Burlington is a city of about 42,000 residents in northern Vermont, in Chittenden County. Prostitution and sex trafficking are known to be widespread in the city and surrounding areas. In June, 2018 it was announced that the Vermont Human Trafficking Task Force (VT HTTF) would formally pursue the state’s multidisciplinary approach to combating human trafficking affecting the State of Vermont. Since 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office had worked to facilitate a collaborative effort to eliminate and prevent the trafficking of persons within the State, and also pursue the links between opioids and other drugs to human trafficking. Between 2014 and mid-2017, in the Chittenden County area of the state, the HTTF’s data collection efforts estimate that there were over 250 suspected incidents of human trafficking, and state officials believe that the incidence of sex and labor trafficking in Vermont statewide is substantially higher than these numbers suggest. Among the law enforcement agencies signing the MOU of the Task Force are the Burlington Police Department, the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Vermont, Vermont State Police, Vermont Department for Children and Families, Burlington Police Department, and the Office of the Chittenden County State’s Attorney.
Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. To identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, law enforcement agencies in the area have conducted reverse stings. For example, in 2012, a reverse sting was conducted to arrest a man trying to buy sex from a minor, after a three-week investigation and period of negotiation between an undercover federal agent and the john. An adult woman engaged in prostitution in Rutland told an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) that a client of hers had been asking about having sex with a child. ATF began an inquiry that involved the Department of Homeland Security, which had a female agent pose as a 14-year-old and communicate with the child predator. The two exchanged numerous text messages discussing prices for sex acts, and whether the man would need a condom, and asked if they could have group sex including the girl’s mother. The man eventually texted that he was in the area and wanted to buy sex for $500. A meeting was arranged and the man was arrested outside a movie theater. We was charged with traveling in interstate commerce to engage in illicit sexual contact with another, and using a cellphone to entice a minor to engage in prostitution or unlawful sexual activity. The man’s identity was available to the media from court records, and was published by local news outlets.
In June 2014, a more traditional web-based reverse sting operation was conducted, resulting in the arrest of seven sex buyers. Minutes after police say they placed an ad on a website known to be used for prostitution, people started responding with phone calls, texts, and emails. The ad was posted for 6 hours and during that time 40 people responded to ask about paying for sex. In July 2014, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office announced that the johns arrested during the June operation would be given the opportunity to avoid prosecution pending completion of a class that discusses the “complex circumstances that underlie prostitution.” The class will be taught by the director of Give Way to Freedom, a foundation that focuses on human trafficking awareness, prevention and recovery services, and will reportedly cover “statistics, facts and characteristics about all forms of human trafficking and the victimization caused by the crime.”
- Burlington Police Department
- Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office
- Office of the Attorney General for the State of Vermont
- Vermont State Police
- South Burlington Police Department
- Department of Homeland Security
- Give Way to Freedom
- “Class Set Up for Men Caught in Burlington Prostitution Sting”, Bennington Banner, July 2 2014.
- “Vermont Offers Education, Not Prosecution, for Men Caught in Online Prostitution Sting”, Seymour Tribune, July 2 2014.
- “VT Passes On Prostitution-Related Prosecution”, Burlington Free Press, July 2 2014.
Web-Based Reverse Stings and Shaming:
- “Whitehall Man Arrested in Underage Sex Sting”, Rutland Herald, June 1 2012.
- “Whitehall Man Jailed in Child Prostitution Sting”, Glen Galls Post-Star, June 1 2012.
- “Police: 7 Men Arrested in Vt. Prostitution Sting”, NECN, June 18 2014.
- “Police: 7 Men Tried to Hire a Prostitute”, ABC/WVNY-TV 22, June 18 2014.
- “Seven Arrested in Undercover Prostitution Sting”, Burlington Free Press, June 18 2014.
- “7 Arrested in Undercover Prostitution Sting; Men Arrested after Responding to Online Ad, Police Say”, NBC/WPTZ-TV 5, June 19 2014.
- “Police: Prostitution Sting First Step in Crackdown on Growing Sex Trade”, CBS/WCAX-TV 3, June 19 2014.
- https://www2.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/11/22/burlington-police-arrest-prostitution-sting (2015)
- https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/nine-arrested-vermont-after-undercover-sex-crimes-operation (2017)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- “Prostitution Bust Catches Local Man, Shelburne Woman”, St. Albans Messenger, September 3 2008.
- “Woman, Man Arrested on Prostitution Charges”, Rutland Herald, September 4 2008.
- “Vt. Prostitutes One Click Away”, CBS/WCAX-TV 3, October 10 2008.
- “Shelburne Woman Admits Prostitution”, Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, March 18 2009.
- “Tip about Prostitution Leads to Woman’s Arrest”, St. Albans Messenger, April 22 2009.
- “Prostitution Bust in South Burlington”, CBS/WCAX-TV 3, April 23 2009.
- “Rutland Woman Arrested in South Burlington Prostitution Investigation”, Rutland Herald, January 27 2013.
- “Police Investigate Possible Prostitution Ring”, ABC/WVNY-TV 22, June 14 2013.
- “Shelburne Woman Accused of Prostitution in Court”, ABC/WVNY-TV 22, June 14 2013.
- https://www.mychamplainvalley.com/news/mcallister-wins-new-trial-on-prostitution-related-charge (2018)
- https://www.caledonianrecord.com/court-testimony-in-prostitution-human-trafficking-case-details-vermont-s (2019)
- https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/trafficked/Content (2019)