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Charlotte is a city in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. It is the largest city in the state, with a population of approximately 880,000 residents. The city also has the highest number of reported sex trafficking cases in North Carolina each year, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Street prostitution has been a persistent and visible problem in the city for over 20 years. A wide range of additional crimes associated with the local sex trade has also been documented, including child sex trafficking and prostitution-related homicide. For example, in April 2021, within a two-week span, two transgender women who were engaged in prostitution were found shot to death in hotel rooms. Both men involved were charged with murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.
In 2022, it was reported that the COVID epidemic resulted in an increase in the sexual exploitation of children. To address these crimes, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) employs several tactics that aim to identify and apprehend sex buyers.
Police have conducted street-level reverse stings since at least 1991. Operations are still routinely conducted, using one or more undercover female officers as decoys. Once arrested, sex buyers may be subject to vehicle seizure if they attempted to solicit sex from a vehicle. They may also be served with SOAP (or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, barring them from reentering areas of the city known for commercial sex sales (called Prostitution Exclusion Zones). If a convicted sex buyer reenters the area, they can be immediately arrested for trespassing.
The CMPD has also conducted web-based reverse stings. In one such sting in July 2009, the CMPD’s Narcotics and Vice Unit engaged with solicitors posting paid sex ads on Craigslist. Officers arranged to meet sex buyers and prostituted women in motels along the city’s I-77 corridor. A total of 15 offenders were arrested.
In addition to stringent punishments for arrestees, the CMPD also utilizes a handful of key deterrents in the hopes of discouraging men from offending in the first place. For example, if a vehicle is seen idling in or circling around a city block known for street prostitution, police may send a letter to the owner’s home address notifying the individual (and all other residents) that they were seen in the area. Similarly, the CMPD and city council began airing the names and photos of arrested sex buyers on a local TV access channel in late 2000, as a warning to other would-be offenders. While it is unclear whether the show (dubbed “Shame TV”) is still running, officers reported that, between 2000 and 2003, none of the individuals publicized were subsequently rearrested.
As of August 2005, some first-time offenders charged with solicitation in Charlotte or Mecklenburg County may be offered the opportunity to have their charges dropped in exchange for completing a 10-hour diversion program. Led by counselors at the McLeod Center, the “john school” requires arrestees to attend lectures and participate in discussions about addiction, sexually transmitted diseases, and respect for women. All attendees must also submit to an HIV test.
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred in the city. For example, in March 2003, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer quit the force after being arrested during a sting operation and charged with soliciting a prostituted woman. The man resigned immediately after his arrest. He was in uniform and driving a police cruiser when authorities say he solicited a sex act from a female State Bureau of Investigation agent posing as a prostituted person. The sex buyer had been a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer since May of 2000.
In October 2020, a former U.S. Army reservist was sentenced to 40 years in prison for six counts of sex trafficking and running a prostitution enterprise in Charlotte. According to court documents, the man, who had served in the U.S. Army as a reserve military policeman, operated an extensive sex trafficking enterprise in Charlotte between 2012 and 2017. He recruited young women and one teenager by promising to provide them with a place to live and heroin or other opioids. He advertised the victims on Backpage.com for prostitution and collected the proceeds for profit. The man often assaulted his victims, and on one occasion used a pistol to strike one victim in the face, breaking her nose, according to court documents.
In October 2021, a 28-year-old female and “Only Fans” content creator from Charlotte, as well as a 33-year-old man, were charged with promoting prostitution for profit and the human trafficking of an adult victim. The arrests came after police received a 911 call from an 18-year-old victim involved.
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
- Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office
- McLeod Center
- U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
National Assessment Survey and Interviews
- “Educating the Johns, Courts Trying to Reform Prostitutes Now Turn Their Attention to the Customers”, Charlotte Observer, June 28 2005.
- “Charges Dismissed for Two Men Involved in a Prostitution Ring”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, February 24 2009.
- “‘Johns’ Go to School, Get Charges Dismissed, Solicitation Cases Dropped Against Car Dealer Skipper Beck, Businessman Thomas Ray Cloninger After Class”, Charlotte Observer, February 24 2009.
- “Soliciting Charges Dropped for Charlotte Businessmen”, Rock Hill Herald, February 24 2009.
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Charlotte, 14 Charged in Prostitution Sweep”, Charlotte Observer, August 28 1991.
- “28 Men Charged in Police Sting”, Wilmington Star-News, April 14 1996.
- “Charlotte Officer Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Wilmington Star-News, March 2 2003.
- “Police Arrest 19 in Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, July 1 2003.
- “Pastor, 12 Others Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, June 4 2004.
- “Police Arrest Six for Soliciting Sex in Freedom Park”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, May 3 2005.
- “Police Make Prostitution Arrests in West Charlotte”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, December 8 2006.
- “Pastor Charged with Soliciting Sex with Undercover Officer”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, February 23 2011.
- “Police Arrest ‘Johns’ in Undercover Sting”, FOX/WCCB-TV, September 21 2011.
- “2 Men Nabbed in Charlotte Undercover Prostitution Sting”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, September 23 2011.
- “Crackdown on Prostitution Cuts Crime in East Charlotte”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, October 19 2011.
- “49 People Arrested in Prostitution Blitz in Charlotte”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, July 26 2014.
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- “15 Arrested in Craigslist Prostitution Crackdown”, Charlotte Observer, July 21 2009.
- “CMPD Cracks Down on Internet-Based Prostitution”, Charlotte Observer, April 26 2013.
- http://www.fox46charlotte.com/undercover-prostitution-sting-fights-human-trafficking-in-charlotte (2018)
- “Charlotte Ponders Putting Prostitutes’ Johns’ on TV”, Charlotte Observer, November 12 1997.
- “Commit a Crime, Do Prime Time?”, Charlotte Observer, September 10 2000.
- “Charlotte Considers Televised Embarrassment to Fight Crime”, Lexington Herald-Journal, September 16 2000.
- “Attorney Urges Pulling the Plug on ‘Shame TV'”, Charlotte Observer, October 31 2000.
- “Raleigh Police Use Cable TV to Fight Prostitution”, FOX/WRAL-TV 5, September 22 2003.
Loss of Employment:
- “Prostitution Hot Spot May Be Target of Ban; City Wants to Keep Johns, Streetwalkers from Wilkinson Boulevard Area”, Charlotte Observer, January 28 2005.
- “Anti-Prostitution Zone OK’d, Offenders Arrested in Area Off Wilkinson Boulevard Will Be Barred from Re-Entering; Those Who Return Face Trespassing Charges”, Charlotte Observer, March 1 2005.
- “No More Comfort Zone, City to Prostitutes and Johns: Keep Out of West Charlotte”, Charlotte Observer, March 2 2005.
- “Police Want Successful Prostitution Free Zone Expanded”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, July 1 2005.
- “Undercover Sting Leads to 17 Prostitution Arrests”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, October 26 2005.
- “Prostitution Crackdown”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, April 12 2006.
- “In Case You’ve Wondered About Head-Turning Signage, Police Officer Explains So-Called ‘Prostitution Exclusion’ Zones”, Charlotte Observer, June 29 2008.
- “CMPD Considers No-Go Areas for Criminals,” Charlotte Observer, September 29 2015.
- “Police Target Prostitution in Letter Campaign, Those with Cars Spotted in High-Traffic Area Will Get Warning in Mail”, Charlotte Observer, March 2 2004.
- “Prostitution Crackdown; If Your Car Was in Targeted Area, Police Will Let You Know”, Charlotte Observer, March 3 2004.
- “Prostitution Arrests Up As Police Target Trouble Spot; Residents’ Complaints Prompted Extra Attention to Area Known As a Marketplace for Sex”, Charlotte Observer, June 28 2004.
- “Targeting Streetwalkers, Police Strategy Helping Relieve High-Prostitution Areas”, Charlotte Observer, July 5 2004.
- “Prosecution Deferred for Reverend with No Regrets; Anti-Violence Leader Says He Meant to Bring Attention to Prostitution”, Charlotte Observer, March 7 2005.
- “Charlotte’s Tour of Infamy”, Creative Loafing Charlotte, September 28 2005.
- “Law Gives Westside a New Tool”, Charlotte Observer, June 24 1998.
- “Crime Watch Goes High-Tech, Neighborhood Keeps Eye on Illegal Activity with Surveillance Cameras”, Charlotte Observer, August 14 2005.
- “Charlotte Neighborhood Focuses on Deterring Crime”, Lexington Herald-Journal, August 15 2005.
- “Charlotte Neighbors on Rebound, Issue Warning to Criminals”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, January 9 2008.
- “Police, Hotel Employees Work Together to Cut Crime”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, November 19 2009.
- “Neighbors Fight to Close Charlotte Inn”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, April 6 2012.
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Police Find More Teens Turning to Charlotte’s Streets”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, November 22 2004.
- “Charlotte Organizations to Battle Human Trafficking”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, July 25 2007.
- “Sex Sting Reveals Possible Sex Slaves”, ABC News, July 21 2008.
- “National Prostitution Sweep Nets Arrest in Charlotte”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, February 23 2009.
- “The North Carolina Connection to Human Trafficking”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, January 15 2010.
- “Human Trafficking Is Hiding in Plain Sight in NC, Feds Say”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, April 18 2011.
- “Man Accused of Running Prostitution Ring Arrested in Charlotte”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, May 17 2011.
- “Local Leaders Spotlight Human Trafficking Issue”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, January 11 2012.
- “Man Pleads Guilty to Running Prostitution Ring in Charlotte”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, January 11 2012.
- “9 Investigates: Underage Girls Being Sold for Sex in Charlotte”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, July 30 2012.
- “2 Woman Plead Guilty to Sex Trafficking of 13-Year-Old”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, September 28 2012.
- “N.C. Man Gets 10 Years in Child Prostitution Case”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 3 2012.
- “12 Indicted in U.S. Sex Trafficking Case”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, January 17 2013.
- “Woman Sentenced in Va. for Sex Trafficking”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, January 17 2013.
- “Authorities Arrest Man in Monroe in Connection with Sex-Trafficking Raid”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, January 18 2013.
- “Report: NC Man Met Minors Online, Forced Them into Prostitution”, NBC/WMBF-TV 10, October 9 2013.
- “Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, Accused Pimp, Gets Life in Sex Trafficking Case”, Huffington Post, February 19 2014.
- “Police, Agency Teaming Up to Help Teenage Runaways”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, March 7 2014.
- “Trial of Accused Pimp, Sex Trafficker Starts Tuesday”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), August 5 2014.
- “Falls Church Man Indicted for Sex Trafficking Teen Girl”, CBS/WUSA-TV 9, August 21 2014.
- “Man Accused of Forcing Girls into Prostitution Pleads Guilty,” ABC/WSOC-TV 9, March 3 2015.
- “Spring Lake Sex Trafficking Suspect Tells Judge He’s Innocent, Has Record ’20 Miles Long,'” Fayetteville Observer, March 19 2015.
- “Child Sex Trafficker Sentenced in North Carolina ICE Investigation,” Yuma News Now, July 15 2015.
- http://www.fox46charlotte.com/human-trafficking-rampant-in-charlotte-advocacy-groups-stepping-up (2018)
- 150+ missing children found in North Carolina operation (2021)
- https://www.charlotteobserver.com/article (2022)
- https://www.justice.gov/charlotte-man-sentenced-more-12-years-prison-sex-trafficking-minor (2022)
- https://www.charlottestories.com/charlotte-region-now-1-north-carolina-human-trafficking/ (2022)
- 3 Charlotte residents charged for sex trafficking teenage girl (2022)
- Charlotte, NC woman sentenced for sex trafficking of 13-year-old (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “New Computer Mapping Technology Reveals Patterns”, Charlotte Observer, May 21 2000.
- “City Leaders Want to Help Prostitutes Get Off Streets”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, February 2 2005.
- “Police Track Prostitution from Online Chatrooms”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, March 23 2005.
- “Prostitution Problem Spreading Across Charlotte”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, September 20 2006.
- “Police Hope New Ordinance Will Clean Up Problem Hotels, Motels”, ABC/WSOC-TV 9, January 14 2008.
- “Prostitution Ring Leader Sally Saxon Sentenced”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, August 26 2008.
- “Craigslist Prostitution Sting Conducted by Charlotte Police”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, July 21 2009.
- “Police Arrest Six in Connection to Prostitution Operation”, CBS/WBTV-TV 3, September 28 2012.
- https://www.wbtv.com/former-us-army-reservist-sentenced-years-sex-trafficking-prostitution-ring-charlotte/ (2020)
- https://newsmaven.io/female-only-fans-model-charged-with-promoting-prostitution (2021)
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area: