It's dangerous. It destroys lives.'
Portland police arrest dozens of minors for prostitution every year. But the actual number of minors working in the local sex industry is much higher, Kochever said, because the three vice officers are overwhelmed with work.
'They're all carrying incredibly high caseloads,' he said.
Kochever made his comments in the wake of the arrest last week of Ky Christy on charges that he hired a 16-year-old girl to perform live sex acts at a downtown 'lingerie modeling' studio.
The girl Ñ whose name has not been released Ñ had worked for several weeks at Aja's Lingerie Modeling, 314 W. Burnside St., before her mother called police in late December.
Vice officers immediately conducted an undercover operation at the studio, during which the girl agreed to perform a live sex show with another female for money. She was immediately taken out of the studio.
'Protecting minors is our highest priority,' Kochever said.
Christy was indicted on six counts of using a child in a display of sexually explicit conduct, a Class A felony. He is lodged in the Justice Center jail on $1.5 million bail. If convicted, Christy faces up to 70 months in prison.
Despite the arrest, Kochever said many other minors are working as prostitutes in Portland. He said most of the girls are employed by so-called escort services, which are merely fronts for prostitution. Few are ever discovered, he said, because of the private nature of the businesses.
'An escort service is just a phone number, so we can't walk in and check the ages of the women working there,' Kochever said.
But Kochever said there are not enough vice officers to check every adult business in Portland. He said the bureau slashed the number of vice officers during a round of budget cuts in the 1980s and has never restored the funding.
The three remaining officers simply don't have the time to check every adult business in town, Kochever said.
'It's a skinny, anorexic vice unit,' admitted Portland police Chief Mark Kroeker, who says that it might be cut even more because of city budget problems.
'We're moving in the wrong direction,' he added.
Hundreds of sex businesses
No one knows exactly how many adult sex businesses operate in Portland. A directory in the current issue of Exotic Magazine, an adult entertainment guide, lists 87 strip clubs, X-rated video stores and modeling studios in the metropolitan area. It also contains dozens of ads for escort services.
'There are hundreds of businesses employing thousands of people,' Kochever said.
One reason for the proliferation of adult businesses is the free speech provisions of the Oregon Constitution. The state Supreme Court has ruled that it is much broader than the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and protects a wide range of erotic expression, including live sex shows.
Because of the constitution, it is legal for anyone 18 and older to perform in a live sex show, provided the customer does not touch him or her. Kochever said that other sexual activities take place in modeling studios all the time, however. Dancers can touch themselves or other dancers, frequently acting out requests from the customers.
Oregon voters have repeatedly rejected proposed constitutional amendments allowing local governments to regulate adult businesses.
History of crime connections
In addition to the problem of minors working as prostitutes, Kochever thinks criminals are involved in some adult businesses.
'They see them as easy to start because you don't have to have a lot of experience,' Kochever said.
Several adult-business owners have been charged or convicted of serious crimes over the years:
• Dan Cossette and Michael Wright, the owners of Cindy's Adult Books at 8 N.W. Fourth Ave., are both convicted cocaine dealers. Wright also is a convicted murderer. Both have served lengthy prison sentences.
• Jessica Rydman, an erotic dancer who ran her own escort service, is charged with aggravated murder in the death of Portland banker Wayne Olson.
• Ilya Adamidov, the owner of Union Jack Pub, a nude dance club at 938 E. Burnside St., is charged with trying to bribe a U.S. immigration official to obtain visa cards.
• Jay Wilson, the owner of Leather and Lace Lingerie, at 3407 S.W. Corbett Ave., is facing federal drug and weapons charges. The city has begun proceedings to shut down the business for violating zoning codes.
'We simply don't have enough vice officers to investigate everyone in the adult industry,' Kochever said. 'Far from it. We can only respond to the most pressing cases that we hear about.'