Panel discussion addresses prostitution in Huntington, weighs solutions, programs


Megan Osborne

Panelist and nurse practitioner at Cabell-Huntington Health Department Heather Woods (center) answers a question from the audience Wednesday night during the discussion in the Memorial Student Center Room BE5. Woods spoke about the health department’s new needle-exchange program, stating that several of the patients they have served through the program were prostitutes.


“Invisible Women: Unveiling Sex Work in Huntington” brought prostitution in Huntington to light during a panel discussion Wednesday night on campus.

Panelist Maggie Stone, a professor in the department of anthropology and sociology, opened the discussion with an overview of prostitution, explaining some of the lesser-known facts.

Stone said one the goals of the panel was to debunk myths of prostitution. Stone then cited some facts that were likely contrary to what most people think of when they think of prostitution. Stone said the median age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12 to 14 years old.

Other panelists included victim advocate at CONTACT Rape Crisis Center, Liz Deal, Judge Patricia Keller with the Cabell-Huntington WEAR Program, Sgt. Ernie Blackburn of the Huntington Police Department and nurse practitioner Heather Wood of Cabell Huntington Health Department.

The panelists each spoke on the issue of prostitution from their areas of expertise.

“Predators choose their victims on the basis of vulnerability and likeness of being reported,” Deal said. “That makes children, older people, sex workers and incapacitated adults targets.”

Deal went on to explain how sex workers are further disadvantaged when it comes to reporting the crime because they have the fear of being charged for a crime themselves, not to mention less support and access to resources that other victims might have.

Stone and Blackburn both spoke on the connection between drugs and prostitution. Blackburn linked drugs to pimps in Huntington, saying he doesn’t see many prostitutes working under pimps, just women performing sex work to support a drug addiction. Stone mentioned the problematic nature of combining drugs and sex work, stating that using drugs could lead to risky behavior and unsafe sex practices such as neglecting to use condoms or dental dams when working.

Keller, who works with those convicted of drug crimes including some prostitutes, said about 60 percent of those who enter drug court actually finish the program and of those who graduate, the majority stay out of the legal system after graduating.

Keller noted one of the ways students can get involved is by donating to the “drug court closet,” which provides toiletries (including denture adhesive) and basic clothing items.

“Remember sex workers’ rights are human rights,” Stone said. “We can be proactive by including the people we are trying to help.”

Necia Freeman represented her organization, Backpacks & Brown Bags, at the event, which provides hygiene bags to sex workers in the Huntington area. MU Women Connect collected donations for the organization that were presented to it at the panel.

“I love prostitutes and I am speaking on their behalf,” Freeman said. “If the news is going to post a picture of the woman, her name and age, then the man’s should be posted too.”

The event was sponsored and organized by MU Women Connect. As part of an overarching theme, the group has focused on sex work for many of its events this semester.

Cosponsors of the event included College of Liberal Arts, department of anthropology and sociology and the Student Health Education Program.

Jocelyn Gibson can be contacted at [email protected].