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Committee passes Wausau escort licensing proposal


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Escort services could be facing up to $5000 in fines under a proposed Wausau ordinance.

The ordinance approved by the Wausau Public Health and Safety Committee Monday night would require anyone advertising themselves as an escort in the city to register for a license. Unlicensed escorts would be subject to a $2000 fine that can be increased up to $5000 by a municipal judge in a contested case or for repeat offenses.

Wausau Police Lieutenant Matt Barnes has been a key player in forwarding this proposal and he says that under the ordinance, prostitutes passing as escorts will have a much harder time doing so. Barnes says, "That goes a long way in saying that's a legitimate business as opposed to what we see advertised as escorts right now."

Barnes wants to set realistic goals for the results of the ordinance, saying, "I just don't want to sell you on a proposal that by next year at this time, there's going to be no prostitution in the city limits of Wausau. It's touted as the oldest profession out there and I don't know if we're going to eliminate that."

This proposal comes after an increased number of sting operations uncovering solicitation of prostitution in the Wausau area in the last few months. Eight to twenty women advertise themselves online as escorts in Wausau every day. In every sting operation set up by Wausau police their ads have garnered nearly nonstop responses in less than two hours after posting.

Committee Chairman Lisa Rasmussen believes that giving more tools to police to handle prostitution will help stem the tide and send a message as a community.

Rasmussen says, "Some of the most unlikely people in the world are involved in this type of thing, and I think it behooves us to create a mechanisim where we can start to get a handle on this type of thing that really is expanding way more rapidly than we know. If that causes those folks to not want to declare themselves and set up shop elsewhere, we just need to send the message that we're not going to tolerate it here."

Anyone suspected of prostitution and found without an escort license would be subject to both an arrest and a citation. Disorderly conduct operates in a similar fashion under current Wausau law.

The resolution is expected to get a vote from the full city council in May.