Cleveland, OH

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

Cleveland is a city of approximately 390,000 residents, located in northeastern Ohio’s Cuyahoga County. The city has experienced a wide range of negative events associated with the local commercial sex market, including assaults of both prostituted persons and sex buyers, sex trafficking of adults and children, trafficking-related child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), and related homicides that have specifically targeted those engaged in prostitution. For example, in January 2022 a man was convicted for shooting at Homeland Security agents on Cleveland’s East Side as well as sex trafficking of a juvenile and producing child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often called “child pornography” in state criminal codes). The agents were at the man’s home to investigate sex trafficking of a minor, and the suspect fired six shots at Homeland Security agents who were executing a search warrant. The man was convicted of assaulting a federal agent with a deadly weapon, discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, sex trafficking of a minor, production of child pornography, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

To address the wide range of problems associated with the local commercial sex market, the Cleveland Police Department has conducted street-level reverse stings since 1976, and more recently, has added web-based reversals to its array of efforts to combat demand. As street-level stings typically utilize undercover female officers, operations have at times involved “dual-sweeps,” where officers initially saturate a targeted area and arrest all prostituted women in the vicinity, then replace them with female police decoys along the same streets. At times, the CPD has reported that city “sweeps” of prostituted persons have uncovered victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.

In February 2022, Ohio Attorney General Yost announced that eight sex buyers had been arrested during a human trafficking sting called “Operation Fouled Out,” which coincided with the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. The sting was coordinated through the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission and led by the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, and involved several law enforcement agencies and social services organizations. Attorney General Yost said of the operation:

“This operation’s mission was two-fold: to arrest johns soliciting sex and to proactively encounter potential victims. Our task reinforced both the consequences for buying sex and the pathways available for victims to find a way out.”

The names ages, and hometowns of the arrested sex buyers were released to the public, and their mugshots were posted on the attorney general’s Twitter page. In addition to arresting sex buyers, law enforcement also identified and interviewed 15 individuals selling sex, and potential victims of sex trafficking were provided assistance and health care by organizations including the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and Canopy Child Advocacy Center.

Not all arrests of sex buyers are the result of reverse stings, but are instead the product of investigating allegations against offenders with real victims. For example, in May of 2021, multiple law enforcement agencies collaborated in an undercover investigation that resulted in the arrest of a Tuscarawas County man. Police reported the trafficker agreeing to pay $1,000 to a woman to have sex with the woman in addition to her 14-year-old daughter. The offender was arrested on charges of compelling prostitution, (OH ST § 2907.21), attempted unlawful conduct with a minor (OH ST § 2907.04), and possessing criminal tools (OH ST § 2923.24), all of which are felony crimes. Officers also seized his computer and cellphone to be examined for child sexual abuse materials. The East Palestine Police Department, Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio Investigative Unit, and Columbiana County Prosecutor’s Office assisted the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force during the investigation. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said:

We know that those fueling the demand for human trafficking have no regard for jurisdictional boundaries when attempting to buy sex. The Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission model gives local law enforcement officers the power to partner and share cross-border expertise, relationships and resources to thwart these criminals and end their exploits.

Loss of Employment

Among the consequences of buying sex in Cleveland has been the loss of employment. For example, in August 2019, a former Cleveland police supervisor was sentenced to 10 days in jail for soliciting prostituted women while on-duty. He was also required to attend sex addiction counseling, attend separate counseling specifically for people convicted of soliciting prostituted persons, complete 200 hours of community service, and spend two years on probation. The man had previously pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree misdemeanor soliciting prostitution. Seven similar charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement. The man had been a police officer for 29 years before he surrendered his license. Investigators presented evidence that the man made 11 attempts to hire a prostituted woman while on duty at the First District police station between July 28, 2018 and December 2, 2018, and offered them between $40 and $100 for various sexual acts. He had also used the national Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) to look up information and state identification photos of two women; using the database for personal reasons is a felony under Ohio law. The officer had also used an unnamed social media platform to send messages to 2,300 women while he was on-duty between June 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019, according to charges in common pleas court.

In July 2021, a former Cleveland Catholic Diocese priest pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of sex trafficking of a minor, three counts of sexual exploitation of a child, and one count each of transportation of child pornography, receipt and distribution of visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and possession of child pornography. The man allegedly enticed the minors to send sexually explicit photos and videos. The man was alleged to have threatened to send the photos to family and friends of the victims if they did not send him more, and authorities said, in some cases, he followed through on his threats, sending the photos to the victims’ mothers. He had used the social networking site to make contact with a minor victim for the purpose of “engaging in a commercial sex act.” He was accused of enticing the victim to identify another minor victim with whom he could engage in commercial sex acts. The offender met the victims on multiple occasions for the purpose of engaging in sex acts in exchange for money and alcohol, the release stated. The man could face up to life in prison.

Neighborhood Action

For their part, Cleveland residents have also taken an active role in demand reduction efforts. In 2007, residents of the Ohio City neighborhood camped out in lawn chairs along busy intersections and established informal patrols on Friday evenings, holding signs that read “Dear Johns, your plate number is being recorded. Yours truly, The Neighbors.

John School

In 2008, a handful of community members laid the foundation for what would become the city’s first john school. The “No New Tricks” John School was the brainchild of Brian Kazy, project coordinator for the Detroit Shoreway Weed and Seed Initiative, and Robin Palmer, a social worker and head of the trauma assistance and counseling group known as the Mokita Center. Limited to first-time offenders, the diversion program was a day-long course that stressed personal accountability and public education. It was held as often as once per month, and through April 2012, boasted a recidivism rate of less than 1%. Though initially limited to sex buyers arrested in the Detroit Shoreway area, the “No New Tricks” John School expanded citywide with the assistance of the CPD and Cleveland Municipal Court in May 2012. The school was financed by the sex buyers themselves, who were required to pay a fee to enroll.

Web-Based Reverse Stings

The Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force has actively conducted undercover online operations in Ohio for many years. For example, in 2019, the “I-Team” (ICAC) and agents from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office carried out an online undercover sting during MLB All-Star Week that resulted in the arrest of more than two dozen suspects. Suspects were arrested after chatting online with what offenders believed to be teenagers, trying to arrange sex. Offenders were actually chatting with undercover agents from the Cuyahoga County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. In May of 2021, 31 people, ranging in age from 20 to 80 years old, were arrested as part of “Operation Deja Vu,” a similar undercover operation led by the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. Suspects, who came from five different counties, including Cuyahoga County, were arrested after engaging in sexually explicit online conversations with people they believed were minor children.

Initial charges ranging from third-degree to fifth-degree felonies were filed against the defendants, including attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor (OH ST § 2907.04), disseminating matter harmful to juveniles (OH ST § 2907.31), importuning (OH ST § 2907.07), compelling prostitution (OH ST § 2907.21), carrying a concealed weapon (OH ST § 2923.12), failure to comply (OH ST § 2921.331), and possessing criminal tools (OH ST § 2923.24). Undercover officers posed as children under 16 years old. The 31 individuals talked with the children on popular social media apps. Some sent pictures of their genitalia to the officers who they believed were children, while others offered to pay for sex during those online conversations. “Operation Deja Vu” was the fourth undercover operation the ICAC Task Force has led since 2018. Those operations have yielded 108 arrests combined. All 31 individuals arrested locally were held in the Cuyahoga County Jail while they waited for their case to be presented to a grand jury for an indictment. Task Force Officials reported that the pandemic played a crucial role in the significant increase in the number of cyber tips officers received within the prior year:

In February of 2020, we were averaging anywhere from 700 to 800 cyber tips. In March and April of 2020, we went up to between 1,200 and 1,400 cyber tips. So you have a pandemic, you also have a lot of children going to school at home, you have offenders, adults who are now working from home. Perfect storm in essence, and that those numbers have continued to increase. We received over 10,300 cyber tips last year alone, which puts Ohio in the top five consistently with regards to the work that we have to do.”

In response to a survey conducted in 2021 by the NCOSE team for a National Institute of Justice grant to update and expand Demand Forum (Grant #2020-75-CX-0011), representatives from the Cleveland Police Department reported that public education specifically addressing demand was conducted by the Cleveland State University Police Department.

Ohio Revised Code

Sex Crimes

  • Compelling Prostitution (OH ST § 2907.21) is a felony of the third degree and requires offenders to register as Tier 2 Sex Offenders.
  • Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor (OH ST § 2907.04) is a felony of the fourth degree and requires offenders to register as Tier 2 Sex Offenders.
  • Disseminating Matter Harmful to Juveniles (OH ST § 2907.31) is a felony in the fifth degree if material or performance involved is obscene, and a felony in the fourth degree if the material or performance involved is obscene and the juvenile to whom it is sold, delivered, furnished, disseminated, provided, exhibited, rented, or presented, the juvenile to whom the offer is made or who is the subject of the agreement, or the juvenile who is allowed to review, peruse, or view it is under thirteen years of age and requires offenders to register as Tier 2 Sex Offenders.
  • Importuning (OH ST §2907.07) is a is a felony of the fifth degree on a first offense, and is a felony of the fourth degree if the offender previously has been convicted of a sexually oriented offense or a child-victim oriented offense and requires offenders to register as Tier 1 Sex Offenders.

Other Crimes

  • Possessing Criminal Tools (OH ST § 2923.24) is a felony of the fifth degree if the circumstances indicate that the substance, device, instrument, or article involved in the offense was intended for use in the commission of a felony.
  • Carrying A Concealed Weapon (OH ST §2923.12) is a felony in the fourth degree.
  • Failure to Comply (OH ST § 2921.331) is a felony of the fourth degree if the jury or judge as trier of fact finds by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that, in committing the offense, the offender was fleeing immediately after the commission of a felony.

ORC Felony Punishments

Sex Offender Registration

The state of Ohio has a Three Tier Offense-Based Registry. Each crime is classified by either Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3, Tier 3. The tiers include crimes that range in severity, Tier 1 being least severe and Tier 3 being most severe.

The length of registration is dependent upon an offender’s classification:

  • Tier 3: Lifetime registration (every 90 days)
  • Tier 2: 25 years’ registration (every 180 days)
  • Tier 1: 15 years’ registration (annually), or 10 years in certain cases

Key Partners

Key Sources

2021 National Assessment II Survey

John School:

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:

  • “Cable TV to Broadcast Names of Guilty Johns”, Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 1 1993.

Vehicle Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Loss of Employment:

Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM, Drug, Weapons Offenses:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Ohio
Type City
Population 385282
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