Columbia, SC

Tactics Used

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

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.

Key Partners

  • 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

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Cameras:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State South Carolina
Type City
Population 124818
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