Columbia is the state capital and largest city in South Carolina, with approximately 131,000 residents. It is the county seat of Richland County. As such, anti-prostitution efforts in the city have often taken the form of joint initiatives and/or operational coordination between the Columbia Police Department and Richland County Sheriff’s Office.
Persistent street prostitution and solicitation have posed considerable problems for city residents for decades. Beginning in the mid-1970s, local law enforcement began staging street-level reverse stings to arrest sex buyers. The majority of these early operations were conducted along Two Notch Road, an area identified by residents and police as highly trafficked. The city’s first known reverse sting occurred in 1976; it resulted in the arrest of 7 johns, including 5 soldiers from nearby Fort Jackson. Each arrestee was sentenced to 30 days in jail, or a payment of $105 in fines.
In recent years, the CPD and RCSO have continued to conduct street-level reverse stings on a fairly regularly basis. Operations may be ad hoc or large in scale, with an average of 10 arrests per sting. Officers report that many of the prostituted women and johns arrested can be linked to the city’s drug market and/or have prior convictions for other crimes. In an effort to discourage arrestees from re-offending, the CPD and RCSO have at times released johns’ names to the local media.
Web based reverse stings have also been conducted in Columbia. For example, in May, 2019 the Richland County Sheriff’s Department conducted a six-hour operation at a local hotel, focusing on sex buyers using various websites to search for prostitution in the Columbia area. The Sheriff thanked community partners who donated the use of a hotel room and cameras to record evidence against the suspects.
In August, 2019, the former South Carolina transportation commissioner was charged with soliciting a prostitute after he was arrested as part of a multi-agency internet sting that sought to catch “johns” and child predators. The man was arrested after arriving at the location where he’d agreed to meet and pay $40 to an adult he thought was a prostitute. Instead, he had been communicating with an undercover officer over a known prostitution website. His arrest violated his probation, and he was sentenced to 18 months probation after pleading guilty to obstructing a federal investigation by telling an FBI informant to delete emails. The sentence included 45 days of home confinement and required 40 hours of community service. One of the men caught was a Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputy charged with soliciting a minor and attempted criminal sexual conduct with a minor. He was immediately fired, would not be allowed a plea deal, and the state Criminal Justice Academy was notified so that he will never again work in law enforcement in South Carolina. The deputy was among 14 men who thought they were communicating with girls as young as 13. Five were arrested upon arriving to the agreed meeting spot. One arrested “traveler” drove 470 miles over seven hours from Florida, while another came from Georgia. Many of the men sent nude pictures as they solicited sex from a 15-year-old girl. Other “johns” charged with soliciting a prostitute included a 42-year-old National Guardsman and a 55-year-old American Airlines pilot. A 41-year-old mechanic was additionally charged with four counts of attempted murder after he tried to run over the four officers arresting him. The operation involved 12 law enforcement agencies, including the state attorney general’s office.
- Columbia Police Department
- Proactive Community Enforcement Team (PACE)
- South Carolina Department of Public Safety – Bureau of Protective Services
- South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services
- Richland County Sheriff’s Office
- Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office
- South Carolina Law Enforcement Division
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Men Fined for Soliciting”, Rock Hill Herald, August 10 1976.
- “Two Notch Sting Yields 14 Prostitution Arrests”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), April 27 1989.
- “13 Men Charged with Soliciting for Prostitution”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), July 21 1989.
- “135 Arrested in Vice Sting on Two Notch Road”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), August 6 1989.
- “125 Are Arrested in Vice Sting”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), September 20 1989.
- “Prostitution Sting Yields Arrests”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), June 21 1993.
- “Stepped Up Sting Nabs Two Notch Customers”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), May 13 1995.
- “Prostitution Sting Leads to Chase and Shooting by Richland Deputy”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, July 2 2003.
- “Crackdown on Prostitution in Bush River Area of Columbia”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, July 8 2003.
- “Prostitution Still Alive on the Streets”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), September 27 2004.
- “WIS Goes Undercover on Investigation with Officer Posing as Prostitute”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, February 9 2006.
- “Nine Arrested Following Richland Co. Prostitution Bust”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, July 3 2006.
- “Richland Co. Attorney Accused of Soliciting Sex, Posing as SLED Agent”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, November 2 2006.
- “WIS Hears from Women and Men Caught in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, June 21 2007.
- “Columbia Police Arrest 24 in Prostitution Sting”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), April 14 2010.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Cameras:
- https://www.coladaily.com/16-men-arrested-by-richland-county-sheriffs-deputies-in-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://www.abccolumbia.com/richland-co-arrest-16-people-involved-in-solicitation-of-prostitution-at-local-hotel/ (2019)
- https://www.coladaily.com/2019/06/01/16-men-arrested-by-richland-county-sheriffs-deputies-in-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://www.postandcourier.com/politics/ex-sc-dot-official-charged-with-soliciting-a-prostitute-netted (2019)
- “Two Notch Road Residents Sign Petition Against Adult Stores”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), September 5 1990.
- “Group Demand County Clean Up; Two Notch Road Zoning Decision Means Adult Business Must Close”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), September 6 1990.
- “Columbia Neighborhood Working to Reduce Crime”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, October 9 2002.
- “Two Notch Merchants Band Together to Improve Safety, Boost Image of Area”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), December 30 2009.
Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- “Columbia Man, 2 Other South Carolinians Indicted in Under-Aged Prostitution-Related Conspiracy”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), August 21 2012.
- “‘Pimp Stick Quezzy’, Columbia Rapper, Pleads Guilty to Prostitution”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), April 24 2013.
- “Columbia Brothel Busted in Major Federal Investigation,” CBS/WBTV-TV 3, October 30 2015.
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Second Prostitute Slain at Motel in Similar Circumstances”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), July 28 1989.
- “Associates Say Woman May Have Known Killer, Some Prostitutes Are Afraid after Slaying”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), July 29 1989.
- “Slayings Bring Caution; Prostitutes Are Walking Scared, But Few Say They Will Get Off the Streets”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), July 30 1989.
- “Police Hold Few Leads in Prostitute’s Slaying”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), August 19 1989.
- “Columbia Man Charged in 3 Deaths; Deputies Search for More Bodies”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), February 3 1990.
- “Man’s Family Claims He’s Innocent in Serial Killings”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), February 4 1990.
- “Murder Trial Pits Prostitutes against Laborer”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), January 29 1991.
- “Drugs Led to Victim’s Death, Witness Says”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), June 11 1991.
- “Man Charged with Strangulation”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), December 14 1991.
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Sheriff Says House Patrons May Be Charged”, Charleston News and Courier, December 24 1970.
- “Prostitution Crackdown”, Rock Hill Herald, January 28 1985.
- “Columbia Police Sweep City for Drugs, Vice”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), July 14 1990.
- “City, County Team Up to Tackle Two Notch”, The State (Columbia, S.C.), October 16 1994.
- “CPD: Officer Fired After Being Caught with Teen Prostitute”, NBC/WIS-TV 10, October 21 2011.
- “PACE Begins Phase 1 of Lyon Street Initiative”, CBS/WLTX-TV 19, July 12 2012.