Madison, WI

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

Madison is a city of approximately 270,000 residents in southern Wisconsin.Prostitution activity has been well-documented in the city, surrounding communities, and other areas of the county for over a century. This activity, and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. For example, in the early 1970s, massage parlor businesses began to establish themselves in the Madison area. By 1976, Madison had 42 massage parlors, that were suspected fronts for prostitution, and community groups began pressuring the city government to take action. The resulting increase in police presence forced prostitution to outlying hotels and truck stops. County enforcement in those areas pushed the market back downtown. “It was like the Whack-a-Mole game,” said MaryAnne Thurber, a retired Madison police officer who worked sting operations as part of the city’s war on prostitution in the late 1970s and early ’80s. “There was no eradication. It was just redistribution” (Rath, 2013).

Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking.For example, the director of “Madison’s Project Respect” reported in March 2014, that she encountered between 50 and 75 cases a year involving force, fraud, or coercion when it came to the commercial sex market. In July 2019, a Madison man was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for sex trafficking in Madison. Evidence presented at the trial established that between 2015 and 2017, the man had engaged in sex trafficking and transported individuals across state lines to engage in prostitution. The trafficking was uncovered in 2017, when a victim at a Madison hotel ran from her room bleeding and hid behind the front desk, after which the concierge called the police. The victim told a nurse at a Madison hospital that the trafficker strangled her to the point of unconsciousness when she told him she wanted to leave.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. By 1993, police realized they were seeing no lasting benefits from attacking the “supply” side of prostitution and sex trafficking (i.e., arrested prostituted or trafficked persons). They began combating consumer-level demand by conducting reverse stings, and new city ordinances have been adopted that facilitated more effective prosecution as civil offenses, such as:

25.09 – CHRONIC NUISANCE PREMISES. (Am. by ORD-08-00109, 10-7-08)  “Nuisance Activities” means any of the following activities, behaviors or conduct:

  1. Keeping a place of prostitution as defined in or s. 944.34, Wis. Stats.
  2. Loitering for the purposes of prostitution as prohibited bySec. 26.08, MGO.
  3. Loitering for purposes of soliciting prostitutes, as prohibited bySec. 26.085, MGO.
  4. Prostitution as prohibited by s. 944.30, Wis. Stats.
  5. Soliciting prostitutes as prohibited by s. 944.32, Wis. Stats.
  6. Pandering as prohibited by s. 944.33, Wis. Stats.
  7. Loitering for purposes of soliciting prostitutes, as prohibited bySec. 26.085, MGO.

Various agencies and organizations in Madison have targeted the demand for commercial sex in their efforts to reduce the prevalence and impact of prostitution and sex trafficking in the city.  A number of tactics have been used, including public education/awareness efforts, reverse stings, identity disclosure, sending “dear john” letters to the homes of alleged sex buyers, and a “john school” program for men arrested for buying sex. Much of the police attention to prostitution is driven by community member complaints.

John Schools

Madison conducted a one-day john school program. Media reports make reference to a John School session held in Madison in 2005, attended by eight men. Most other sources point to 2008 as the year that the program was implemented. It is possible that in 2005 a pilot program was implemented, or a John School was started but was not sustained. In any event, most reports suggest that a John School was being considered by police and other stakeholders in 2007, and sessions of the still ongoing program were held in 2008 – if not before.  A 2008 “Weed & Seed” program report included the following description of the john school:

“The Community Coordinated Response to Prostitution (the prostitution workgroup) continues to meet and evaluate the success of their initiatives: the Badger Wellness Workshop and The JOHN (Joining and Organizing Healthy Neighborhoods) School. Badger Wellness Workshop subcommittee has planned an expansion of services with support from the Emerging Neighborhood funds, and they are working with neighborhood residents to identify “high traffic” areas so that they can more effectively target their outreach for the Saturday evening activities. The JOHN school was held on May 21st with 9 participants. The class included information about the health risks involved with soliciting prostitutes, personal statements of former prostitutes, and a session about male culture and the relationship between male identity and prostitution. Initial feedback from the participants looks promising.”

In the Madison John School program, men arrested in reverse stings are provided the option of attending the 3-hour class. The program stresses one major point: prostitution and pandering are not victimless crimes. The men are provided presentations on the legal and health risks of prostitution, and hear formerly exploited women speak about the negative impacts of commercial sex for “providers.”

Madison’s second john school began operating in 2010. The “RESPECT Project on Prostitution,” a nonprofit organization providing services for sexually exploited people, is the leader of the program. The Madison Police Department participates as part of its Community Coordinated Response to Prostitution (CCR-P) program. The City Attorney’s Office is the other primary partner: the john school is structured as a diversion program; If one does attend the program, they can have charges kept off their records. The John School is just one part of a response to a local surge in prostitution, intended to prevent sexual exploitation and prostitution by addressing both the demand side of the issue as well as the supply side.

Identity Disclosure

While identities of arrested sex buyers have been released to the media, Police have discussed a more proactive effort including posting offenders’ photographs in a “John Hall of Shame” on the police department’s website.

Community Service

Madison police conducted a reverse sting on the 1100 hundred block of Badger Road at Catalpa Road, using undercover police officers posing as prostituted women, and cited thirteen male sex buyers. The citations carried a fine of nearly $700. The people who were cited in the sting were given an opportunity to avoid paying fines by staying crime-free for at least six months, doing community service, and attending the john school.

Key Partners

  • Madison Police Department
  • Respect Project on Prostitution
  • Madison City Attorney’s Office
  • Truckers Against Trafficking

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings (with Identity Disclosure since at least 1991):

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

John School, Community service:

Local Prostitution Ordinances:

Neighborhood Action:

  • “Neighbors Fight Back against City Prostitution,” Madison Capital Times, August 20 1994.
  • “Neighbors Weed out Prostitutes; East Siders Meet to Devise Plans,” Wisconsin State Journal, August 23 1994.
  • “Area Pushes Curb to Prostitution; Area Presses Prostitution Fight,” Madison Capital Times, November 11 1994.
  • “Anti-Prostitution Alert; Madison Neighborhood Sends Letters to ‘Johns,'” Madison Capital Times, April 17 1995.

Public Education:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

  • “Man Pleads No Contest to Rape, Beating Charges,” Madison Capital Times, August 21 1989.
  • “Prostitution Suspect Rams Officer with Car,” Madison Capital Times, June 26 1992.
  • “Officers Hurt in Prostitution Arrests,” Wisconsin State Journal, June 27 1992.
  • “Man Who Fled Police Gets New Trial,” Madison Capital Times, January 13 1995.
  • “Trial in Rape Case Begins, Man Also Accused of Beating Woman,” Madison Capital Times, October 31 2001.
  • “Rape/Beating Trial Produces Starkly Differing Accounts,” Madison Capital Times, November 1 2001.
  • “Close Encounter Ends in Road Rage, Alleged Hooker Fled with Cash,” Madison Capital Times, August 2 2007.
  • “Man Accused of Badger Rd. Rape, Could Get Life Sentence,” Madison Capital Times, August 21 2007.
  • “Prostitutes and Johns Are on Cops’ Radar, Explosion of Illegal Activity along One Section of Badger Road Prompts a Sting Operation,” Wisconsin State Journal, December 2 2007.
State Wisconsin
Type City
Population 269840
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