Uneasy Street

Is the crackdown on East Colfax's sex trade working? Ask the johns.

In those places that tourists come from--Dubuque, Topeka, Lincoln, Rapid City--they're already gassing up the Winnebagos and planning that Memorial Day weekend trip to the Colorado high country. Some will consult road maps and dining guides, but for a certain breed of summer visitor, there's no better research source than the Internet, where you can find detailed reports on the sex-for-hire scene in the city of your choice.

This summer the buzz on Denver is grim. Fat-wallet Freddies hoping to get steamed, reamed and dry-cleaned are more likely to get overcharged, under-serviced and possibly busted--particularly if they seek their bliss along the Mile High City's traditional corridor of sleaze, East Colfax Avenue.

For several years, vice cops from the Denver and Aurora police departments have been waging a much-publicized war on prostitution and drug-dealing along Colfax, concentrating on the East Montclair neighborhood that straddles the cities' borders. They've hauled in hookers, conducted numerous undercover stings, closed down motels that catered to the trade, worked closely with neighborhood groups keen on removing the scum from their front steps, and even arranged to publish the names and photos of the prostitutes' customers in community newspapers. Judging from what the johns themselves have to say about it, the campaign is paying off--to a point.

Out in cyberspace, where sites featuring sexual content outnumber those devoted to monastic studies by 1.3 gazillion to one, a discreet but very public network has developed for patrons who want to exchange information about their experiences with "sex-industry workers." Posting anonymously in newsgroups dealing with prostitution and fetishes, as well as via "consumer" guides offered on Web sites, would-be Siskels and Eberts review their raunchy adventures like so many trips to the movies or through the buffet line, offering tips and warnings as well as their own firsthand (and sometimes one-handed) accounts of encounters with strippers, escort services, streetwalkers and massage-parlor hostesses.

The word on Denver? For the guy who has to pay for it, it ain't what it used to be. In fact, the scene here is almost as bad as it is in--ouch!--Colorado Springs.

"The Denver, Lakewood, and Aurora police are always, and I mean ALWAYS, running stings on Colfax Avenue," reports one connoisseur of the street scene. "Stay away from streetwalkers."

"Used to be you could go down to several stretches of East Colfax and almost be overcome by the sheer amount of streetwalkers and go back to an apartment for $50-$60 or get a blowjob in your car for about $25," writes another. "Alas, those days are over...I would stay away from this action, you'll either get arrested, find nothing or end up with some skanked-out ugly junkie."

A few stalwarts, undeterred by the prospect of jail or disease, have continued to cruise the area--with very limited success. Some report coming across "a short thin blonde" named Terri in the vicinity of the closed motels, a strip that also includes several bars, an all-nude nightclub and an adult bookstore. Terri, one customer writes, gets "quickly down to business...I'd rate [her] about a 7, not the best, but better than most girls I've managed to pick up in bars." Another streetwalker named Missy is reputed to be "quite a handful" and promises to bring her twin sister next time. But Missy turns out to be a crackhead, and Terri "was so worried about the cops she got a little too rough."

Yet all of the Terri and Missy sightings are several months old. The current wisdom seems to be that East Colfax has lost its unsavory charms. "The area seems spooky and deserted these days, not dangerous," observes one recent visitor. Adds another: "I stay well away from East Colfax. Conditions suck there now."

Frustrated with the drive-through service, the online johns have turned to escort services, lingerie models and outcall strippers advertised in the Yellow Pages, the Rocky Mountain Oyster--and even in the back pages of a certain award-winning tabloid weekly. But according to the largely negative reviews, most of the services are appallingly legitimate. For every patron who figures he got his money's worth ("Julie will arrange doubles if you give her some notice...Let her know that you heard about her on the Web. She takes pride in referrals"), there's a raft of complaints about high prices, scams and shoddy merchandise.

"I 'graduated' (for lack of a better word) from jack shacks and massage parlors to incall/outcall sessions a few years ago," writes one gourmand. "In my experience it is extremely difficult to find any sexual contact (including handjobs) at any of the caucasian places in Denver. In the last 7-8 years I have received 'advanced' services only twice, both times from 'rogue' places that went in and out of business in the blink of an eye."

Another describes his disillusionment with a $100-an-hour session: "When she greeted me at her door I was taken back by her appearance. She was NOTHING at all like she described herself on the phone...Her skin was very rough and old and saggy...This was my first experience using an independent service and it may be my last."

"Bad mistake," grouses another unsatisfied customer about a different service. "She was fatter than described...quiet and very inactive...not someone who wants to give service or cultivate business."

Other encounters fall somewhat short of paradise, too:
"Her body was worn and somewhat chunky (she kept lingerie on throughout to hide it), and despite the fact that she was reasonably passionate and skilled, the overall experience was extremely disappointing."

"No full service, $180/hr. No thanks."
"She asked for the money up front and then asked to see my driver's license. She called the service and then started reading my license number over the phone! I should have halted the whole thing right then and there."

"Her looks was average plus, oral was average, sex was below average, time was less than promised, price was high for the area, and big butt."

Although the call services are apparently still flourishing, Denver and Aurora police officials say their aggressive crackdown of the streetwalkers has helped to move the trade off Colfax--and scare away would-be customers, too. Aurora police say they still manage to make fifteen to twenty arrests every night they run their "Operation Johns," which uses undercover policewomen posing as hookers--but it's almost never the same men getting busted.

"The individuals who are getting caught aren't coming back," says agent Dan Mark of the Aurora Police Department. "We think it's making a definite impact on the customers. People are aware that when you solicit a prostitute on East Colfax, it's likely to be a policewoman, and your picture will be in the paper.

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