Hamilton 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

Hamilton County is located in southwestern Ohio and has approximately 830,000 residents. The largest city and county seat is Cincinnati, OH. A wide range of problems stemming from the local commercial sex market have been documented such as the kidnapping, rape, assault, and homicide of prostituted women. This activity and its ancillary crimes have resulted in complaints from residents and businesses to local law enforcement. Businesses posing as fronts for prostitution and brothels have also been documented issues in the county. For example, in 1984, two Cincinnati brothers were arrested for allegedly “luring customers” to their auto service center by offering commercial sex from a prostituted woman. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are child sex trafficking, child sexual abuse material (CSAM) or “child pornography,” and child endangerment.

Efforts to combat prostitution and sex trafficking activity in the county include those focused on reducing demand for commercial sex. In addition to efforts led by county law enforcement agencies, other communities within the county that have conducted demand-focused prostitution and sex trafficking operations include Blue Ash and Sharonville.

Among the demand reduction tactics used to curtail prostitution and sex trafficking have been operations and programs targeting sex buyers. Cincinnati law enforcement was among the first in the country to implement the use of street-level reverse stings in 1976. Operations have been routinely conducted, using undercover female officers as decoys. As sex buyers attempt to solicit sex from the women, they have been apprehended by police. Once arrested, offenders were served with a civil citation and a $500 fine. If a sex buyer was attempting to purchase sex from a vehicle, his car might be seized and impounded.

Individuals charged with solicitation have had their identities publicized in local media outlets. While Cincinnati police do not have a systematic identity disclosure policy, they have at times released arrestees’ names to the public. In August 2010, the CPD experimented with identity disclosure when officers from the department’s District Five recorded male sex buyers if they were wearing company uniforms and/or driving company vehicles. Police then presented the video footage to the men’s employers, alerting them of their behavior. In April 2014, two members of the city council proposed that police might initiate an effort to publicize all buyers’ identities.

In addition to local demand-driven initiatives, local police have participated in national sweeps targeting sex buyers. In October 2011, CPD officers coordinated efforts with eight other law enforcement agencies across the nation to orchestrate the first U.S. “National Day of Johns Arrests,” resulting in the arrest of 32 local sex buyers. In September 2012, the CPD participated in “Operation: Buyer Beware,” a similar sex buyer sweep that engaged 20 law enforcement agencies across 11 states. In June 2013, a reverse sting resulted in the arrest of five male sex buyers. In mid-2015, Cincinnati PD officers announced the completion of a web-based reversal targeting sex buyers.

The Blue Ash Police Department has also conducted street-level, web-based, and other media-based reverse stings since 2001, and has used identity disclosure of sex buyers to deter prostitution. Reverse stings have been conducted two or three times per year. In late 2007, guided by business owners’ complaints, the Sharonville Police Department conducted a series of reverse sting operations to crack down on prostitution activity in the city’s hotels. Between July 2007 and August 2008, a total of 16 prostitution-related arrests were made. In an interview for the National Assessment, officers from the neighboring Blue Ash Police Department confirmed that Sharonville has utilized several demand-driven tactics, including street-level reverse stings, web stings, and identity disclosure. As residents of Hamilton County, Sharonville sex buyers may also be subject to auto seizure and/or license suspension, depending upon the circumstances of their arrests.

John School

There has been a “john school” program operating in Cincinnati and Hamilton County since 2006. In 2002, the city passed an ordinance allowing police officers to seize the vehicles of sex buyers who used their cars while attempting to solicit commercial sex and additionally created the city’s first “john school” program, based on those previously implemented in San Francisco and Washington D.C. Police say that stricter consequences for sex buyers occurred as a response to a significant increase in complaints from residents and businesses to local law enforcement. For example, in 2002, a week prior to the new citywide ordinance was passed, a resident witnessed a sex buyer and a prostituted woman engaging in commercial sex outside of a car at a public park, recorded the interaction as evidence, and turned the tape over to police. The program in 2002 was estimated to cost between $400-$500 according to police.

Reports about the city’s john school were limited until 2004, when a new project funded by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, was awarded to Cincinnati Union Bethel’s Off the Streets Program Policy Team – a program that provided resources for women and girls to exit the commercial sex industry. During the program’s inception, representatives from the Standing Against Sexual Exploitation (SAGE Program) visited Cincinnati to educate officials about prostitution, sex trafficking, and the importance of reducing demand. Representatives from the Off the Streets Policy Team similarly visited the SAGE Program’s “john school” (FOPP) in San Francisco. The initiative was spurred by issues of jail overcrowding due to the significant number of arrests of prostituted women (over 1,000 in 2003 alone) by creating a project exploring alternative sanctions for prostituted persons. The project team, consisting of numerous agencies, organizations and groups, commissioned a review of the research on prostitution and alternative programs. The team sought and received a planning grant from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati to assist it in its undertaking. As a result, in 2005, the Off the Streets Program Policy Team at Cincinnati Union Bethel developed an inter-agency project that established a “john school.” The “Johns” Education Program was designed based on the San Francisco First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP). During the program’s inception, representatives from the Standing Against Sexual Exploitation (SAGE Program) visited Cincinnati to educate officials about prostitution, sex trafficking, and the importance of reducing demand. Representatives from the Off the Streets Policy Team similarly visited the SAGE Program’s “john school” (FOPP) in San Francisco. The “John’s Education Program held its first class in 2006 and as of 2022, remains a collaborative sex buyer education program in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Project collaborators included: Probation, Mental Health, Pretrial Services, Court Clinic, Alcohol Drug Addiction Services, Prosecutor’s Office, Tender Mercies, First Step Home, Court of Common Pleas, Municipal Court, Talbert House, Hamilton County Courts, and neighborhood groups and local businesses.

The program was initially funded by a three year grant by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati. To attend the class, sex buyers were required to pay a $500, with payment plans available. The “john school” was a one-day course that ran for eight consecutive hours. The class would have representative from various departments speak during the class. Speakers included: a Cincinnati Police Department representative, Central Vice representative, City Prosecutor, STOP AIDS representative, community member, sex addictions counselor, and two prostitution survivors. The class was offered both as a diversion program and a probation program.

In its first year, 70 participants attended the course with the goal of having 275 participants attend within the first 3 years.
130 men enrolled in the class to date. After two years, the 130 sex buyers had completed the program. The program was not limited to first time offenders, but the majority were first time offenders. The program tracked arrestees’ records for six months and one year after the offense. Based on this data, two years after its conception, the program reported a recidivism rate of zero percent, meaning that no  sex buyers had repeated the course due to a re-arrest. Male sex buyers were referred from the Diversion program and the Probation department.

In 2015, the Office of Criminal Justice Services released a report, Overview of John Schools and Justification for Further Research in Ohio, provided an overview of the four john schools that were operating in Ohio at the time; Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Cincinnati. These programs were reported to be operating independently from one another, yet under a similar structure with the common goal of educating purchasers of commercial sex on the negative impacts of prostitution, and an emphasis on the newfound awareness that prostitution is not a victimless crime. The report additionally demonstrated the effectiveness of these programs and the justification for further john school implementation in the state.

In 2015, the now, Men’s Education Program, by Cincinnati Union Bethel, the Cincinnati Police Department, and the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office, was offered as a diversion program (with records expunged), cost about $500 to attend, and was a one-day class that ran for a consecutive six to eight hours at Cincinnati’s City Hall. Eligible participants were first-time offenders charged with patronizing prostitution and associated charges. Individuals ineligible to attend were those convicted of felonies/violent crimes. The class focused on the following topics:

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

A news article in 2017, reported that between 2015 and 2017, the Men’s Education Program, had accepted individuals arrested outside of Hamilton County on two occasions. These men came from other counties in Ohio that offered arrested sex buyers the option to complete a john school program, but did not have one within the county.

Reports have also documented a potential secondary collaborative john school program existing in Hamilton County and Cincinnati. The Hamilton County Diversion Program is a collaborative effort between the City of Cincinnati Law Department’s Prosecutor’s Office and Hamilton County Courts, in which the City of Cincinnati Law Department’s Prosecutor’s Office provides a Prosecutor to assist with the “John’s Intervention Program”. This Program “provides treatment” to male sex buyers who solicit prostituted women. In addition to other services, the City of Cincinnati Law Department and the Cincinnati Police Department provide speakers for the Program. The County charges $250 to the sex buyers participating in the program. At this time, it is unclear whether this is a separate program from the Men’s Education Program, at Cincinnati Union Bethel.

In April 2021, a new state law took effect that established the crime of “engaging in prostitution.” Previously, the Ohio had a single statute addressing prostitution, one that focused on penalizing prostituted persons rather than sex buyers. Under the new statute (Ohio Revised Code Section 2907.231), sex buyers are required to attend an education or treatment program, “aimed at preventing (them) from inducing, enticing, or procuring another to engage in sexual activity for hire in exchange for the person giving anything of value to the other person.” The passage of this new law required the state to create a set of standards for Sex Buyer Education (SBE) programs. In 2022, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office created a guide for cities and counties to create Sex Buyer Education programs in accordance with statewide regulations. Two types of programs are outline in the report; single day programs and lengthier, therapy-based programs. Cities/counties interested in implementing a program, could apply for funding from the AGO, by filling out this application: John School Funding Application For further information, click here: John Schools: Guidelines for Sex Buyer Education Programs.

Employment Loss

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in 1974, a city councilman abruptly resigned when allegations of his buying sex became public. A political columnist reported on The Enquirer’s front page that a “Cincinnati politico” was involved in a two-state VICE probe. The City Council member went unnamed, but prostitution was mentioned. Later that day, the man resigned. Then, his involvement in purchasing sex became public when the man voluntarily testified in court in Kentucky. He said his conscience drove him to contact the FBI after he paid for prostituted women with personal checks in December 1973 and January 1974. The following year he won reelection to his Council seat, and directly addressed the issue of his buying sex in campaign ads.

In September 2016, the city of Sharonville asked its fire chief to step down in response to prostitution allegations. The city’s mayor held a news conference at city hall to discuss the fire chief’s involvement in a prostitution investigation by the Reading Police Department. Police said the fire chief admitted to paying a woman $60 for sex through an adult classified ad website in June 2016. A Reading police report said the man was observed leaving an apartment complex that was being monitored because of prostitution complaints. He was put on paid leave, and soon afterward agreed to resign. The sex buyer was not arrested or charged. After his resignation, the man was later re-hired by the city as a consultant to the fire department at minimum wage and without benefits.

A Cincinnati police officer resigned in 2020, after investigators said he engaged in commercial sex with prostituted women while working and used a law enforcement database to query women’s telephone numbers. The officer pleaded guilty to the unauthorized use of a computer, a felony, punishable by up to a year in prison, but as part of a plea agreement he was sentenced to one year of probation, according to court documents. The agreement also stated the offender would resign from the department and surrender his state peace officer certification. The charges and resignation only came to light in June, 2022 after a WCPO report stemming from broader public records requests. At the time of the man’s resignation, the Cincinnati Police Department did not issue any press releases regarding the accusations.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Cameras, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest:

John School, Public Education, Community Service:

Auto Seizure:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Ohio
Type County
Population 830639
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