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Lakewood is a city of approximately 155,000 residents in the U.S. state of Colorado, located just southeast of Denver in Jefferson County, CO. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in the city, and produce numerous additional problems. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in May 2012, a large-scale prostitution sweep in the Denver metro area confirmed the presence of child sex trafficking and exploitation networks in Lakewood. In September 2015, one of the ring’s sex traffickers was convicted of “eight felony counts including pandering of a child, pimping of a child, keeping a place of child prostitution and soliciting for child prostitution,” and sentenced to up to 120 years in prison. In a separate incident, a traffic stop in February 2014, uncovered a case involving three adults who sex trafficked a 15-year-old girl in Lakewood.
In addition, reports of targeted violence and homicide against prostituted persons has been documented. For example, in the 1980s, prostituted women were found murdered in the city, several of which are believed to be the victims of a prolific serial killer who specifically targeted prostituted persons in the greater Denver area. In May 2022, a man was sentenced to at least 162 years in prison for kidnapping and brutally sexually assaulting multiple homeless women along Colfax Avenue, just west of Denver – including Lakeland. A jury in Jefferson County found the man guilty on 12 criminal charges, including three counts of sexual assault, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, four counts of soliciting for prostitution, one count of attempted sex assault, one count of unlawful sexual contact, and one count of theft.
To combat consumer-level demand for commercial sex, the Lakewood Police Department has been conducting street-level reverse stings since at least 1990, if not earlier. At times, these street-level reversals have resulted in the culmination in the arrests of over 30 male sex buyers in a single operation. Officers have also been known to use audio and video surveillance to record interactions between sex buyers and undercover officials as a form of evidence for court. For example, in 1993, the Lakewood Police Department conducted a street-level reverse sting operation in coordination with the Wheat Ridge Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, that resulted in the arrest of 38 male sex buyers on charges of soliciting prostitution. Interactions between undercover policewomen and suspected sex buyers were recorded and videotaped. In addition to street-level reverse stings, the department has recently began conducting web-based reverse stings in effort to combat the growing commercial sex market online. Once apprehended, sex buyers may have their names and other identifying information released to the media. For example, in 2009, the LPD conducted an web-based reverse sting operation that resulted in the arrest of 26 sex buyers and prostituted persons. According to reports, police posted decoy ads on Criagslist.com and arrested individuals who had responded to the ad and met undercover officers at a predetermined location.
Sex buyers and sex traffickers have also been arrested as a result of alternative investigations and/or through residential complaints to local law enforcement. For example, as a result of a joint operation of the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force, Lakewood Police Department, and the District Attorney’s Office in February of 2014, five men and one woman had been arrested as part of a child sex trafficking operation in Jefferson County. Offenders were arrested on the charge of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The investigation began in November 2012, when one of the victims reported to a counselor that she had been sexually assaulted by the alleged sex trafficking ringleader. A total of three female victims were identified in this operation, with victim ages ranging from 13 to 16 years old. All three victims had run away from home, truant from school, and lured into the sex trafficking net through drugs. Throughout the course of the investigation, a complex, multi-layer operation was uncovered in which methamphetamine was being administered to young girls being sex trafficked. Members of the ring, their associates, or strangers who allegedly, exchanged money and/or drugs with the ringleader or other members of the sex trafficking ring as a method of payment to sexually exploit young girls. The identities of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.
In 2014, a john school program was launched in Lakewood by Better Communities Colorado LLC. The Colorado John School Program’s mission is to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the Denver Metropolitan area by educating offenders about the negative consequences of prostitution and increasing their awareness of health risks, prostitution laws and healthy relationships. It consists of an intake session and a one-day class, and classes are scheduled four times per year. The fee is $400.00 and it must be paid in full at the intake session. The intake session consists of an intake questionnaire and meeting with a counselor. The purpose of this is to identify risk factors that may contribute to the participant’s risky sexual behaviors and to provided needed community resources. The intake session must be completed before attending the class. The class ran virtually in both English and Spanish during 2020 and 2021. In 2022, the program is still bale to be conducted however, it is not operated on a regular basis due to the lack of participants and court referrals.
The class is held on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. four times per year and is structured to educate participants on a variety of topics related to prostitution. Participants receive information on the many aspects of the system of prostitution and its negative consequences. Additionally, participants are educated about making positive changes in their intimate relationships and sexual practices. The intended result is an increased awareness and sensitivity to the overall impact that prostitution has on individuals, families, and the community at large. Classes are conducted in English and Spanish. Speakers of other languages must bring a translator to both the intake session and the class. The John School curriculum currently features six primary content areas:
- Community impact
- Reasons men buy sex and risks they face
- Effects of prostitution on prostituted women
- STD’s and safer sex
- Legal consequences and dynamics of pimping and recruiting
- Healthy relationships
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Cameras:
- “Lakewood Prostitution Sting Nets Dozen Men”, Denver Post, July 21 1990.
- 38 arrested in prostitution sting (1993)
- “Three-City Prostitution Sting Nets 63 Suspects”, Denver Post, May 18 1995.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 20 Arrests; Female Officers Dress as Prostitutes”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, December 11 2001.
- “Lakewood Crime Blotter: Cabbie Caught in Prostitution Sting”, Denver Post, October 23 2013.
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- Lakewood to license escorts to curb prostitution (2009)
- https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/denver/press-releases/2014/six-arrested-in-child-prostitution-ring-in-jefferson-county (2014)
Background on Local Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, and Child Sexual Exploitation:
- “Licensing May Help Lakewood Escort Hookers to Jail”, Denver Post, February 8 2009.
- “Police Going After Pimps of Child Prostitutes”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, August 18 2010.
- “Prostitution Bust Nets 10 in Hunt for Bosses”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, October 6 2010.
- “Man Gets 8 Years Prison for Child Trafficking”, NBC/KUSA-TV 9, August 16 2011.
- “Kids Living as Prostitutes in Denver: ‘This Is Everywhere'”, NBC/KUSA-TV 9, December 22 2011.
- “4 Charged in Alleged Child-Prostitute Ring in Colorado”, CBS/KCNC-TV 4, January 30 2012.
- “14 Accused of Trafficking Children for Sex Across Colorado”, NBC/KUSA-TV 9, January 30 2012.
- “Authorities Bust Human Trafficking Ring in Colorado”, CBS/KCNC-TV 4, December 10 2012.
- “6 Arrested in Child Prostitution Ring”, NBC/KUSA-TV 9, February 13 2014.
- “Six Alleged Members of Jefferson County Child Prostitution Ring Arrested; One Still at Large”, ABC/KMGH-TV 7, February 13 2014.
- “Traffic Stop Leads to Child Prostitution Case Out of Lockwood”, CBS/KCNC-TV 4, February 27 2014.
- “Court Documents Outline Jeffco Crime Spree, Sex Trafficking Case”, Denver Post, August 24 2014.
- “JeffCo Accuses Two of Forcing 17-Year-Old Girl into Prostitution,” Denver Post, April 7 2015.
- “Child Pimping Ringleader Sentenced to 120 Years to Life in Prison,” CBS/KCNC-TC 4, September 16 2015.
- “Lakewood Mom Accused of Sex Trafficking Her 12-Year-Old Daughter,” Denver Post, October 14 2015.
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Denver Murder Suspect Wants State to Provide Public Defender”, Colorado Springs Gazette, September 4 1988.
- “Prosecutors Put Hopes On Line in Slaying Cases Solution to Puzzle Proving Elusive”, Rocky Mountain News, April 15 1990.
- “Could Serial Killer Be Responsible for 26 Unsolved Murders?”, Daily Mail (U.K.), March 8 2012.
- “Vincent Groves, Deceased Denver Serial Killer, May Have Killed Up to 20 People”, Huffington Post, March 8 2012.
- “Serial Killer Worked Denver Streets from ’75 to ’95, Police Say”, Denver Post, September 2 2012.
- https://lawandcrime.com/crime/he-hunted-them-colorado-man-gets-minimum-162-years-prison-brutally-raping-four-women/ (2022)
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