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Denver is a consolidated city and county government in Colorado with a population of approximately about 700,000 residents. It is the 22nd largest city in the United States and is the state capital of Colorado. The history of Denver as nexus for prostitution originates from the now defunct red-light district known as “The Row,” and its long history as an American metropolis since the gold rush era. Although the red-light districts no longer exist in the city, since the gold rush era, prostitution and sex trafficking have been persistent and significant issues. Among the more serious crimes associated with the area’s contemporary commercial sex market are sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
To combat consumer demand driving the commercial sex market in the area, Denver has employed numerous demand reduction tactics such as reverse stings, john schools, systematic efforts to disclose sex buyers’ identities (‘John TV’ and media releases), geographic restraining orders (SOAP Orders), community service requirements, and auto seizures. For example, in 1990, a Denver Broncos tackle was arrested during a street-level reverse sting in Denver after he attempted to solicit sex from an undercover officer in exchange for $20. In return for his plea to the charge of soliciting, the city dropped the prostitution charge. Three months after his arrest in Denver, the sex buyer was arrested on the same charge in Aurora, violating the conditions of his plea bargain. As a result, Denver prosecutors sought a formal conviction in which he was sentenced to 60 days in jail, one year of probation, 100 hours of community service, and a fine of $610. The judge suspended all but 15 days of the sex buyer’s jail sentence. More recently, the city has been conducting web-based reverse sting operations in which undercover officers post decoy advertisements on websites known for prostitution and communicate with potential sex buyers and/or sex traffickers. One web-based operation in December, 2013, resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers whose identities were disclosed to local media outlets. In 2019, the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the recovery or identification of 103 child victims and the arrest of 67 sex traffickers nationally through Operation Independence Day (OID). This initiative, a revamping of the previously successful program Operation Cross Country (OCC), was executed during the month of July and culminated in 161 operations conducted nationwide. In Denver, the FBI and its law enforcement partners recovered and identified four child victims, eight adult victims, and arrested one sex trafficker. Additional sex traffickers have been identified and investigations are ongoing. Locally the FBI Denver Division worked alongside investigators from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol, Aurora Police Department, Denver Police Department, and Cheyenne, Wyoming Police Department to conduct the web-based operation.
Denver police have expressed hope that publicity of prostitution stings and arrested sex buyers would curtail the crime that surges during big events in the city, like the National Western Stock Show. In 2015, six juvenile victims of sex trafficking were identified and two sex traffickers were arrested during the stock show. Police believe that large events like New Years and the stock show demonstrate an illicit example of supply and demand; “an influx in tourists means an increase in sex trafficking.”
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the city. For example, in October, 2008, a federal judge in Colorado resigned amid allegations of misconduct, specifically, that he had patronized prostituted persons, according to court documents. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the complaints against the judge contingent upon his resignation. In a court order, Chief Circuit Judge said further pursuit of the complaints were unnecessary in light of the man’s resignation. He said that misconduct procedures apply only to active federal judges, noting that the Judge had resigned. The sex buyer had also faced an allegation from a prostituted woman that he had asked her to lie to investigators.
In another case in January, 2016, an undercover operation lasting two days resulted in the arrests of 10 child predator suspects, including a teacher at a school in Denver. The 10 men were arrested on charges of attempted trafficking of a minor for sexual servitude, attempted solicitation of a child for prostitution, and attempted sexual assault on a child. The cases were prosecuted by the Adams County District Attorney’s Office. One defendant was a teacher at Warren Village in Denver before he was terminated. The operation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and was assisted by detectives from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, the Commerce City Police Department and the Colorado State Patrol.
Denver’s First John School
Denver was one of the “early adopters” of the john school program approach to combating demand for commercial sex. A program offered by a private therapist, Michael Holtby, was used by the City Attorney’s Office beginning in 1999, and through 2011 operated at no direct cost to taxpayers and processed more than 500 arrested male sex buyers. It was structured as a counseling program, rather than a one-day educational effort. The program was cancelled in 2011.
Other John School Programs
A second john school program was reportedly launched in 2009, and was structured as a one-day educational class. During interviews conducted for the National Assessment, it was reported that the second john school program was launched because some within the city attorney’s model wanted a program more similar to the FOPP in San Francisco. For approximately two years, the programs ran concurrently, with some City Attorney staff referring arrestees to the counseling program, and others directing arrestees to the classroom program.
In 2014, the Colorado John School Program was established in Lakewood by Karina Rodriguez at Better Communities Colorado LLC. The Colorado John School Program’s mission is to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the Denver Metropolitan area by educating offenders about the negative consequences of prostitution and increasing their awareness of health risks, prostitution laws and healthy relationships. It consists of an intake session and a one-day class, and classes are scheduled four times per year. The fee is $400.00 and it must be paid in full at the intake session. The intake session consists of an intake questionnaire and meeting with a counselor. The purpose of this is to identify risk factors that may contribute to the participant’s risky sexual behaviors and to provided needed community resources. The intake session must be completed before attending the class. The class ran virtually in both English and Spanish during 2020 and 2021. In 2022, the program is still bale to be conducted however, it is not operated on a regular basis due to the lack of participants and court referrals.
The class is held on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. four times per year and is structured to educate participants on a variety of topics related to prostitution. Participants receive information on the many aspects of the system of prostitution and its negative consequences. Additionally, participants are educated about making positive changes in their intimate relationships and sexual practices. The intended result is an increased awareness and sensitivity to the overall impact that prostitution has on individuals, families, and the community at large. Classes are conducted in English and Spanish. Speakers of other languages must bring a translator to both the intake session and the class. The John School curriculum currently features six primary content areas:
- Community impact
- Reasons men buy sex and risks they face
- Effects of prostitution on prostituted women
- STD’s and safer sex
- Legal consequences and dynamics of pimping and recruiting
- Healthy relationships
Beginning in 2018, the Denver Police Department amongst other local law enforcement agencies partnered with a john school program in Fort Collins, CO, called the First Offender Restoration Initiative (FORI). This is a single-day john school program led by Chris Bruno at ReStory and Megan Lundstrom at the Avery Center. It serves first-offender sex buyers arrested in Northern Colorado. The program is a single-day, 8 hour diversion class that costs $375 to attend.
According to their website:
“FORI is designed to be a restorative experience, and is a collaborative effort between several agencies/ organizations, including the Larimer County District Attorney’s office, Fort Collins Police Department, Denver Police, Larimer County Sheriff, Restoration Counseling and the Avery Center. FORI is facilitated by the Restoration Counseling, a local center committed to the reduction of human trafficking and prostitution in our area. Speakers and trainers are professionals in this field, including law enforcement, medical professionals, licensed counselors and anti-trafficking leaders.”
- Denver Police Department
- Denver City Attorney’s Office
- Michael Holtby (counselor in private practice, who operated the john school from 1999-2011)
- Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance (DATA)
- Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office
- Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
- Colorado State Patrol
- Aurora Police Department
- Denver Police Department
- Cheyenne, Wyoming Police Department
- First Offender Restoration Initiative
- Restoration Counseling
- The Avery Center
- Better Communities Colorado, LLC
National Assessment Survey and Interviews
- Denver Diversion Program
- Denver Application for Adult Diversion
- Denver Alternative Resolution Referral 2009
- Denver Adult Diversion terms and conditions
- Denver John School Reflection Report
- “Prostitutes’ Clients Under Scrutiny in Colorado”, CBS/KCNC-TV 4, March 21 2011.
- Prostitutes’ clients under scrutiny in state (2011)
- Article by therapist operating a john school in Denver, 1999-2011:
- Holtby, M. (2012). Johns Schools and Why Men Pay For Sex.
- First Offender Restoration Initiative
- The Colorado John School (2021)
- Denver prosecutors want Perry sentenced (1990)
- “No Weather to Harsh for Prostitutes’ Clientele”, Rocky Mountain News, June 5 1994.
- “Three Cities Turn Colfax into Street of Many Stings”, Rocky Mountain News, May 17 1995.
- “Denver Digest”, Denver Post, January 17 1996.
- “Denver Man, 31, Arrested in Underage Prostitution Sting”, Rocky Mountain News, February 27 1996.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Park Worker”, Rocky Mountain News, July 10 1999.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 25 Men”, Rocky Mountain News, February 14 2000.
- “Officers Arrest 28 in Prostitution Sting”, Rocky Mountain News, October 16 2000.
- “Stings Fail to Curb E. Colfax Vice; Some Want to Publicize Johns Photos”, Denver Post, June 24 2002.
- “Prostitution in Denver a Two-Way Street”, Rocky Mountain News, March 19 2005.
- “Targeting Prostitutes’ Clients a Tricky Business”, Rocky Mountain News, March 19 2005.
- “Hard Work, Cooperation Bearing Fruit in a Rejuvenated East Colfax”, Rocky Mountain News, May 27 2006.
- “Denver Deputy Snared in Hooker Sting Appeals Firing”, Rocky Mountain News, September 3 2008.
- “Prostitution Charges Against School Tennis Coach Dismissed”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, August 25 2011.
- “John Stings: How Might the 29 People Arrested This Week Be Punished?”, Denver Westword, May 25 2012.
- https://www.westword.com/news/photos-johns-photos-from-denver-cops-reverse-prostitution-stings (2012)
- “The Prostitutes Aren’t the Problem: Targeting the Johns”, Daily Beast, May 22 2013.
- “Undercover Video: Denver Police Bust 6 Men in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/KTVD-TV 9, December 23 2013.
- https://www.denverpost.com/2013/07/29/six-denver-pimps-arrested-9-children-saved-as-part-of-federal-sting/ (2013)
- https://www.denverpost.com/2019/08/07/sex-trafficking-sting-denver/ (2019)
- https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/denver/news/press-releases/innocence-lost-national-initiative-and-2019-fbi-denver-operation-independence-day-results-in-recovery-of-child-victims-from-commercial-sex-trafficking (2019)
- https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/operation-independence-day-2019 (2019)
Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Allegations:
- https://www.summitdaily.com/news/judge-who-faced-prostitution-allegations-resigns/ (2008)
- https://denver.cbslocal.com/2014/04/15/sources-dpd-detective-caught-with-pants-down/ (2014)
- https://denver.cbslocal.com/2014/04/14/dpd-officer-ensnared-in-prostitution-probe/ (2014)
- https://denver.cbslocal.com/2016/01/26/10-arrested-in-denver-metro-area-child-predator-sting-operation/ (2016)
- Vehicle Impound: Frequently Asked Questions, Denver Sheriff Department.
- “Denver Man Cleared in Prostitution Sting; Car Still Impounded”, CW/KWGH-TV 2, December 9 2010.
- https://www.summitdaily.com/news/denver-police-arrest-35-on-prostitution-charges/ (2012)
- https://kdvr.com/news/problem-solvers/denver-city-attorneys-office-made-2-4-million-in-car-seizures-in-2016/ (2017)
Disclosure of Sex Buyer Identities:
- “City Dials Up ‘Johns TV’ to Combat Prostitution”, Rocky Mountain News, July 2 2002.
- Denver updates anti-prostitution show (2002)
- “Denver Aims to Curb Prostitution with TV Show”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, July 3 2002.
- “Denver Taking Page from ‘Scarlet Letter’; City Posting Prostitutes, Johns on Web Site”, Colorado Springs Gazette, July 5 2002.
- “Denver ‘Johns’ to Debut on TV”, Rocky Mountain News, July 22 2002.
- “‘Johns TV’ Garners Praise”, Rocky Mountain News, July 26 2002.
- “Sex and the City of Denver Gets ‘Johns’ on TV”, Norwalk Hour, July 29 2002.
- “Behind the Voice of ‘Johns TV'”, Rocky Mountain News, August 27 2002.
- “Photos: Johns Photos from Denver Cops’ Reverse Prostitution Stings”, Denver Westword, May 31 2012.
- “Area on Notice: Denver Police Hope to Drive Away Drug Dealers, Prostitutes and Johns from the Notorious Street”, Denver Post, January 21 2005.
Sex Buyer Arrests, Public Disclosure:
- Another One: Top Federal Judge Linked to Prostitution Ring (2008)
- Top federal judge linked to prostitution ring (2008)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Denver Police Crackdown on Prostitution Reveals Women Held at Asian Massage Parlors Until They Repay Debts for Being Smuggled into the U.S.”, Denver Post, October 23 2005.
- “Police: Prostitution Ring Employed Children, 50 Women”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, August 11 2008.
- Ex-officer charged in prostitution case (2008)
- “Sweep Nets 3 Teen Prostitutes, 2 Pimps in Metro Denver”, Rocky Mountain News, February 23 2009.
- “Police: Suspected Pimp Arrested in Child Prostitution Sting”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, July 1 2009.
- “Police, Feds Target Child Prostitution with Operation”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, October 26 2009.
- “Mark Mathias Prostitution Case: Denver Mother Sold Sex with Her Own Daughter”, Huffington Post, March 18 2010.
- “4 Indicted on Charges of Forcing Teen into Prostitution”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, August 18 2010.
- “Child Prostitution, Trafficking Focus of Federal Charges”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, October 1 2010.
- “14 Indicted in Child Prostitution, Human-Trafficking Ring”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, January 30 2012.
- “Three Gang Members, Nine Others Arrested in Connection with Prostitution of Underage Girls”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, December 10 2012.
- Flesh biz alive, well just under our noses (2013)
- “Larimer County Nonprofit Hopes to Rescue Child Prostitutes”, Coloradoan, February 18 2013.
- Raids rescue 105 young people (2013)
- “105 Kids Rescued from Prostitution Rings; 159 Arrested”, USA Today, July 29 2013.
- “Couple Accused of Running Prostitution Business Out of Massage Parlor”, CW/KWGN-TV 2, February 14 2014.
- “Denver DA Charges Couple with Multiple Sex Crimes, Human Trafficking”, Denver Post, February 14 2014.
- “Man Gets Four Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking”, Carbondale Southern, March 12 2014.
- “Pair Accused of Forcing Woman into Prostitution”, CBS/KKTV-TV 11, June 29 2014.
- “Court Documents Outline Jeffco Crime Spree, Sex Trafficking Case”, Denver Post, August 24 2014.
- “Sex Trafficking Lures Increasing in Denver, Officials Say”, CBS/KCNC-TV 4, September 1 2014.
- “Child Trafficking Suspects Accused of Using Death Threats, Violence to Force Girls into Prostitution,” ABC/KMGH-TV 7, February 4 2015.
- “Colorado Grand Jury Indicts 7 in Denver, Interstate Child Sex Trafficking Ring,” Denver Post, January 6 2016.
- “89 Rescued from Trafficking in Denver in 2015,” NBC/KUSA-TV 9, February 25 2016.
- Colorado: Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking (2017)
- https://www.denvervoice.org/archive/2021/11/9/exodus-road-a-way-out-for-sex-trafficking-victims (2021)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- Prostitution growing in Denver, police declare war on pimps (1979)
- “Council Aims at Customers of Prostitutes; Denver Proposal Would Subject Johns to the Same Medical Exams Hookers Now Face”, Rocky Mountain News, November 7 1994.
- “Denver Woman Accused of Knowingly Spreading HIV”, FOX News, December 2 2011.
- “Who Pays? An Assessment of Prostitution Arrests in the City and County of Denver”, Report from the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, February 2012.
- “Prostitution in Denver: Women Busted More Than Men, Punished More Harshly”, Denver Westword, May 3 2012.
- https://www.historycolorado.org/story/going-places/2018/11/26/brief-walk-along-denvers-notorious-market-street (2018)
- https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7058005/Striking-photos-reveal-boom-town-brothels-roamed-Wild-West.html (2019)
- https://www.coloradopolitics.com/denver/alleged-human-traffickers-in-denver-face-first-of-its-kind-charges-from-local-law-enforcement/article_e8950204-413a-11ea-8a20-87168de1a418.html (2020)
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Stabbing Victim Struck, Killed as She Runs onto Freeway”, Colorado Springs Gazette, April 8 1992.