Cincinnati, OH

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

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 johns 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 john was attempting to purchase sex from a vehicle, his car will 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 buy sex in Cincinnati, and included a “school” for people convicted of hiring prostituted women. In exchange for having their record cleared, they pay to attend a class (or john school) on the negative aspects of soliciting prostitutes.  The program also calls for publishing convicted customers’ names and pictures.  Customers whose cars are impounded can pay a $200 fee plus $90 for towing, in addition to $12 for each day the car remains 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 customers’ 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 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 prostitutes that would provide education and referrals to social service agencies.

In their ongoing efforts over the last decade, 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 and prostitution or drug-related offenses may not reenter Over-the-Rhine for a specified probationary period, and are subject 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 may have their identities publicized in local media outlets. While Cincinnati police do not have a systematic “shaming” policy, they have at times released arrestees’ names to the public. In August 2010, the CPD experimented with a new shaming tactic when officers from the department’s District Five recorded solicitors if they were 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 johns. 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 johns. In September 2012, the CPD participated in “Operation: Buyer Beware”, a similar john 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 are already in use 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 several 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 johns 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 increase “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 establish  a “prostitution fund” wherein all collected fines will 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 web-based reversal targeting johns. 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 johns were arrested as a result; four of the arrestees’ vehicles were also seized and impounded. The offenders’ identities were publicized by select media outlets.



Key Partners

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


Key Sources

State Ohio
Type City
Population 332458
Comments are closed.