Canton, OH

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Canton is a city of 73,000 in eastern Ohio’s Stark County. Prostitution and sex trafficking (of both adults and minors) have posed problems in the city for several decades. Among the many issues associated with the community’s local commercial sex market have been the murder of prostituted women. For example, in August 2012, a pimp and two prostituted women (all of whom operated in Canton) drove a third prostituted woman from Canton to Muskingum County, where they beat her, choked her and set her on fire as punishment for snitching. She survived for two days after a motorist found her on Rt. 208 near Zanesville, burned over 70 percent of her body.  The women pled guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated arson and kidnapping in exchange for their lives and their testimony against the pimp, who was sentenced to life for homicide and other offenses.  A friend of the murdered woman, who also worked in prostitution in Canton, had previously been abducted, raped and left without clothing in a rural area. In the mid-1990s, two local prostituted women were similarly driven to the city’s outskirts and attacked; one survived.

In an effort to reduce prostitution activity in the community, the Canton Police Department conducts periodic reverse stings targeting johns. These operations, conducted at street-level using female undercover officers as decoys, have been deployed since at least 1988. That same year, then CPD Police Chief Thomas Wyatt called for the impoundment of johns’ vehicles, although it remains unclear if this tactic was ever used. In 1989, members of the local media also reported that the department had used surveillance cameras to intercept a john soliciting sex from a prostituted woman. More recently, four men were arrested during “dual” sting operation (targeting both johns and prostituted women) in October 2014. CPD officers reported they were assisted during the operation by colleagues from the nearby Jackson Township Police Department.

Canton Police also offer the names of and other identifying information about arrested sex buyers to the public, although the city’s largest newspaper (The Canton Repository) has stated it will not publicize the information. In the early 1990s, city officials partnered with the local Warner Cable syndicate to air the names and arrest photos of individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses on a public access station. It is unclear how long, if ever, the show aired. In 2006, however, the CPD announced it would begin listing arrest information for individuals convicted of prostitution-related offenses on its website (available here).

For their part, local residents and business owners have also attempted to reduce underlying demand for prostitution. In 2003 and 2004, residents living in the Newton area staged a march and accompanying rally against prostitution and solicitation occurring in front of their homes. Around the same time, Canton Repository journalists reported that, in investigating online prostitution, they discovered posts on local message boards from johns warning other would-be sex buyers to avoid the Newton area because residents had mounted eight surveillance cameras and would “jump out into the street with digital and video cameras to record their activity” to share with police. Soon after, a CPD representative announced the department had begun sending “Dear John” letters to the homes of arrested sex buyers.



Key Partners

  • Canton Police Department
    • Neighborhood Impact and Vice Units
    • Special Investigations Unit
  • Neighborhood associations


Key Sources

State Ohio
Type City
Population 72683
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