In December, two women who worked at a Waterville massage parlor contacted police because they were concerned about other women who they suspected were involved with a prostitution business.

The concerned women, who worked at Relaxalon in Waterville, told police they had a strict policy that prohibited parlor employees from sexually touching clients. Yet they began noticing other women starting work at Relaxalon who had also worked for a man allegedly behind the prostitution business, identified by authorities as Frederick Horne Sr., of Sidney. And at least one of those new employees, known as “Star,” said she had given “full service” while working for Horne — slang for engaging in sexual acts for money.

Soon thereafter, one of the concerned women at Relaxalon was then “touched by a client expecting sex” at the parlor, according to police. She kicked the client out and later the woman known as Star was fired by the parlor.

Those allegations, contained in a police affidavit filed in connection with recent charges against Horne, highlight increased focus both locally and nationally on victims of sex trafficking. But the case in Sidney and another one in the Augusta area also are raising complex questions among police, lawmakers and victims advocates about what constitutes prostitution and sex trafficking, and how the two issues are different.

On April 10, authorities say they uncovered two separate central Maine sex trafficking operations, but also alleged prostitution had been taking place at the locations. The same day, a bill giving victims of sex trafficking the ability to use that as a defense against a charge of prostitution was signed into law.

“With prostitution, a woman is making that decision and is in charge of herself,” Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said in an interview. “With sex trafficking, we’re talking about targeting and recruiting vulnerable women and manipulating them to engage in sex. The difference is who is in control, who’s in charge.”

Both Fred Horne Sr., and his son, Fred Horne Jr., of Sidney, have been charged with one count of sex trafficking. Additional charges could follow, according to Maloney. Gretchen Patrick, of Augusta, was also charged with sex trafficking in connection with a separate operation in Litchfield.

No criminal charges have been filed against women who allegedly engaged in prostitution for both operations.

Horne Sr. has said that he is doing nothing wrong, and the women who work for him are there voluntarily. Despite Horne’s claims that the women “are like my family,” he has made no secret of operating what he calls a legal escort service, Adam and Eve, advertising in multiple places and the classifieds website backpage.com.

Experts and authorities say the women involved in sex trafficking are vulnerable because of troubled upbringings, abuse or drug addiction. The fact that women are targeted is the main difference between what constitutes sex trafficking and not just prostitution, they say.

“If I described to the general person on the street what sex trafficking was, he or she would say that it’s just prostitution,” said Destie Hohman Sprague, program director for the Augusta-based Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “On the flip side of it, the organizations that describe it as modern day slavery and depict women chained up in a basement is also inaccurate. The cultural perception of what prostitution is versus sex trafficking is one of the bigger barriers we face.”

From 2008 to 2012, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received more than 9,000 cases of human trafficking, 64 percent involving sex trafficking. Call volume has risen every year from more than 5,700 in 2008 to nearly 21,000 in 2012.

Nearly 200 of those calls to the national hotline have come from Maine, according to the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and those totals are up 50 percent from previous years.

A 2012 study by Preble Street Teen Center in Portland found that of the 80 homeless women and girls surveyed, 26 percent of them reported being asked to have sex with a stranger for money.

Victims of trafficking often don’t see themselves as such, advocates say.

“The thing to keep in mind is most people engaged in it would also consider what they’re doing prostitution,” Hohman Sprague said. “We’re working on a more nuanced way to get answers without putting the onus on a victim to declare they were a victim.”

In the recent Sidney and Augusta cases, the distinction between acts of prostitution and sex trafficking hasn’t been clear cut. Some of the women from Horne’s escort service that investigators interviewed said they were working voluntarily, while others said they were manipulated into doing it, according to Maloney.

“I’ve talked to investigators and what I’m hearing is it’s mixed. We’re getting both sides,” she said.

NEW LEGISLATION

On the same day that police raided both Horne’s Sidney residence and Patrick’s Litchfield mobile home, Gov. Paul LePage signed into law state Rep. Amy Volk’s bill, L.D. 1730, that makes sex trafficking an affirmative defense to the charge of prostitution. That means a person would not face prostitution charges if she or he is determined to be a victim of sex trafficking.

The law also increases the penalties for people convicted of sex trafficking. In addition to a $1,000 to $2,000 fine associated with the conviction of a class D crime, a conviction also requires the payment of an assessment ranging from $500 to $1,000 to be put into the Trafficking Prevention and Intervention Fund. At least half of the funds must be spent on local and state prevention, education programs and rehabilitation services.

The new bill also allows for a pardon if a person is previously convicted of prostitution but it was a direct result of being a victim of sex trafficking.

“The purpose of the bill is to protect the people being taken advantage of and give law enforcement a tool to gain the victim’s trust,” said Volk, R-Scarborough. “My hope is that it helps give the victims confidence to come forward.”

Better safety nets and public awareness for victims of sex trafficking is a considerable tool to help victims seek a way out, according to Donna Yellen, chief program officer for Preble Street, a nonprofit organization in Portland that provides services to people affected by homelessness, poverty, hunger or human trafficking.

“As social workers, it’s our job to try and explain to someone that they’re a victim,” Yellen said. “But it’s wholly different when a victim reads about or sees a district attorney or people who have status saying they are victims and this is not OK. With that, more will come out and say this is happening.”

Preble Street is currently awaiting approval for a grant from the Department of Justice to help victims of human trafficking in southern Maine. Even without any grant money, Preble Street already has 15 girls and women ages 16 to 36 who need a broad spectrum of rehabilitation services, from housing to drug and trauma treatments.

Volk’s legislation was just the latest to address the issues of sex trafficking in the state. In 2013, Hohman Sprague helped write a bill that was signed into law that created an elevated aggravated sex trafficking law.

“Basically, sex trafficking in law is when a third party is running the prostitution operation,” she said. “It becomes aggravated sex trafficking when it mimics human trafficking and involves the elements of force, fraud or coercion. When people think of sex trafficking, they usually mean aggravated sex trafficking.”

Under state law, sex trafficking is defined as when a person knowingly promotes prostitution and it is a class D crime, which has a maximum one-year prison sentence and up to a $2,000 fine. Aggravated sex trafficking is a class B crime, punishable by 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine and is when a person knowingly compels a person through the use of drugs, alcohol or other means to participate or remain engaging in prostitution, promoting prostitution of a person under 18 years old or promoting prostitution of a mentally disabled person.

“When you bring in the elements of fraud and coercion, more often than not victims don’t consider themselves to be victims,” Hohman Sprague said. “It’s our job to start looking at the things that keep them there, whether it’s drug debt, false promises, manipulation or a sense of family.”

BETTER RESPONSE

Unlike other social problems, such as womens’ or civil rights, the public perception of sex trafficking victimization seems to be idle compared to the views of policy makers and social workers, according to Yellen.

“We’re trying to do the catch up and not have society lag behind,” she said. “Public awareness is helpful in trying to end this problem.”

Volk believes the general public’s views on sex trafficking are starting to change.

“I think people are much more ready to understand that the people involved may not be the ones making this choice,” she said. “There’s always work to do, but I think it has changed the views of a lot of policy makers and that’s a good place to start.”

At the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Hohman Sprague helped start the Maine Sex Trafficking Victims Support Fund this month, which aims to be a flexible, accessible and timely source of money to support the immediate needs of victims. The coalition is applying for grants and soliciting public donations to sustain the fund, Hohman Sprague said.

“We hope it will go toward immediate needs, like the support of payments for methadone addiction treatment or for housing,” she said.

Hohman Sprague said it’s essential that local and state organizations work together to create common messages and training for sex trafficking prevention and awareness.

“We are really looking at system and structural changes to create a better response to these cases,” she said. “Substance abuse centers, homeless shelters, domestic violence prevention organizations, those who we consider core providers should be engaged at a local level. I think the things we can do quickly are engage in training and create an infrastructure to respond and I think we’re doing that.”

In addition to the victims fund, Hohman Sprague worked with Deputy Attorney General William Stokes to establish the Maine Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Work Group, with the mission to target statewide policy and infrastructure opportunities to support state and local responses to trafficking and sex exploitation, as well as providing a statewide platform for sharing local trafficking resources and coalition development.

“We don’t have one go-to organization in the state, so it makes it critical that multiple organizations work together to meet the complex needs of the problem,” Hohman Sprague said.

A lack of public awareness is partially to blame, according to Yellen.

“The public perception of ‘this is a woman’s choice’ is what we’re trying to change with growing awareness, more arrests and more policy changes,” she said. “Most people don’t know that human trafficking is an issue, and the ones that do don’t think it’s a local problem.”

Yellen said that many people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea of prostitution, thinking it’s a woman’s choice when the majority of the time it’s not.

“When I talk to people about what Preble Street does, many people say they don’t know human trafficking or prostitution is a problem,” she said. “After I explain it from the victim’s perspective, their response is, ‘I never thought of prostitution in that way.’

“The new awareness creates a shift in how they view the problem, and they see it from the victims’ end.”

Despite what is being done on the legislative and nonprofit levels, the social change needed will take a longer time, according to Hohman Sprague.

“This is part of the cultural change that will take place over a longer period of time, the same way that in the 1960s we didn’t talk about domestic violence or in the ’70s we didn’t talk about sexual violence,” she said. “We’ve seen change around those and we will around this, too.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239[email protected]Twitter: @jessescardina