(HARLAN, Ky.) -- Officials in a small southeastern Kentucky town where unemployment is high and drug use is rampant has a new problem to contend with -- prostitution.
Harlan officials blame the drug epidemic for producing a hardened corps of prostitutes on the streets downtown.
Harlan police have made 33 prostitution-related arrests since 2001, but the misdemeanor charge and its potential $80 fine do not appear to be much of a deterrent, Chief Danny Caudill said.
"So far, it's been about impossible for us to get a handle on it," Caudill said.
Harlan police conducted a sting operation last month in which they charged eight men ranging in age from 26 to 82.
Meanwhile, the City Council asked its attorney last week to research a loitering ordinance that might help keep prostitutes off the streets.
"Drugs are at the root of it," said Harlan Mayor Daniel Howard, a pharmacist. "We've got a society now in which these women are so broken they're willing to do anything for drugs."
The proposed loitering ordinance could receive its first reading next month.
"It's nothing we'll be able to legislate, I know," the mayor said, "but we'll do the best we can and give our officers the tools to do it with."
Business owners and religious groups in the town have asked Howard to find a solution to the problem.
Restaurant owner Tammy Gail Baker said she fears it is driving potential customers out of downtown Harlan, which she says is already struggling to survive.
"If a man's seen down here by himself, he's got to worry about a rumor getting started on him," Baker said.
Prostitutes have been accosting people on roads outside Harlan and, in some cases, state office buildings and gas stations in town, officials said.
"I think prostitution's probably been around forever," Caudill said, "but they've become more brazen about it here in the last seven or eight years."