Indianapolis is the 17th largest city in the United States, with approximately 875,000 citizens. Residents, businesses, police, and others have recognized the city’s substantial prostitution problem for decades, and links between commercial sex and other crimes, including sex trafficking of children and homicides committed by people specifically targeting prostituted women. Solutions to such problems require addressing the demand component of the commercial sex market. Sex trafficking of children is a well-known problem in the city.
The first known reverse sting operation in the city occurred in 1975, and police operations have been conducted periodically since then. An example is a set of reverse stings occurring in several places in the city in a four-day span in January 2014, that resulted in the arrest of 22 sex buyers.
In 1999, community and business leaders approached prosecutors and appealed for more effective responses to prostitution, complaining of the wide range of crimes and community disorders that are attracted to, and generated by, prostitution. The idea for a program for men who solicit prostituted persons came from a community resident. Although men had been arrested in the city for soliciting via reverse stings for over 20 years at that point, penalties were minimal. Community representatives and the Marion County Prosecutor collaborated to develop the Red Zone program, which operated from 1999 to 2015. The program provided a pretrial diversion option for certain offenders, which required them to take a three-hour “john school” type of class that included discussions with a community impact panel, and then to do five hours of community service in the neighborhood where they tried to purchase sex.
The Red Zone program
Men who were arrested for patronizing a woman engaged in prostitution in a specific geographic area, and who have no prior criminal history, were eligible for the diversion program. Among the unique features of the Red Zone program, when compared to other programs with a “john school” educational component, was its emphasis on the community. The one-day program was divided equally into a four-hour “john school” educational component, and a four-hour community service component. The main emphasis of the educational component was on the community: residents from the neighborhoods affected by street prostitution could engage in a moderated discussion with arrested sex buyers, in which they had a chance to convey to the men the negative impact of prostitution, how the buyers of sex drove all of those problems, and panelists could challenge the johns with questions about their behavior and their motivation. Among the crimes and problems discussed were assault, rape, drug abuse, health risks, syringes and used condoms in private yards and public ways, sex buyers mistaking residents for women engaged in prostitution, loud rights among pimps, survivors, and/or buyers, and others.
- Health Presentation and Screening: The john school component of Red Zone begins with a health department employee providing a presentation on health risks. Among the topics covered are discussion of local outbreaks and symptoms of chlamydia and syphilis, and gonorrhea. Brochures about sexually transmitted infections are provided in English and Spanish, and call-back cards are distributed. After the presentations, men individually have their blood drawn for a required syphilis test administered by the health department.
- Community Impact Panel: This component of the program involves more than having residents describe how prostitution negatively affects their community.
- Legal consequences: This discussion began with a brief (5 to 10 minute) presentation by a prosecutor about the legal consequences men faced if they continued to buy sex and were caught by police. Included in the discussion was an explanation about the issue of entrapment, and many men objected to their being arrested. The prosecutor discussed how the decoys mimic the behavior of actual prostitutes, and do not initiate the discussion of sex; they are merely present and available, and let men broach the subject of money in exchange for sex.
- Facilitated discussion: A facilitator began the discussion by introducing several individuals as residents or employees in areas affected by prostitution. The facilitator then provided ground rules for the upcoming discussion, such as being constructive, honest, and respectful. The arrestees were asked to say (a) who they are, (b) their occupation, (c) whether they have children, and (d) where they live. The community members then described their views of prostitution and how it negatively impacted them and others, e.g., the women are usually desperate addicts; men who buy sex drive finding a supply of people to provide prostitution; prostituted people provide revenue for drug dealers and traffickers; neighborhoods are harmed by vandalism, sex occurring in plain sight; dead women who had been prostituted have been thrown out of moving cars in neighborhoods; children have been propositioned by johns on their way to school. One of the key messages they conveyed was that the men who buy sex seldom buy in the neighborhood in which they live. The men were given the chance to respond to the comments. Many of them said they did not realize how it impacted others.
- Community Service: In the community service piece, the men formed a work crew that was sent to clean up trash off the streets and sidewalks in areas known for abundant street prostitution. Members of the community, usually ones who had participated in the community impact panel, supervised the work crew.
- Total Requirements for Completion: The men were required to pay a fee of $150 prior to attending Red Zone. Men who paid the fee, attended and participated in the educational session, participated in the work detail, submitted to the health screening, and adhered to the SOAP order were considered to successfully completed the program, and had their cases dismissed.
The key goals of the program were (a) educating offenders so that they are prevented or deterred from buying sex, and (2) providing a form of restitution to the community, through the service details. Through 2011, over 400 men had completed the Red Zone program; eight had been rearrested, for a two percent recidivism rate.
The john school that was most similar to Red Zone was in San Diego. The San Diego program has a similar classroom emphasis – most of the instruction is about neighborhood impact, in the form of a community impact panel. However, San Diego’s Prostitution Impact Panel (PIP) does not have a community service element.
In 2015 the Marion County Community Court closed its doors, and the Indianapolis Red Zone program was discontinued.
The first reverse sting occurred in Indianapolis in 1975. From 2008 through 2011, there was an average of about 5 reverse stings per year. Each operation lasts between four and eight hours, and results in roughly 10 arrests. For each woman police offer serving as a decoy, there is a support team of at least five undercover and uniformed officers.
Public Education / Awareness
The Indiana Attorney General’s office has assembled and produced materials intended to create awareness of the risks and harms of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, including messages highlighting how consumer demand drives the markets leading to sex trafficking of adults and children. Materials include a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Don’t Buy the Lie” and wallet sized cards meant to be carried by men that demonstrate a commitment to not participating in commercial sex.
The city has conducted web-based reverse stings, and auto seizures, but does not engage in “shaming” tactics such as publishing the identities of arrested sex buyers.
- National Assessment Survey, Interviews, and Site Visit
- John School (Red Zone Program):
- Red Zone Program Instructions
- Red Zone Prosecution Agreement
- Red Zone Coupon with Call-Back Number
- Red Zone Class Evaluation Survey
- “Prostitution in Indianapolis”, Overview, Center for Court Innovation.
- “Unwelcome Guests: A Community Prosecution Approach to Street Level Drug Dealing and Prostitution”, Report, American Prosecutors Research Institute, August 2004. [NOTE: Discussion of Red Zone Program begins on page 11]
- News Reports:
- “Moral Cleanup Plus a Little Street Cleanup”, Indianapolis Star, November 20 2000.
- “Neighborhood Residents to Meet ‘Johns'”, Indianapolis Star, May 20 2002.
- “Group Gets a Public Punishment”, Indianapolis Star, June 9 2002.
- “A Way to Weed Out Prostitution”, Indianapolis Star, June 18 2002.
- “Shaming Johns Favored as Tactic”, Asheville Citizen-Times, August 29 2008.
- Reverse Stings:
- “Female Officers on Front Lines in Prostitution War”, Indianapolis Star, October 12 1998.
- “Police Arrest 19 Men in Prostitution Sting”, Indianapolis Star, August 11 2000.
- “Police Nab 49 in Prostitution Sweep”, Indianapolis Star, May 26 2002.
- “Sting Targets ‘Johns”, ABC/WRTV 6, March 17 2003.
- “Prostitution Sting Leads to Drug Bust”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, July 12 2004.
- “Police Make Numerous Arrests in Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, June 29 2006.
- “Indy Prostitution Sting Targets Johns”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, September 1 2006.
- “Prostitution Stings Nets Nearly 100 Arrests”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, August 28 2007.
- “85-Year-Old’s Arrest Prompts Prostitution Crackdown”, ABC/WRTV 6, September 22 2009.
- “Councilman Arrested During Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, March 6 2012.
- “Ten Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, CBS/WISH-TV 8, August 24 2012.
- “13 People Arrested in Undercover Massage Parlor Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, September 19 2012.
- “Indianapolis Leads Nation in Prostitution Arrests During National Crack-Down Campaign”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, October 10 2012.
- “Marion County Public Defender Accused of Offering Legal Services for Sex”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, January 18 2013.
- “IMPD Prostitution Sting Cracks Down on Human Trafficking, STDs”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, June 13 2013.
- “Beech Grove City Councilman’s Prostitution Trial Moved to Jan. 6”, Indianapolis Star, October 23 2013.
- “Cold Weather Doesn’t Stop Prostitution”, FOX/WIBC-FM 93.1, January 27 2014.
- “IMPD Cracks Down on Prostitution with 30 Arrests”, Indianapolis Star, January 27 2014.
- Web Stings:
- Public Education and Awareness:
- Auto Seizure:
- “‘Johns’ to Lose Cars If Plan Passes”, Indianapolis Star, August 13 1993.
- “Patronizing a Local Prostitute Could Soon Cost a Man His Car”, Indianapolis Star, August 31 1993.
- “Panel Softens Proposal to Seize Cars of ‘Johns'”, Indianapolis Star, October 7 1993.
- “Residents Welcome New Law Aimed at Prostitution”, Indianapolis Star, October 12 1993.
- SOAP Orders:
- Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Hoosier Happenings”, Madison Courier, September 30 1983.
- “Girl Sold for Sex Points to 4 Men”, Indianapolis Star, May 22 1997.
- “Felony Charges Are Sought for Suspect in Child Pornography, Prostitution Ring”, Indianapolis Star, December 30 1997.
- “Complaint Leads to 5 Arrests on Prostitution-Related Charges”, Indianapolis Star, June 26 2001.
- “Women in Hooker Hell: Nyers Enslaved at Midwest Brothels”, New York Post, July 6 2001.
- “Police Target Human Trafficking”, Indianapolis Star, November 28 2005.
- “Man Guilty in Forced Prostitution Case”, CBS/WISH-TV 8, January 25 2011.
- “Police Raid Massage Parlors in Human Trafficking Probe”, ABC/WRTV-TV 6, October 3 2011.
- “Panel Backs New Sex Trafficking Laws”, CBS/WISH-TV 8, January 5 2012.
- “Indiana Passes Human Trafficking Law in Time for Super Bowl”, FOX News, February 2 2012.
- “Teen’s Mom Leads Prostitution Sting”, CBS/WISH-TV 8, March 15 2012.
- “Indy Group Accused of Sneaking Women into U.S.”, CBS/WISH-TV 8, May 9 2012.
- “City Examines Human Trafficking Cases”, CBS/WISH-TV 8, August 15 2012.
- “Teenage Prostitution a Problem at Indy Truck Stops”, Examiner, May 20 2013.
- “Federal Prostitution Charges Filed Against Man Already Accused of Killing Woman”, Gary Post-Tribune, June 27 2013.
- “Indiana Law Enforcement Human Trafficking Task Force Announces First Changes”, U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs, February 4 2014.
- “Indy Man Faces Federal Sex-Trafficking Charges”, Indianapolis Star, February 5 2014.
- “Roving Prostitution Ring Busted in Hotel Sting”, Indianapolis Star, May 14 2014.
- “Massage Parlor Raids Lead to Prostitution Arrests”, Indianapolis Star, May 16 2014.
- “Indianapolis Man Admits Forcing 15-Year-Old Girl into Prostitution”, Indianapolis Star, August 4 2014.
- “Man Who Forced Underage Girlfriend into Prostitution Sentenced to 14 Years”, Indianapolis Star, October 2 2014.
- “Two Men Arrested for Trying to Force Teen into Prostitution,” CBS/WISH-TV 8, August 20 2015.
- https://www.wbaa.org/post/human-trafficking-indiana#stream/0 (2021)
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Health Department to Drive Out Prostitutes”, Warsaw Daily Union, June 26 1942.
- “The Press: Indianapolis Cleanup”, Time, April 1 1974.
- “Vice Cop Keeps Pressure on Prostitutes”, Indianapolis Star, May 1 1995.
- “Try to Tell Neighbors It’s a Victimless Crime”, Indianapolis Star, April 26 2002.
- “Landlord Citations Aimed at Curbing Prostitution”, Indianapolis Star, January 24 2007.
- “Walking a Fine Line”, Indianapolis Star, August 2 2007.
- “Marion County Public Defender Fired after Accused of Trading Legal Services for Sex with Prostitute”, Indianapolis Star, January 31 2013.
- “Prostitution Crackdown Aimed at Improving Indianapolis Neighborhood”, Indianapolis Star, June 7 2013.
- “Prostitution Court Gets Approval in Indianapolis,” Indianapolis Star, September 22 2015.
- https://www.theindychannel.com/prostitution-on-indy-east-side-is-getting-worse-neighbors-want-police-to-step-up-patrols (2018)
- Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Girl’s Murderer Changes Story”, Miami News, July 24 1954.
- “Prostitution Ring Link with Slaying Is Sought”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 28 1954.
- “Police Study Possible Links in Area Death”, Milwaukee Sentinel, October 25 1983.
- “Serial Killings Cases Under Study”, Gainesville Sun, January 20 1991.
- “Prostitution Charges Filed Against Man Accused of Killing Woman”, CBS/WBBM-TV 2, June 27 2013.
- “IMPD: Stiffed Prostitute Invokes Pimp’s Assault,” Indianapolis Star, January 4 2016.