Indianapolis, IN

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

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.  One of the approaches taken to address such problems have been the tactics focused on deterring sex buyers and holding them accountable.  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.

Reverse Stings

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.

Other Tactics

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.

Key Sources

State Indiana
Type City
Population 876384
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