This tactic involves police agencies sending letters or other forms of messages to the homes of known or suspected sex buyers. These “Dear John” letters are sometimes sent to the addresses of registered car owners, alerting the owner that their vehicle was seen in an area known for prostitution and suspected of being used for that purpose. For example, in September, 2019, the San Jose Police Department launched the “Report John Program” designed to reduce human trafficking and prostitution by reducing consumer-level demand. Community members are invited to participate by reporting “Johns” they suspect of soliciting providers of commercial sex or trafficking victims. Reporting is facilitated by a simple website form used on phone, tablets, or desktop computers that crowdsource feedback from the community. Residents can upload a photo and provide vehicle and other identifying information on a potential sex buyer. The Department’s Human Trafficking Unit then evaluates the information and determines if further investigation is warranted. If appropriate, a Public Safety Announcement (PSA) letter is sent to the registered owner’s address, alerting the registered owner that his or her vehicle was seen in an area known for high levels of prostitution. This letter also serves to educate the registered owner about the dangers of prostitution and related illicit activities.
Letters also can be sent to the home address of the men arrested in reverse stings. Some jurisdictions have employed electronic messages used in the same way: e.g., in 2014, Santa Rosa (CA) detectives began tracing phone calls and texts responding to their decoy online ad for a web-based reverse sting, and sending “Dear John” letters or messages to identified accounts and addresses. In 2018, the Brown County (WI) Sheriff’s Office used a similar electronic variation of the “Dear John” letter: during a week-long web-based reverse sting, over 400 people who made contact with police online (but did not incriminate themselves enough to warrant charges) were sent written warning messages by police. Often, these letter or electronic messages include warnings about health risks and the harm of commercial sex to communities and survivors. More than 80 U.S. cities and counties have used these kinds of notifications to help deter sex buyers and to warn others at their homes of potential risks.
For more about this approach, see some examples below of “Dear John” letters and templates in English and in Spanish.
Overview of the Use of “Dear John” Letters
- Dear John Letter Overview from National Assessment (PDF, 380 KB)
Sample Letters from Police Departments
- Arlington TX “Dear John” Postcard (DOCX, 189.4KB)
- Raleigh NC “Dear John Letter” Templates (DOCX, 17.1KB)
- Sanford FL Sample Community_Safety_Letter (PDF, 263 KB)
- Escambia County CA Sheriff’s Office “Dear John” Letter (DOCX, 431.7KB)
- Sarasota, FL Sample “Advisory Letter” from Sarasota Police Department
News Reports and Press Releases About “Dear John” Letters
- Baltimore, MD:
- Brown County, WI:
- Covington, KY:
- Dayton, OH
- https://www.whio.com/news/suspected-prostitution-draws-warning-letters-from-dayton-police (2017)
- https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/crime–law/dear-johns-dayton-police-warn-suspected-prostitution-customers (2017)
- Daytona Beach, FL:
- Hollywood, FL:
- Norristown, PA:
- Oakland, CA:
- San Jose, CA:
- Sanford, FL:
- Santa Rosa, CA:
- Sarasota, FL:
- Vallejo, CA:
- ‘Dear John’: Police Sending Letters To Prostitution Clients
- Rohrs, S. (2011). Vallejo police to use “Dear John” letters in prostitution fight. Times-Herald.
- Worcester, MA: