Franklin County, 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

Franklin County is a county in central Ohio that has a population of approximately 1.3 million residents. Its government seat and largest city is Columbus. Prostitution has been a problem in the county for decades, and more recently, numerous cases of sex trafficking have been investigated, and subsequently resulted in convictions. For example, in October 2021, six defendants and new charges involving sex trafficking were added to a case pending against a Columbus man who was the head of an organization engaged in various types of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, sex trafficking, mail fraud, and wire fraud. The man allegedly used threats, violence, and manipulation of drug dependencies to ensure individuals continued to carry out his criminal schemes, including an alleged conspiracy in which women were sex trafficked to earn drug money. The offender allegedly initially gave the women drugs for free, and later sex trafficked them in exchange for drug money, collected the proceeds, enforced specific rules on the women, and punished the women through physical violence. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are targeted homicide of prostituted women, child sex trafficking, and child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

In response to community complaints about prostitution and instances of sex trafficking, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has targeted demand by conducting reverse stings and publicizing the identities of the arrested sex buyers. Some of the reverse stings have been conducted in cities and towns, and others in unincorporated areas of the county. The operations in incorporated cities are sometimes conducted in collaboration with agencies such as the Columbus Police Department. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has conducted both street-level and web-based reverse stings. For example, in 2014, the FCSO and the CPD conducted a street-level operation that resulted in the arrest of 17 male sex buyers. In 2019, a joint web-based operation by the FCSO and the CPD resulted in the arrest of over 100 sex buyers on charges of soliciting for prostitution and related crimes. An April 2021 operation resulted in the arrest of 93 sex buyers and involved the use of cameras to capture evidence. A similar joint web-based operation was conducted in October 2021, which resulted in the arrest of over 160 sex buyers. This was the largest sex trafficking operation to date in the state of Ohio.

John School

Sex buyers arrested in Franklin County have been sentenced to complete the john school program, Columbus John Education Program, operated by the Columbus City Attorney’s Office and the Franklin County Municipal Court, since its inception in 2005. Approximately 150 to 200 sex buyers participated in this program annually. Since its inception in 2005 until 2018, the program had only had 12 repeat offenders on record (Recidivism rate of <1%). The curriculum aims to educate offenders about the negative impacts of prostitution and deter them from committing similar crimes again. Between 2007 and 2012, more than 150 men (mostly first-time offenders with no record of violence) completed the city’s john school program. At the end of 2012, Assistant City Attorney Michael C. Allbritain reported that the program conducted three or four john school sessions per year, depending upon the flow of men provided by police operations. The program functioned as both a diversion and a sentencing option. Some men were sent to the school as part of a plea agreement arranged by their attorneys, and others were ordered to attend as a condition of their probation. The program is at no cost to participating sex buyers and functions as a single day course that runs for an average of six to right hours. Speakers have typically included police officers, women formerly involved in prostitution and former victims of sex trafficking, Columbus Public Health officials, and community activists. The john school focuses on the following topics:

  • Health education
  • Negative community impact
  • Legal consequences of solicitation
  • Human trafficking and sex trafficking/pimping
  • Sexual addictions

The program excludes men with a prior violent offense, sex offense, or domestic violence offense and perpetrators who were attempting to “purchase sex from a minor” or have such offenses on record. When asked about the program, Allbritain said:

“This program is useful and runs at little to no cost. If we did not have this program, the john would most likely pay a small fine and then get his case expunged. The point of this program is to educate them and let them know that this is not a victimless crime…For me a successful person that’s been through the program is someone that does not do this activity ever again. I’d like to think that they left the program with their whole mentality changed and they’re not going to be a part of the problem anymore, they’re going to be a part of the solution.”

Upon completion of the program, one of the participants (a 48-year-old salesman) attending a 2012 session commented:

“Both the disease aspect and the safety aspect were huge to me. It wasn’t judgmental. It was about understanding the situation, and I appreciated that. I can’t say it’s going to work for everyone. You’re going to reach some, and that’s better than not doing it at all.”

In February of 2016, an Ohio State University defensive tackle pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution. According to reports, the sex buyer was arrested during a web-sting targeting individuals seeking to engage in commercial sex. As a result of his arrest the former player was allowed to participate in a john school as an alternative sentence. After completing the course, the solicitation charged was dropped. However, OSU maintained their suspension of the player, ending his collegiate football career.

In 2016, a john school program was launched by the non-profit organization called She Has a Name called, Reduce Demand, serving individuals in central Ohio. From 2016 to 2019, over 200 men had completed the John School program in Columbus/Franklin County. More recently, classes have been large and have included men arrested in other communities in the Franklin County area; for example, in July of 2021, a john school class had 58 male sex buyers in attendance. It was unclear from reports whether or not this course was a separate course from the original 2005 program.

For more information about the Reduce Demand & Columbus John Education Program, click here: Columbus, OH.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

John School:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Ohio
Type County
Population 1323807
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