LACONIA — By suggesting that both Laconia Motorcycle Week and New Hampshire Motor Speedway are venues where teenage prostitution and human trafficking occur, state Rep. Brian Gallagher, a Republican of Sanbornton, cast a shadow on two of major attractions the Lakes Region has to offer.
Gallagher is the prime sponsor of HB 1525, which would make offering to pay, agreeing to pay or paying either to engage in sexual relations or to watch a sexual performance involving a person under the age of 18 a felony carrying a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
Speaking about the bill, Gallagher said that "sometimes folks think this is far away, but "it's right here in front of us in New Hampshire and the Lakes Region and New Hampshire." He mentioned "a couple of major events" — Laconia Motorcycle Week and races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — as "occasions where this kind of behavior has occurred and does occur," adding that "the police chiefs recognize this as a concern."
Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams said he could not recall either an arrest or an investigation associated with prostitution during Motorcycle Week in his 22 years with the department. However, he added that law enforcement agencies across the country operate on the assumption that prostitutes may be drawn to events that attract large crowds. He said that the traffic on websites like backpages.com, which advertise adult services, may reflect the presence of prostitutes at a particular venue.
"Anytime there there is a large event, there is an opportunity," Adams said, "and while it is always a concern, we've had no experience of open prostitution."
Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, conceded that "large events attract unsavory people, but there are plenty of unsavory people living in New Hampshire right now." He saw no reason to single out either Motorcycle Week or the speedway , much less to suggest that prostitution has occurred at either venue when there has been no evidence of it.
"Luring minors to engage in inappropriate and illegal behavior is reprehensible," St. Clair said. "I applaud the effort to tighten the law and stiffen the penalties and have no problem with the bill. "But, why single out these events? The use of the Internet has opened the door to this stiff 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's going on everywhere all the time."
In a prepared statement David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, said "there has never been an arrest for this type of illicit activity at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. We do not foster this behavior, and we will continue to work collaboratively with law enforcement to be diligent and take all necessary precautions and actions to ensure there is no illegal on our property. Our goal," he closed, "is to be fan friendly and we will continue to take every necessary step to ensure safety for all of our guests."
State Sen. Andrew Hosmer, a Laconia Democrat, said that while he had no quarrel with Gallagher's intentions in introducing the bill, he thought it was "reckless" to cast suspicion on two events of such economic significance to the state and the region.