Brooklyn, NY

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

Brooklyn is the most populous borough of New York City, with roughly 2.6 million residents. It is located south of Manhattan in Kings County. Like most large cities, Brooklyn has a long history of commercial sex activity and sex trafficking. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking and violence among those in the sex trade, and the production of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often referred to in criminal codes as “child pornography”) associated with prostitution and sex trafficking. In 2015, a man was arrested and charged with  sex trafficking of children, on allegations that he regularly promoted and managed his prostitution business over the Internet and transported his victims to other States intending for them to “engage in prostitutions.” One of the girls was only 13 years old when he began sex trafficking her, and investigators found a video on his confiscated cellphone of a child being forced to perform oral sex on him, and the victim’s face “is clearly visible in the recording.” In a federal trial evidence was presented confirming that from 2013 to 2015, the defendant used physical violence and emotional manipulation to force two minor girls to engage in prostitution.  The defendant’s victims were 13 and 15 years old when he began exploiting them.  The defendant trafficked the minor victims on the streets of Brooklyn and advertised them “as prostitutes” on the internet, posting explicit photographs.  He impregnated the minor victims and continued to sex traffic them while they were pregnant with his children.  The defendant beat the minor victims, and he forced them to get brand-like tattoos of his name. In addition to the child victims, the defendant prostituted other girls and women and had sexual contact with them.  He frequently filmed his own sex acts and sexual abuse with the prostituted women and trafficked girls, and created a pornographic video of himself and one of the minor victims, who was then 15 years old. In 2016, the offender was sentenced to 30 in federal prison for “prostituting minors” and “producing child pornography.”

In May, 2022 an indictment as unsealed that alleged that a sex trafficker known as Sugar Bear beat a woman to death and dismembered her body in Brooklyn. He brought the victim’s torso and limbs to a Bronx sanitation site, and her head, hands and feet were stored in his freezer. The offender’s first name was tattooed on the victim’s foot; investigators said he made many of his victims get his name tattooed onto their bodies. According to the indictment in this case and other court filings, since at least 2003, the man allegedly forced women and girls, including minors, into prostitution for his benefit using violence, threats of violence, and psychological manipulation.  After meeting his victims, he used false promises of love and marriage to initiate sexual relationships with them before demanding that they work in prostitution and turn over the money they earned to him.  He used brutal beatings, rape, torture, and threats to coerce his victims to work in prostitution in Brooklyn and Queens and to comply with his orders.  For example, when one victim refused to engage in prostitution, the man used a taser against her until she complied.  On another occasion, he slashed a victim’s arms and back with a razor and beat her with a belt before pouring lemon juice on her wounds, leaving her permanently scarred.  When another victim did not do as the man ordered, he beat her with an extension cord and threatened to rub salt in her wounds.  When another victim told the trafficker she did not want to work as a prostitute, he put a shotgun in her mouth and threatened to kill her and her child.

Law enforcement responses have historically focused on arresting prostituted women and girls, rather than male sex buyers, in attempting to respond to sex trafficking and prostitution. The first known reverse sting operation in Brooklyn occurred in 1995. It is quite possible that reverse stings had been used before then, but we were unable to find earlier instances. Reverse stings in the late 1990s would sometimes produce more than 50 arrests in a weekend. When used in the commission of the crime, the autos of arrestees have been seized. There have been instances where the identities of arrested men have been publicized, but identity disclosure is not a routinely used tactic for deterring sex buyers.

During the first year of the Covid pandemic, in 2020, 62% of the people arrested in prostitution cases were the buyers of sex, and just 24% were sexually exploited persons or “providers” of prostitution. Those numbers reflect a continuation of a strategy shift started by the NYPD in 2017, when greater efforts were made to prosecute the promoters of prostitution — many of them human traffickers — along with the customers who pay for sex. Overall prostitution arrests have “precipitously dropped” since 2014, according to statistics given to PIX11 News by the NYPD Office of Public Information. In 2020, just 96 prostituted persons were arrested compared to 1,790 in 2014. In the same time period, 246 “patrons of prostitution” were arrested.

In recent years, the NYPD Vice Squad has conducted operations leveraging information technology used to deter sex buyers.  Undercover officers post decoy ads on websites advertising sex, and when a prospective sex buyer responds to the ad, police send out a “Targeted Communication Deterrence Message.” Between 2018 and May, 2022, “the NYPD has sent just under 19,000 such messages,” the department noted.

In January 2021, the Brooklyn District Attorney announced the dismissal of more than 1,000 open cases related to prostitution and loitering, some of which dated as far back as the 1970s. This dismissal was part of a formal announcement that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office would now decline to prosecute or dismiss cases for both of these charges. The DA’s Office has declined to prosecute arrests under the loitering statute since 2019, and has since rolled out a program over the last year to dismiss all prostitution cases. The DA said that people in prostitution may still face arrest, but hoped this new approach would limit their interactions with the criminal justice system. These changes only affected people selling sex and those arrested on charges of loitering for the purpose of prostitution, while charges for buying sex or promoting prostitution would still be prosecuted.

In February 2021, the New York Governor signed a bill repealing the 1976 law prohibiting loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Several reports in July detailed the explosion of prostitution in Brooklyn, with open-air commercial sex markets operating in plain sight for months and lack of law enforcement efforts to address this activity. One particular four-block industrial stretch became overrun with prostitution while pimps watched nearby. Some advocates expressed concern at the falling numbers of arrests of sex buyers and pimps. According to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, in 2018 there were 279 arrests in Brooklyn in which the top charge was patronizing a prostitute in the third degree; that number fell to 82 in 2019 and 28 in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with only 4 arrests by June of 2021.

In response to the articles and complaints from residents, the NYPD conducted a reverse sting in the area in July 2021, arresting 11 men and seizing 9 vehicles. The department said the sting was an effort “to stop those who buy and promote sex for sale in NYC.” The operation involved undercover female officers, but not many details were published about the sting. Ten men were charged with patronizing a person for prostitution and one with driving while under the influence.

John School

A key component of Brooklyn’s attempts to combat demand for commercial sex is a john school program called Project Respect. The program began in 2002, and has operated continuously through to the present. Project Respect was specifically modeled after the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP) in San Francisco, although it has been adapted to fit local conditions and resources. Like the FOPP, Project Respect is a diversion program in which men (1) pay a fee, (2) attend a one-day educational program, and (3) avoid rearrest for six months in order to successfully complete the program and to have their case dismissed. The program fee was initially $250, and was recently raised to $350 (the FOPP charges up to $1,000 on a sliding scale, and the average fee collected is about $750).

Project Respect classes run approximately four to five hours, and are held every second month. Classes typically have between 50 and 100 participants. The content of the educational element of the Brooklyn john school is fairly standard, covering topics including:

  • Impact on Survivors. Survivors of commercial sex presenting about the dangers and trauma they experienced and attempting to puncture the math of prostitution as harmless or a victimless crime
  • Health Consequences. Public health professionals explaining health risks, focusing on infectious disease and sexually transmitted infections, involving graphic slide presentations
  • Legal Consequences. Prosecutors explaining the legal consequences the men will face if they are subsequently arrested for soliciting sex, including a discussion of how they have used up their only opportunity for better version and more serious consequences will result from subsequent arrests
  • Negative Community Impact. Members of community groups give presentations about the negative impact of prostitution and sex trafficking on neighborhoods and businesses, including discussions of residents being harassed by both buyers and sellers of sex, dangerous litter such as syringes and used condoms which are commonly found near street prostitution, and discussion of a host of street crimes that are both attracted to and generated by commercial sex – e.g.,  assault, kidnapping, drug abuse, and homicide.

Project Respect is managed by the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, in close collaboration with the New York Police Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and community advocates. Translators are provided when needed, including those speaking German, Russian, Chinese, and Creole. There are often enough Spanish-speaking sex buyers to hold a separate session concurrently in that language.

For information on anti-demand initiatives in other boroughs, please see New YorkQueensStaten Island, and the Bronx.

Key Partners

  • Kings County District Attorney’s Office
  • New York Police Department
  • Department of Health and Human Services (Fort Greene Health Center)
  • Survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking

Key Sources

John School:

Reverse Stings:

IT-Based Demand Deterrence Messages:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Local Prostitution-Related Violence, CSAM:

Declining to Prosecute Prostitution, Partial Decriminalization:

State New York
Type City
Population 2577000
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