Boston, MA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Boston is the capital of (and the largest city within) Massachusetts, and has a population of approximately 690,000 in the city proper (and over two million in the greater metropolitan area). Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by residents, businesses, service providers, and police as substantial problems in the city for decades. The local sex trade brings with it numerous other types of crime, such as homicide, assault, kidnapping, drug and weapons offenses, and child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often referred to in state legal codes as “child pornography”). For example, in July 2018, a former Marine who was already accused of raping two women was indicted on 20 charges for allegedly sexually assaulting five prostituting women at gunpoint in Boston. The man was charged with 12 counts of aggravated rape, six counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and single counts of rape and aggravated kidnapping for assaults on five prostituted women in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Boston, according to the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office. In January 2022, members of the Boston Police Department (BPD) Fugitive Unit arrested a man during an ongoing investigation in the area of Adams Street in Dorchester. This arrest came as part of a multi-jurisdictional investigation involving the BPD Human Trafficking Unit, Massachusetts State Police High Risk Victims Unit, FBI Human Trafficking Task Force, Malden Police Department, and Brookline Police Department. After the suspect was placed in custody pursuant to a straight warrant sought out of Dorchester Court, officers then executed a search warrant of the suspect’s residence leading to the recovery of a loaded .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun along with a large capacity feeding device for a 9mm handgun, multiple rounds of ammunition as well as unspecified quantities of Class B and D Drugs. The suspect was arraigned in Dorchester District Court on multiple charges including Trafficking for Sexual Servitude, Deriving Support from Prostitution, Assault by Means of a Dangerous Weapon, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Unlawful Possession of Ammunition, Possession of a Large Capacity Feeding Device and Trafficking Class B Drugs and Possession of Class D Drugs.

To address consumer-level demand for commercial sex, which drives both prostitution and sex trafficking markets, the Boston Police Department began conducting street-level reverse stings in 1976. By the mid-1980s, city officers were among the most proactive and aggressive departments in the nation to utilize the tactic. Police began conducting frequent and large-scale “john stings” as part of an ongoing initiative known as “Operation Squeeze.”  The operations, which deployed one or more undercover female officers as decoys, were conducted on a near monthly basis. When asked why BPD strategy targeted sex buyers over sexually exploited survivors, one officer noted “[prostituted women] are not doing it because they enjoy it, they’re doing it to support [themselves]… and they wouldn’t be walking the streets if there were no customers” (Boston Globe, May 1994).

At the same time, local officials and law enforcement furthered efforts by testing several new policies designed to deter sex buyers from soliciting. In the mid-1970s, the city experimented with sending “Dear John” letters to the homes of offenders, notifying other residents and family members of the arrest. In 1994, city officials (led by Mayor Thomas Menino) endorsed the airing of court arraignments for sex buyers on public access cable. Though both failed to gain traction, similar shaming techniques are still employed. As of 2012, buyers may have their names released to local media outlets and/or posted to the BPD’s official website.

The landscape of Boston’s commercial sex market has also changed substantially. Once concentrated in the city’s “Combat Zone” (a stretch of the downtown area historically associated with adult theaters, pornography shops and street prostitution), Boston’s prostitution activity has become much less centralized in recent years, as increased policing and city ordinances have successfully “cleaned up” areas once favored by solicitors. In response, the BPD has expanded its strategy to incorporate new areas for targeted surveillance, such as Dorchester Avenue. In their efforts, officers have engaged with community members and frequently utilize residents’ tips about suspected prostitution activity.

In 2012, the BPD stepped up its enforcement efforts targeting sex buyers.  The department began to charge some of the men with felony-level violations of the state’s new human trafficking statutes that raised the level of offense and the maximum fines for sex buyers.  They conduct operations targeting buyers of sex from both adults and children, and conduct both street-level and web-based reverse stings.  In addition, they have begun to leverage sex buyers to make cases against pimps and traffickers.  Arrested men that have arranged to buy sex through pimps are sometimes asked to become “confidential informants,” and to provide evidence that can be used to make cases against pimps and human traffickers. This is a promising tactic, since most cases against pimps and traffickers rely upon evidence supplied by survivors (prostituted women or sex trafficking victims), who are seldom in a position to cooperate with prosecutors effectively, willingly, or without placing themselves are risk of retaliation.

In February 2014, over 20 men from Boston and nearby suburbs were arrested by the Boston Police Department and then charged with seeking sex for a fee and other crimes after recent online prostitution stings, done in collaboration with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. Some of the men resolved their cases by paying a $1,000 fine and watching a brief “john school” video about the risks associated with prostitution. Reverse stings have continued.  For example, in March 2022 four male sex buyers were arrested in a human trafficking operation by BPD.

In November, 2022, Tufts Medical Center (in Somerville, MA) placed a 45-year-old anesthesiologist on leave after he was arrested in a federal sting operation and accused of attempted sex trafficking of a child, 7NEWS Boston reported. The DOJ announced that the man was one of four from the greater Boston area that had been arrested and charged with attempting to pay to sexually abuse 12- and 14-year-old girls. The agency said that, if convicted, the defendants face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 or 15 years in prison. The defendants each responded to an advertisement on a website used to advertise commercial sex acts, and communicated via text message with an individual who purported to be selling young girls for sexual abuse. Each defendant allegedly “agreed to purchase sex with one or both of the advertised children and then traveled to a local hotel to have sex with the fictitious victims,” the DOJ said in its announcement of the charges. Upon arrival at the hotel, each defendant physically met with the individual purporting to sell the 12- and 14-year-old girls and again “allegedly committed to paying to sexually abuse one or both of the children.”

Employment loss is another consequence of purchasing sex that has occurred in Boston.  For example, in February, 2019, a local billionaire equity firm owner was one of dozens of men  accused of soliciting prostitution as part of a human trafficking investigation in Indian River County, FL. The man resigned from the Boston-based firm he founded, J.W. Childs Associates. The sex buyer’s  “retirement” was announced in a press release.

Online Prostitution Prevention Class (John School):

An online education program for sex buyers has been developed by the North American Learning Institute for availability in Massachusetts. Men may be asked or required to complete the Prostitution Prevention Class, or john school, by a judge, court, parole officer, probation officer, or a state, county, or city official. This first offender prostitution program is often required as part of a prostitution intervention or diversion program. The Prostitution Prevention Class is offered in minimum time requirements of four (4), eight (8), twelve (12), or sixteen (16) hours. The course cost ranges from $25 to $85 dollars, depending on its length.  A timer is provided to help keep track of time spent within the course. Users may start and stop the Prostitution Prevention Class as often as needed, and their progress will be saved each time. The entire Prostitution Prevention Class can be completed online and does not require a call to a staff member or visit an office to complete the program. The Prostitution Prevention Class is presented in 10 separate sections, and a certificate of completion will be provided when all the modules have been finished.

  1. Introduction
  2. Prostitution
  3. Legal status
  4. Health risks
  5. Financial consequences
  6. Effect on prostituted persons
  7. Procuring (pimps/sex traffickers)
  8. Associated community problems
  9. Sexual addiction
  10. Resources and references

IT-Based Tactics

IT-based tactics have been incorporated into the multi-site demand reduction operations coordinated by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Since 2011, the Cook County (IL) Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) has been coordinating periodic reverse sting operations occurring simultaneously in multiple cities throughout the United States. The collaborative effort was initially called the “National Day of John Arrests,” and then in 2015 was renamed National Johns Suppression Initiative (NJSI). The coalition of agencies that participate in these coordinated enforcement efforts grew from eight to more than 100. The 19 NJSI operations from 2011 through 2021 have involved the collaboration of over 140 law enforcement agencies, and have collectively produced the arrests of more than 10,000 sex buyers. In February 2018 the NJSI partnered with Seattle Against Slavery to roll out its AI bot, Project Intercept, in six municipalities. Since August 2018, some of the NJSI operations have incorporated the use of decoy internet ads that connected to an AI bot, created by The bot interacts with sex buyers to the point where it sends a deterrence message warning of the legal and social dangers of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Initially, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police and eight other agencies utilized the bot, including the principle police departments and sheriff’s offices in Boston, MA; Des Moines, WA; McHenry County, IL; New York, NY; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Tarrant County, TX; and Upper Merion Township, PA. Across several subsequent NJSI operations, 18 cities and counties used the bots to combat demand.

The childsafe bot and other similar products can continuously scrape data or monitor “signal” from open source electronic communications, analyze the raw input, and flag messages as probably depicting a commercial sex offer or transaction. They also engage buyers in some form of interaction designed to deter individuals from attempting to purchase sex, at the present “point of purchase” moment as well as in the future. This approach seeks to disrupt (and ultimately collapse) commercial sex markets by reducing demand.

Key Partners

  • Boston Police Department
  • Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office
  • Demand Abolition
  • North American Learning Institute

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interviews

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings (with Identity Disclosure since at least 2016):

Employment Loss:

Neighborhood Action:

Identity Disclosure:

John School:

Community Service:


IT-Based Tactics:

Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Massachusetts
Type City
Population 689326
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