Charleston, WV

Tactics Used

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

Charleston is the capital city of West Virginia, and has a population of about 50,000. It is situated in Kanawha County. Residents and local law enforcement have reported problems related to prostitution in the city for over two decades, including the serial rape of 12 to 15 women engaged in prostitution in the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, and the attempted murder of a woman who advertised commercial sex acts on in mid-2015.  More recently,

To reduce commercial sex activity in the area, the Charleston Police Department conducts occasional street-level reverse stings in areas known for prostitution, often in operations that also target women offering acts of prostitution.  The names, hometowns, and other details about arrestees are released to the media.  Each prostitution charge carries a fine of up to $500.  Complaints from residents and businesses about prostitution play a role in police conducting sting operations.

In July 2013, a local lobbyist and attorney was arrested in a reverse sting in the city’s West Side area.  The Charleston Police Department issued a news release listing the names of everyone arrested in that operation, with the exception of the prominent attorney’s.  Almost immediately, news sources reported about an effort to have the Charleston city ordinances changed so that first-time offenders of prostitute-related crimes could no longer face jail time.  Unusually, the new prostitution ordinance was written so that it would apply to pending cases.  The city council voted to adopt the new ordinance in December 2013, while the lobbyists case was still pending, leaving only a fine of up to $500 as potential punishment.  The Mayor admitted that the lobbyist’s arrest served as a catalyst and mobilized action to change the law.

In early February 2015, media outlets reported the CPD had completed a web-based reversal that resulted in the arrest of six johns at a local hotel. Again, of the men’s identities were disclosed to the public following their arrests. When asked about the operation, a CPD representative commented that “sometimes men who come into [Charleston] from a different area will go onto the internet and look for escorts. That’s what [the CPD] is trying to deter now.”  Over 50 men responded to the online ad posted by police over a three-day period.

In September 2017, twelve men were arrested on prostitution charges during two street-level reverse stings conducted by the Charleston Police Department’s Special Enforcement Unit, after complaints about prostitution were made by citizens in the West and South sides of the city. In December 2017, two sex buyers were charged during a prostitution sting in Charleston conducted several days after a woman’s body, who police say was a prostitute, was found in the city.  In October 2018, the Special Enforcement Unit of the Charleston Police Department conducted a street-level reverse sting, resulting in the arrest of three sex buyers in the 6400 block of MacCorkle Avenue in the Kanawha City area of the west side of Charleston.

September 2020 saw the arrests of 21 men in an undercover reverse sting conducted by the Charleston Police Department. According to reports, the operation was specifically geared towards targeting the demand side of prostitution rather than the seller. Law enforcement in the area have claimed that the public record resulting in a solicitation charge is a large deterrent for potential “johns”. In the future, the Charleston Police Department are planning to engage in similar stings across Charleston to continue combating the demand for prostitution


Key Partners

  • Charleston Police Department

Key Sources

State West Virginia
Type City
Population 50478
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