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 312,000 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. This activity and its ancillary crimes have resulted in complaints from residents and businesses to local law enforcement. Businesses posing as fronts for prostitution and brothels have also been documented issues in the county. For example, in 1984, two Cincinnati brothers were arrested for allegedly “luring customers” to their auto service center by offering commercial sex from a prostituted woman. The city has also documented residential concerns of HIV contraction due to the significant amount of prostitution activity occurring in the city. Drug use, specifically that of cocaine and opioids, has also been an issue the city faced as a result of the local commercial sex market. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are child sex trafficking, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and child endangerment.

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, beginning in 1976. Operations are still routinely conducted, using undercover female officers as decoys. As sex buyers attempt to solicit sex from undercover officers, they are apprehended by police. Once arrested, offenders are served with a civil citation, a $500 fine, and are required to attend a “john school” program. If a sex buyer was attempting to purchase sex from a vehicle, his car would be seized and impounded. Arrested sex buyers have also been given community service hours in lieu of paying a fine.

Neighborhood action and “Dear John” letters are also demand reduction tactics that have been used in the city. These tactics initially appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s in response to citizen complaints to local law enforcement. For example, in 1994, the Walnut Main Security Task Force began assisting the CPD by recording license plate numbers of suspected sex buyers in Over-the-Rhine and forward them to police, who tracked down the owner and sent them a letter. The letter told the owner that their car was “seen in an area known for prostitution and drug-trafficking.”

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 sex buyers in Cincinnati, and included a “school” for people convicted of soliciting sex from 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. This ordinance was repealed in 2007. 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 had their 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 men’s’ 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 reverse sting operation that engaged 20 law enforcement agencies across 11 states. In June 2013, a reverse sting resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers.

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.

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.”

Employment Loss

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.

John School

There has been a “john school” program operating in Cincinnati and Hamilton County since 2006. In 2002, the city passed an ordinance allowing police officers to seize the vehicles of sex buyers who used their cars while attempting to solicit commercial sex and additionally created the city’s first “john school” program, based on those previously implemented in San Francisco and Washington D.C. Police say that stricter consequences for sex buyers occurred as a response to a significant increase in complaints from residents and businesses to local law enforcement. For example, in 2002, a week prior to the new citywide ordinance was passed, a resident witnessed a sex buyer and a prostituted woman engaging in commercial sex outside of a car at a public park, recorded the interaction as evidence, and turned the tape over to police. The program in 2002 was estimated to cost between $400-$500 according to police.

Reports about the city’s john school were limited until 2004, when a new project funded by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, was awarded to Cincinnati Union Bethel’s Off the Streets Program Policy Team – a program that provided resources for women and girls to exit the commercial sex industry. During the program’s inception, representatives from the Standing Against Sexual Exploitation (SAGE Program) visited Cincinnati to educate officials about prostitution, sex trafficking, and the importance of reducing demand. Representatives from the Off the Streets Policy Team similarly visited the SAGE Program’s “john school” (FOPP) in San Francisco. The initiative was spurred by issues of jail overcrowding due to the significant number of arrests of prostituted women (over 1,000 in 2003 alone) by creating a project exploring alternative sanctions for prostituted persons. The project team, consisting of numerous agencies, organizations and groups, commissioned a review of the research on prostitution and alternative programs. The team sought and received a planning grant from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati to assist it in its undertaking. As a result, in 2005, the Off the Streets Program Policy Team at Cincinnati Union Bethel developed an inter-agency project that established a “john school.” The “Johns” Education Program was designed based on the San Francisco First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP). During the program’s inception, representatives from the Standing Against Sexual Exploitation (SAGE Program) visited Cincinnati to educate officials about prostitution, sex trafficking, and the importance of reducing demand. Representatives from the Off the Streets Policy Team similarly visited the SAGE Program’s “john school” (FOPP) in San Francisco. The “John’s Education Program held its first class in 2006 and as of 2022, remains a collaborative sex buyer education program in  Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Project collaborators included: Probation, Mental Health, Pretrial Services, Court Clinic, Alcohol Drug Addiction Services, Prosecutor’s Office, Tender Mercies, First Step Home, Court of Common Pleas, Municipal Court, Talbert House, Hamilton County Courts, and neighborhood groups and local businesses.

The program was initially funded by a three year grant by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati. To attend the class, sex buyers were required to pay a $500, with payment plans available. The “john school” was a one-day course that ran for eight consecutive hours. The class would have representative from various departments speak during the class. Speakers included: a Cincinnati Police Department representative, Central Vice representative, City Prosecutor, STOP AIDS representative, community member, sex addictions counselor, and two prostitution survivors. The class was offered both as a diversion program and a probation program.

In its first year, 70 participants attended the course with the goal of having 275 participants attend within the first 3 years.
130 men enrolled in the class to date. After two years, the 130 sex buyers had completed the program. The program was not limited to first time offenders, but the majority were first time offenders. The program tracked arrestees’ records for six months and one year after the offense. Based on this data, two years after its conception, the program reported a recidivism rate of zero percent, meaning that no  sex buyers had repeated the course due to a re-arrest. Male sex buyers were referred from the Diversion program and the Probation department.

In 2015, the Office of Criminal Justice Services released a report, Overview of John Schools and Justification for Further Research in Ohio, provided an overview of the four john schools that were operating in Ohio at the time; Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Cincinnati. These programs were reported to be operating independently from one another, yet under a similar structure with the common goal of educating purchasers of commercial sex on the negative impacts of prostitution, and an emphasis on the newfound awareness that prostitution is not a victimless crime. The report additionally demonstrated the effectiveness of these programs and the justification for further john school implementation in the state.

In 2015, the now, Men’s Education Program, by Cincinnati Union Bethel, the Cincinnati Police Department, and the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office, was offered as a diversion program (with records expunged), cost about $500 to attend, and was a one-day class that ran for a consecutive six to eight hours at Cincinnati’s City Hall. Eligible participants were first-time offenders charged with patronizing prostitution and associated charges. Individuals ineligible to attend were those convicted of felonies/
violent crimes. The class focused on the following topics:

  • Health education
  • Negative community impact
  • Legal consequences of solicitation
  • Human trafficking and sex trafficking/pimping
  • Sexual addictions

A news article in 2017, reported that between 2015 and 2017, the Men’s Education Program, had accepted individuals arrested outside of Hamilton County on two occasions. These men came from other counties in Ohio that offered arrested sex buyers the option to complete a john school program, but did not have one within the county.

In April 2021, a new state law took effect that established the crime of “engaging in prostitution.” Previously, Ohio had a single statute addressing prostitution, one that focused on penalizing prostituted persons rather than sex buyers. Under the new statute (Ohio Revised Code Section 2907.231), sex buyers are required to attend an education or treatment program, “aimed at preventing (them) from inducing, enticing, or procuring another to engage in sexual activity for hire in exchange for the person giving anything of value to the other person.” The passage of this new law required the state to create a set of standards for Sex Buyer Education (SBE) programs. In 2022, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office created a guide for cities and counties to create Sex Buyer Education programs in accordance with statewide regulations. Two types of programs are outline in the report; single day programs and lengthier, therapy-based programs. Cities/counties interested in implementing a program, could apply for funding from the AGO, by filling out this application: John School Funding Application For further information, click here: John Schools: Guidelines for Sex Buyer Education Programs.

Key Partners

  • Cincinnati Police Department
    • Narcotics and Vice Unit
    • District Five Violent Crimes Squad
  • Cincinnati Union Bethel
  • Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office
  • Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office
  • Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce
  • Cincinnati City Council
  • Walnut Main Security Task Force

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interview (2012)

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Community Service, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Loss of Employment:

John School, Public Education, Community Service:

Auto Seizure:

SOAP Orders, Public Education:

Cameras:

Neighborhood Action, Letters:

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 311791
Location
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