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Charleston is the capital city of West Virginia, and has a population of about 48,000. It is situated in Kanawha County. Residents and local law enforcement have reported problems related to prostitution in the city for decades, including the serial rape of 12 to 15 women engaged in prostitution in the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, the attempted murder of a woman who was advertised for commercial sex acts on Backpage.com in mid-2015, and the murder of a prostituted woman in 2017.
To reduce commercial sex activity and its related crimes 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 lobbyist’s 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 sex buyers at a local hotel. Again, 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 prostituted, 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 sex buyers. In the future, the Charleston Police Department are planning to engage in similar stings across Charleston to continue combating the demand for prostitution
In August, 2021, a prostitution sting in Charleston was conducted. According to the Charleston Police Department, the sting operation stemmed from complaints and concerned business owners on the west side of the city. The department says detectives did a reverse sting operation by targeting those seeking solicitation, and arrested 11 men for enticing for the purpose of prostitution or loitering for prostitution. The identities of the arrested men were listed in news reports.
- Charleston Police Department
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “City Police Arrest 24 in Prostitution Sting”, Charleston Daily Mail, March 18 1996.
- “Mingo Man Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Williamson Daily News, March 21 1996.
- “Undercover Officers Keep Busy: Under a Red Moon, 15 People Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Charleston Daily Mail, August 29 1996.
- “14 People Face Prostitution-Related Charges”, Charleston Daily Mail, September 30 1996.
- “15 Charged in Weekend Sting”, Charleston Daily Mail, July 15 1997.
- “Police Prostitution Sting Leads to 16 Arrests”, Charleston Daily Mail, September 15 1997.
- “Men Sue City over Prostitution Arrest”, Charleston Gazette, March 18 1998.
- “Charleston Police Arrest 11 in Prostitution Sting”, Charleston Daily Mail, July 30 1999.
- “Police Briefs; City Police Arrest Six in Prostitution Sweep”, Charleston Gazette, August 10 2001.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Two Arrests”, Charleston Gazette, March 17 2004.
- “City Police Arrest Seven on Charges of Prostitution”, Charleston Daily Mail, January 26 2007.
- “Charleston Prostitution Sting Nabs 29”, Charleston Daily Mail, September 6 2007.
- “29 Face Prostitution Charges”, Charleston Daily Mail, September 7 2007.
- “48 Arrested during Prostitution Sting”, Charleston Daily Mail, September 28 2007.
- “Twenty-Two People Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Charleston Daily Mail, May 8 2008.
- “11 Nabbed in Charleston Prostitution Sting, Police Say”, NBC/WSAZ-TV 3, September 21 2010.
- “Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting ID’d”, Charleston Daily Mail, September 22 2010.
- “Mayor Says Prostitution Complaint against Lobbyist Shouldn’t Have Been Dismissed”, Charleston Gazette, October 15 2013.
- “Charleston Police arrest ‘johns’ during second prostitution sting in as many weeks.” WSAZ.com, September 20, 2017.
- http://www.wsaz.com/4-arrested-in-Charleston-prostitution-sting (2017)
- https://wvah.com/charleston-police-say-three-men-arrested-during-prostitution-sting (2018)
- https://wchstv.com/charleston-police-said-21-arrested-in-prostitution-sting (2020)
- https://www.wdtv.com/prostitution-sting-nets-14-arrests/ (2021)
- https://wchstv.com/charleston-police-arrest-14-in-recent-prostitution-sting (2021)
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Wetzel BOE to Accept Superintendent’s Resignation after Prostitution Sting,” West Virginia Metro News, February 13 2015.
- “Wetzel County Schools Superintendent Albright to Resign after Arrest in Prostitution Sting,” Wheeling News-Register, February 13 2015.
- “WSAZ Investigates: Online Prostitution,” NBC/WSAZ-TV 3, July 2 2015.
- https://dailycaller.com/private-school-teacher-allegedly-solicit-prostitution-west-virginia/ (2023)
- “No One Surprised in Prostitution Stings; Men Seem More Concerned about Their Cars, Cash”, Charleston Daily Mail, February 12 2004.
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Assistant Public Defender Arrested on Charges of Prostituting Children”, Charleston Daily Mail, July 20 2011.
- “Charges Dropped Against Public Defender Accused of Child Pimping”, NBC/WSAZ-TV 3, December 5 2012.
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Strip Bar Owner Pleads Guilty, Gives Up One Club”, Charleston Gazette, June 30 1998.
- “Tests Will Show If Rapist Is the Same Person, Police Say”, Charleston Gazette, October 1 1998
- “City Police Hunt Prostitutes’ Rapist – 3 Victims Picked Up”, Charleston Gazette, October 10 1998.
- “Rapes, Stabbing Not Linked, Police Say”, Charleston Gazette, October 15 1998.
- “N.C. Man to Return for Trial in Sept. Rape of Prostitute”, Charleston Gazette, November 7 1998.
- “Several Charleston Rapes Conform to Pattern, Police Say”, Charleston Gazette, April 11 2001.
- “Rape Investigation Facing Difficulties; Determining Truth, Facts Tough in Case involving Prostitutes”, Charleston Daily Mail, April 13 2001.
- “Police Blotter; Woman Slashed with Box Cutter”, Charleston Daily Mail, June 9 2004.
- “Man Admits to Sexual Assaults; East Bank Resident Told Officer He Attacked 15-20 Prostitutes at Knifepoint”, Charleston Daily Mail, February 6 2008.
- “Two Prostitutes Testify They Were Raped”, Charleston Daily Mail, August 25 2009.
- “Victim Say Man Threatened to Kill Her”, Charleston Daily Mail, August 25 2009.
- “East Bank Man Guilty of Raping Prostitutes”, Charleston Daily Mail, August 26 2009.
- “‘I Knew He Was There To Kill Me’ Says Woman Who Killed Possible Serial Killer,” ABC/WCHS-TV 8, July 22 2015.
- https://www.register-herald.com/human-smuggling-becoming-problem-in-west-virginia (2023)
Background on Local Prostitution:
- “Local Briefs; Couple Charged with Prostitution”, Charleston Daily Mail, March 16 2004.
- “West Side Residents Complain about Increase in Prostitution”, Charleston Gazette, August 7 2004.
- “Three Arrests in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WSAZ-TV 3, October 30 2007.
- “Crime Report; Charleston Prostitution Arrests Decline”, Charleston Daily Mail, February 4 2009.
- “Prostitution Arrests Rise on Charleston’s West Side”, Charleston Gazette, September 19 2010.
- “Council OKs Bill, Prostitution First Offenders Won’t Receive Jail Time”, Charleston Gazette, December 2 2013.
- https://www.wvgazettemail.com/court-filing-police-arrested-known-prostitute-after-leaving-wv-senate-hhr-chairmans-home-in-august (2020)
- https://wchstv.com/man-called-serial-rapist-by-police-sentenced-for-violating-supervised-release (2023)