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We watch them walk the streets in zombie-like precision. Their eyes may be listless and their bodies tired, but they muster the energy to wave at men who pass by on Bluefield Avenue. With a wall of windows, our third-floor conference room gives us the perfect view of the debauchery on the street — prostitutes plying their wares, and customers taking them up on their offers. Initially, we watch in surprise. But as the months pass it becomes routine. We recognize the regular workers, and take note when new women hit the street.
We take photos with our cellphones of the Johns picking them up. In years past, hookers were a somewhat uncommon occurrence in the coalfield counties. The few who worked the area were well known. Journalists knew their names; everyone knew their faces. Strangers now tread the concrete sidewalks. At one time, Mercer Street in Princeton was known as the place to go for a cheap, half-hour-or-less hookup.
In , this option is available just about everywhere in the county. We know that drugs are the scourge that fuels the problem. Women — or their boyfriends — need money for a fix. They can earn it on the streets. Undiscerning men will pay the price for a quick thrill. Hepatitis B and C, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia — pick your poison. How great is this scourge?
We at the Daily Telegraph would like to know, but therein lies the problem. For many years the Telegraph had a great working relationship with the Mercer County Health Department. We worked with them hand-in-hand on stories ranging from STDs to rabies to influenza. If we needed information they provided it, allowing us to get quick, accurate reports to readers. The previous administrator of the health department retired, and new faces moved in. Now getting data on STDs is not so easy. At one time, Mercer was ranked among the top counties in the nation for its high rates of Hepatitis B and C.
How does it rank now? Also, in recent years, Mercer saw an increasing number of syphilis and gonorrhea cases. Is this spike continuing? Both are good questions. Ones we would like to have answered. But that has proven problematic of late. For the past several weeks, I have had a Daily Telegraph reporter call and stop by the health department on various occasions in an effort to report on these numbers.