Cincinnati, OH

Tactics Used

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

Cincinnati is a city of approximately 300,000 residents, located in Hamilton County in southwestern Ohio. A wide range of problems stemming from the local commercial sex market have been documented, including child sex trafficking, and the kidnapping, rape, assault, and homicide of prostituted women.

Among the tactics used to curtail prostitution and sex trafficking have been operations and programs targeting sex buyers, in an effort the curb the demand that drives the local illicit commercial sex market. Cincinnati law enforcement was among the first in the country to implement the use of street-level reverse stings in 1976. Operations are still routinely conducted, using undercover female officers as decoys. As sex buyers attempt to solicit sex from the women, they are apprehended by police. Once arrested, offenders are served with a civil citation and a $500 fine. If a sex buyer was attempting to purchase sex from a vehicle, his car would be seized and impounded.

While some of the reverse stings occurred in the 1970s, there was a renewed push to focus on demand after 2000. In 2002, the City Council approved anti-prostitution ordinances that let police impound the cars of people who bought sex in Cincinnati, and included a “school” for people convicted of hiring prostituted women. In exchange for having their record cleared, they paid to attend a class (or john school) on the negative aspects of soliciting prostituted people. The program also called for publishing convicted sex buyers’ names and pictures. Buyers whose cars were impounded could pay a $200 fee plus $90 for towing, in addition to $12 for each day the car remained in the city’s impound lot. The City Council expected vehicle impoundment to generate revenue, the proceeds of which could be spent on advertising the sex buyers’ names and pictures. “It’s time to start targeting the men,” said Councilman David Crowley, who introduced the new measures. Cincinnati Police Captain Vince Demasi, acting commander of the department’s investigations bureau at the time, thanked the council’s Law Committee for approving measure that would give officers more tools to combat what he called “a very prevalent problem.” In addition to the anti-demand efforts, the plan also called for a diversion program for convicted prostituted people that would provide education and referrals to social service agencies.

In their ongoing efforts, the CPD has frequently concentrated investigations in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, as local residents and business owners continue to report persistent street prostitution there. To limit illegal activities in the area, officers and city officials have passed a city ordinance akin to a SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) order. Individuals charged and convicted with prostitution or drug-related offenses may not reenter Over-the-Rhine for a specified probationary period, and have been subjected to additional fines and penalties if they do so. Other neighborhoods have also focused in an organized way on demand as the key to reducing prostitution and sex trafficking. For example, the West McMicken Improvement Association held a march in June 2013, including signs bearing messages focused on sex buyers, such as “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” The President of the West McMicken Improvement Association said, “We’re trying to, by attacking the john problem, to dry up the demand. So if we can drive out the demand, maybe the problem will follow.”

Additionally, individuals charged with solicitation have thad heir identities publicized in local media outlets. While Cincinnati police do not have a systematic identity disclosure policy, they have at times released arrestees’ names to the public. In August 2010, the CPD experimented with a new identity disclosure tactic when officers from the department’s District Five recorded solicitors if they were wearing company uniforms and/or driving company vehicles. Police then presented the video footage to the mens’ employers, alerting them of their behavior. In April 2014, two members of the city council proposed that police might initiate an effort to publicize all buyers’ identities.

In addition to local demand-driven initiatives, city police have participated in a handful of national sweeps targeting sex buyers. In October 2011, CPD officers coordinated efforts with 8 other law enforcement agencies across the nation to orchestrate the first U.S. “National Day of Johns Arrests”, resulting in the arrest of 32 local sex buyers. In September 2012, the CPD participated in “Operation: Buyer Beware”, a similar sex buyer sweep that engaged 20 law enforcement agencies across 11 states. In June 2013, a reverse sting resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers.

As of June 2013, the city council had been considering suspending driver’s licenses for arrested sex buyers. In May 2014, the city council debated passing a set of additional measures intended to combat commercial sex. While some of these measures have already been used on an ad hoc basis, or had been used in the past, the city council proposal would put forth a more coherent effort with several related elements, including the following focusing on combating demand:

  • Publishing the names of people convicted of prostitution-related offenses through a press release to media outlets or on the city’s government access TV channel
  • Notifying an offender’s spouse upon a prostitution-related arrest or conviction and a positive test for a sexually transmitted disease
  • Issuing orders to keep sex buyers from visiting areas known for prostitution activity (SOAP Orders)
  • Offering a “john school” as a condition of a suspended sentence
  • Increasing fines for prostitution-related offenses and earmarking that money to be used for programs to reduce sex trafficking

In September 2014, the city council successfully passed two ordinances aimed at curtailing demand for commercial sex and assisting victims of prostitution and sex trafficking. Sponsored by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, the ordinances increased “fines for using motor vehicles in solicitation or prostitution from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,500 for each subsequent offense,” and established  a “prostitution fund” wherein all collected fines would be pooled to “cover anti-prostitution efforts, including investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking crimes and programs that reduce prostitution.”

In mid-2015, Cincinnati PD officers announced the completion of a web-based reversal targeting sex buyers. Officers reportedly “placed fake ads on social media sites” suggesting prostitution in June 2015, and arranged to meet the individuals who responded to the listing. Six sex buyers were arrested as a result; four of the arrestees’ vehicles were also seized and impounded. The offenders’ identities were publicized by select media outlets.

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the city. For example, in 1974, a city councilman abruptly resigned when allegations of his buying sex became public. A political columnist reported on The Enquirer’s front page that a “Cincinnati politico” was involved in a two-state VICE probe. The City Council member went unnamed, but prostitution was mentioned. Later that day, the man resigned. Then, his involvement in purchasing sex became public when the man voluntarily testified in court in Kentucky. He said his conscience drove him to contact the FBI after he paid for prostituted women with personal checks in December 1973 and January 1974. The following year he won reelection to his Council seat, and directly addressed the issue of his buying sex in campaign ads.

A Cincinnati police officer resigned in 2020 after investigators said he had sex with prostituted women while working and used a law enforcement database to query women’s telephone numbers. The officer pleaded guilty to the unauthorized use of a computer, a felony, punishable by up to a year in prison, but as part of a plea agreement he was sentenced to one year of probation, according to court documents. The agreement also stated the offender would resign from the department and surrender his state peace officer certification. The charges and resignation only came to light in June, 2022 after a WCPO report stemming from broader public records requests. At the time of the man’s resignation, the Cincinnati Police Department did not issue any press releases regarding the accusations.

Key Partners

  • Cincinnati Police Department
    • Narcotics and Vice Unit
    • District Five Violent Crimes Squad
  • Cincinnati Union Bethel
  • Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce
  • Cincinnati City Council

 

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interview

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Loss of Employment:

John School:

Auto Seizure:

SOAP Orders:

Cameras:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Ohio
Type City
Population 332458
Location
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