Chittenden County, VT

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Chittenden County is the most populous county in Vermont, with a population of over 168,000 and anchored by the state’s most populous municipality, the city of Burlington.  Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in that city and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of Chittenden County, for decades.  For example, in November 1981 a man was arrested and charged with operating a local prostitution ring under the guise of an escort service. The Chittenden County State’s Attorney reportedly considered whether to release the names of more than 20 men who appeared on a “client list” and may have patronized the alleged prostitution ring. Four women were also cited into court on prostitution charges, and police seized a list of more than 20 clients, some of whom reportedly were well-known in the Burlington area.  This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking. To address such problems, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office had worked to facilitate a collaborative effort in 2013 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, reverse stings have been conducted.  For example, in June 2014, a 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 would be taught by the director of Give Way to Freedom, a foundation that focuses on human trafficking awareness, prevention and recovery services, and would reportedly cover “statistics, facts and characteristics about all forms of human trafficking and the victimization caused by the crime.”

In November, 2015, the Burlington Police Department arrested nine men on sex crime charges in a prostitution sweep conducted using an undercover female police officer, posting ads on a website “well known for being a haven for classified ads offering sex for a fee,” Burlington police said in a statement. The identities of the men charged with engaging in sexual conduct for a fee were included in press releases.

In 2017 the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children task force arrested nine men in Chittenden County over one weekend in a sex crimes sting operation.  Agents posed as underage girls in online forums such as Craigslist and arranged to meet the men for sexual encounters. When the men arrived at the agreed upon locations, they were arrested. A Homeland Security Investigations court filing said that the undercover operation was “designed to identify persons using online social networks, e-commerce, and dating sites to lure children to engage in sexual acts.”  The other defendants were charged in state superior court.  The man exchanged emails with the decoy, who told him she was 14 years old — at one point sending him a picture of herself as a child, according to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. The man arrived at the meeting they arranged with his 3-year-old daughter in the back seat, and was arrested and charged with a felony for enticing a minor into sexual activity, which carries a minimum 10-year sentence.  The other eight defendants arrested as part of the sting were charged with luring a child, also a felony.

In March, 2019, a Vermont Department of Corrections employee working at the state’s only facility for women was arrested for sexual assault and procuring prostitution. The Colchester Police Department had received a report of sexual assault, and reported it to the countywide Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations. The arrest of Christopher Rich occurred in South Burlington, where the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility is located.  He was charged with sexual assault, simple assault and solicitation/procuring prostitution. Sexual assault is punishable from three years to life in prison, while solicitation/procuring prostitution and simple assault are no more than a year in prison each.

Key Partners

  • Chittenden County Sheriff’s Office
    • Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations
  • Colchester Police Department
  • Burlington Police Department
  • Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
  • Vermont State Police
  • Give Way to Freedom

Key Sources

John School:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:

State Decriminalization of Prostitution:

State Vermont
Type County
Population 168869
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