Prostitution investigation in Winston-Salem neighborhood is part of a larger problem

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A recent arrest by Winston-Salem police is shining light on the dangers of prostitution and where it happens.

Last week, police arrested 29-year-old John Richard Hernandez and 32-year-old Amanda Dawn Moser in connection to the armed robbery of a 67-year-old man. Investigators say the pair lured a 67-year-old man to Hernandez’s home, located at 3231 Polo Road in Winston-Salem, on May 9, by posting an ad for an escort on the website backpage.com. After being in contact with Moser, police say, the man arrived at the home and was hit over the head with a hammer by Hernandez and robbed of his money, ATM card and vehicle.

Both Hernandez and Moser were charged with armed robbery.

“It’s kind of like one of those vices, one of those illegal activities that happens 24/7,” said a detective with the department, who by the nature of his job must remain unidentified, about prostitution in the city.

When speaking to where prostitution normally takes place, the detective said, “It can be anywhere. Nine times out of 10 though, it’s going to happen in hotels.”

However, as the incident on Polo Road shows, no neighborhoods are immune.

“It can very well happen in home, many of which when it does happen in homes, those are usually offenders that have been caught multiple times at the hotel, and now they’ve moved their modus operandi to a residential home,” the detective said.

When it comes to tracking prostitution, the detective says they have access to a website which compiles ads from other websites, like backpage.com, where they say the majority of ads for prostitutes in our area are posted.

“Does this person look like they’re advertising at that age of 25, or do they look younger,” he said, of some of the questions they ask while viewing the ads.

He added that they also look to see if the picture posted to the ad is a selfie, or if someone has taken it for them. The department also runs stings to figure out if the encounter is intended to be one of prostitution, or casual, for friendship.

“We listen to the transaction, listen to the interaction,” the detective said.

Detectives also work to determine if the person advertised as a prostitute is working on their own or with someone forcing them.

“Many of those, obviously, are minors that are kind of manipulated – easily manipulated – into performing sexual acts for someone that’s controlling them,” the detective added.

He added that controlling someone through force, fraud or coercion is an element of human trafficking.

The detective added that, within his division inside the department, they have arrested at least 25 people for prostitution related-offenses in 2017. Many times, he added, there is proof that the prostitute is engaging in the crimes to support a drug habit.

“We located needles, various drug paraphernalia, spoons, that are indicative of heroin use,” he said.

The department also works with different counseling services and the health department to help victims of human trafficking -- those who were forced into prostitution and those who no longer want to engage in the illegal activity.

“It is a criminal act,” the detective said. “We all should care one way or the other.”​