DENVER - A 9Wants to Know investigation reveals men who are actively offering free rent in exchange for sex on Craigslist may be breaking Colorado prostitution laws.
"I was hoping for sex one to three times a week," said John Smith of Denver over email, after 9Wants to Know responded to his posting.
Smith advertised "Free Place for a Female" in numerous postings over the course of several weeks.
"What I was looking for is somebody to sleep in my bed," Smith later said on undercover video recorded by 9Wants to Know.
During a Skype conversation, Paul Cherry of Lakewood said he was just looking for companionship when he offered a "rent free" room in Lakewood.
When asked about the terms of the free rent offer, Cherry responded "It's kind of like, not so much a 'girlfriend' situation, but subtly.....it would be subtly."
Other men, like Robert Garrison, are not as vague about what they want.
Garrison advertised "Roomate/Lover Wanted" and wrote "rent free & use of my truck" on his advertisement. In another post, Garrison called himself a "roommate with benefits."
During an undercover encounter with Garrison, he admitted he was seeking sex in exchange for free rent in his trailer and said he was tired of "shopping around" for women at the bars.
When 9Wants to Know sat down with Garrison to ask him about his advertisements, Garrison said he wasn't worried about breaking the law.
9News Legal Analyst Scott Robinson says under Colorado's prostitution laws, rent is considered a thing of value, like money or drugs. Once something of value is exchanged for sex, it becomes prostitution Robinson said.
"These men are looking for soul mates, but if they keep this up, they're going to be looking for cell mates," Robinson said. "A subtle ad might skirt around the outskirts of the law, but once the arrangement is made, then it in fact becomes a crime."
Cherry, who has a criminal history including stalking, was not initially upfront about his age while speaking on Skype.
He insisted he was not offering rent for sex and he was not trying to take advantage of someone when he was questioned by 9Wants to Know.
"That's why I took it down," Cherry said, speaking of his Craigslist post. "I wasn't sure if I was going to be misconstrued as someone trying to sell something or take advantage of someone. And that's what this was not about. This was about having someone to provide something for and having someone to cuddle on the couch."
While Cherry's ad does not mention sex, other ads reviewed by 9Wants to Know were more explicit.
"I would consider them johns," said Sgt. Dane Steel, who reviewed some of the explicit ads profiled by 9Wants to Know.
Sgt. Steele worked in Denver Police Department's vice unit for more than four years. Steele said subtle ads may look legal on the surface, but the real motive could be criminal. "It's different ways to subvert the law."
Attracting a vulnerable population
Sgt. Steele, who now works human trafficking cases for the Denver Police Department, believes some of the ads could attract young, vulnerable women who are desperate for housing. "That happens a lot of the time with runaway youth, when they're exchanging sex for shelter," Steele said.
While the men featured in this report may be completely harmless and just lonely men, Steele says the ads can lure in people for more sinister reasons.
"We've also seen it on those levels where it's a guy that's a 'hobbyist.' This is his passion-being a full time john where they have this sugar-daddy relationship. They want somebody that's going to be subservient to them."
A viable relationship with no strings attached?
Dr. Christie Hartman who is a behavioral scientist and dating expert believes "roommates with benefits" could end up stuck in a sour relationship where one person has control over the other.
"There are darker things that can happen," Hartman said. "There is a way for a man, well, 'If I give her free rent, I got her under my thumb. I can get different things from her. I can control her, I can abuse her.'"
Hartman also says in almost every case, sex always comes with strings attached even if there is an expectation it won't complicate things.
"There is always an emotional component," Hartman said. "Like if somebody falls for the other person, or if the other person doesn't feel that way. People don't want it to have strings, but it always does."
Dangers for the advertisers
Hartman advises people not to seek partners or dates on Craigslist because it's unknown what kind of person an advertiser could attract.
"She could be a psychopath or a thief," Hartman said, speaking of the type of women who may respond to the ads. "There's too much of a dark element out there."
Sgt. Steel also said men who are seeking sex could get caught up with a woman who could be under the control of an extortionist or a dangerous pimp.
Reporting contributed by Jeremy Jojola