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Anti-Prostie Warrior Busted

OKLAHOMA CITY – An anti-prostitution activist known for videotaping prostitutes and their customers and giving the footage to police and television shows now faces accusations that he set up some of the sexual encounters so he could capture them on camera.

Brian Bates, 34, who is known as the “Video Vigilante,” was arrested Tuesday afternoon during a traffic stop in Oklahoma City. An arrest warrant lists criminal complaints of pandering and aiding in prostitution. He called the charges bogus when he was released early Wednesday.

Bates is accused of paying prostitutes to engage in sexual acts with male customers in areas that were easy for Bates to videotape, but hard for police to detect, said Capt. Jeffrey Becker.

“Initially he started paying $40 each time,” Becker said. “He later came back and said he would give $60 for good footage.”

Bates would advise the women on how to get their male customers out of the vehicle before engaging in the sex act so he could get graphic footage, Becker said.

Police say Bates was making the tape to sell to media outlets. He has a Web site www.videovigilante.com that displays some of his video footage and is a regular guest on the “Maury Povich” show.

Bates commonly trails prostitutes and their customers on the south side of Oklahoma City. He is known by many of the prostitutes and has encouraged some to get off the streets.

Conversations that were tape-recorded during the investigation confirmed that Bates paid a prostitute to have sex in public so he could get footage, according to an arrest report.

The arrest was the result of a four-month sting that began in October 2004 when a vice unit received a tip about Bates.

Bates denied the charges.

“The way they were listed they’re calling me a pimp,” Bates told reporters as he left the Oklahoma County jail at about 1:50 a.m. Wednesday. “But talking to them, I think they centered around a lot of me selling my video to news media and they asked questions dealing with national news media and if they make special requests.”

Back Story: Oklahoma City- Eight years ago, Brian Bates got fed up with prostitutes brazenly plying their trade on the streets of his Oklahoma City neighborhood and the apparent indifference of city officials.

When a police department representative told him there was nothing law enforcement could do unless officers actually heard a prostitute offer sex for money or saw the sex act itself, Bates decided to gather that hard evidence for them.

He picked up his handheld video camera and went on a one-man crusade, filming prostitutes and johns having sex in public spaces, then dialing 911 and placing the copulating couples under citizen’s arrest until officers arrived. Faced with this filmic evidence, most of his subjects quickly pleaded guilty.

Bates, a baby-faced 34-year-old marketing professional who calls prostitution a “plague of immorality,” estimates he’s caught several hundred such meretricious exchanges on tape. Over the years, he says he’s had local thugs fire shots at him, prostitutes mace him, and johns try to run him down in their cars.

He filmed his first coupling in 1996, when he was driving to work and found himself waiting at a stop sign behind three cars, all of whose drivers were being chatted up by prostitutes. He had his video camera ready, so when one of the prostitutes climbed into a small blue hatchback, he followed the car to a dead-end street, then walked up to the side window and taped the woman fellating the driver.

“You’re busted, buddy — I hope you’re not married,” he yelled in what would become his signature battle cry.

The car drove off, but he gave the tape to a police officer who recognized the prostitute and later arrested her.

“My goal, though, is to educate the community that prostitution is not a victimless crime between two consenting adults,” Bates said. He considers the victims to be the wives of the johns who are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, the neighbors who are left to pick up the dirty condoms and whose children see the lewd acts, and the prostitutes themselves, who are frequently drug addicts.

He documents his efforts on a website and recently started a service that allows suspicious wives to register the make, model and license plate of their husbands’ cars. If Bates finds a registered car’s occupants in compromising positions during his forays into the city’s underbelly, he will send the wife a copy of his evidence. He said more than 2,000 people have signed up for the service, including wives, girlfriends and employers.

Bates’ tactics are a new twist on the shaming tactics used by many cities to discourage prostitution.

The city of Aurora, Colorado, for example, has been publishing photographs of arrested johns in the local paper, the Aurora Daily Sun & Sentinel, for 10 years, said news editor Ernest Luning, and the technique appears to be working.

“I can’t remember the last time it has run,” said Luning. “Only a couple of times a year anymore. I think the feeling is the ad has done its job and made (Aurora) a less popular place to solicit prostitutes because of the risk of appearing in the paper.”

Neighboring Denver has gone a step further by featuring convicted johns on the local public-access channel and online. The program, dubbed Johns TV, has featured 397 men since it began in 2002.

Other cities, including St. Paul, Minnesota, and Orlando, Florida, post pictures of people who have been arrested — but not convicted — on prostitution-related charges.

Bates’ hometown of Oklahoma City had such a television program itself but pulled the plug last year, saying it provided free advertising for prostitutes — who were featured on the public-access station along with their arrested customers — and did nothing stop the problem.

The American Civil Liberties Union worries that programs featuring people who haven’t yet been convicted of a crime subvert the notions of due process and individual privacy rights. In Oklahoma City’s case, the executive director of the state ACLU affiliate said the city was plagued with lawsuits from men who were arrested for merely talking to prostitutes.

“There were men who were busted for just listening to what the prostitutes had to say,” Joann Bell said. “The prostitutes congregate at stoplights where cars are forced to stop, and if your window is open, you can’t really avoid them. The show was making these people out to be perverts; it was making them lose their jobs and destroying marriages.”

Bates doesn’t name names on his website and his images are often blurry, but they are explicit, showing prostitutes and their johns caught in flagrante delicto. His reports detail the gritty minutia of ghetto harlotry — one prostitute reinserted her dentures when he rapped on a car window — and the reactions of the johns, some of whom openly admit to being married with children. The site also features taped interviews with prostitutes, including one who says she is HIV-positive.

In 2002, Bates found himself in the ironic position of defending a john when the two white police officers responding to Bates’ 911 call savagely beat a black man named Donald Pete, who was having sex with a white prostitute.

Bates released the video to the news media, and there was a brief international outcry, but the officers involved were not charged with a crime.

Due to the lurid nature of his activism, Bates says he’s turned down many offers over the years from producers wanting to make a Hookers Gone Wild-style video with his footage, but recently decided to sell a compilation of some of his X-rated clips himself. He said more than 45,000 people have reserved advanced copies of the video, which is still in production.

“What I am producing is a kind of documentary with a Cops-type flair to it,” Bates said. “I want people to be educated, entertained and informed. I don’t want sex clip after sex clip. Besides, have you seen our streetwalkers? This ain’t Pretty Women working our neighborhoods.”

He readily accepts that he’s making a profit from prostitution; he already charges entertainment media for access to his clips.

The head of the Oklahoma ACLU affiliate had less-than-kind words for Bates’ activities.

“It seems this man is basically a stalker,” Bell said. “He’s made this his career, and is trying to make money off of it.”

But Bates said he uses the money to pay for cameras, computers and access to the public records needed to sustain his crusade.

“I do not hide the fact that I make money from my efforts,” he said. “That is the only reason I have been able to do this for as long as I have. Every other ‘vigilante’ that has popped up has disappeared within a few weeks or months. Any effort has to have a way to financially sustain itself or it goes away.”

 

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