Huntington, WV

Tactics Used

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

Huntington is a city located along the Ohio River in West Virginia. It is the second largest city in the state, with approximately 49,000 citizens. Prostitution has been reported in the community for several years, and has generated complaints to law enforcement and city officials. Recently, the growing opiod crisis has been cited as a reason for the growth in commercial sex locally.

To combat a growing drug and commercial sex trade, the Huntington Police Department has conducted a series of mass roundups targeting the city’s sex sellers and drug distributors.  While the majority of its operations have focused on commercial sex providers, the HPD has successfully led at least four street-level reverse sting operations resulting in a total of 38 arrests.

In their work, police have been aided by “numerous” civilian complaints and have instituted a shaming policy to deter arrestees from reoffending. The department has also partnered with local community groups to establish The Neighborhood Institute,  an organization that holds monthly public forums to discuss current issues.

In 2015 a web-based reverse sting was conducted by the Charleston Police Department’s Special Enforcement Unit. Within minutes of posting an ad, men started answering them, and in less than three days more than 50 people contacted the number listed in the ad. Several of the men arranged to meet the woman they believed was a prostitute at a nearby hotel, and offered money in exchange for sexual acts. Once the deal was made, police move in.  A total of six men were arrested and charged with engaging in prostitution, including a minister, a steel worker and a West Virginia county superintendent.

In late 2015, city officials announced they would begin using an electronic billboard along a major thoroughfare to “warn prospective customers of prostitutes that their picture will be displayed on the billboard if they are arrested.”  Police officials in 2018 said that the department has taken out billboards to put up the photos of men caught soliciting prostitutes.

In May 2018 it was reported that the “Johns of Huntington” Facebook group had been formed to shame those providing the revenue stream for prostitution and sex trafficking. Residents of West Huntington had been upset by prostitution activity in their neighborhoods, arguing that it helps support local drug dealers, spreads diseases, makes it unsafe for children outside, and attracts sexual predators into the area. Neighbors have formed Facebook groups such as Johns of Huntington and posted pictures of men picking up women.

Key Partners

  • Huntington Police Department
  • Informal neighborhood coalitions

Key Sources

State West Virginia
Type City
Population 48982
Location
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