New Hanover County, NC

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

New Hanover County, North Carolina has a population of approximately 232,000, and the city of Wilmington serves as the county seat and is its main population center.  Prostitution and sex trafficking of children are known to occur in the county, and to generate a wide range of additional crimes that occur within the context of sex trade transactions.  Prostituted women have been murdered in the county, some of which are linked to a known serial killer who targeted prostituted women in several states. Some sex trafficking cases have involved child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often called “child pornography” in state criminal codes).  For example, in December, 2020, a man who was arrested in New Hanover County during a prostitution sting in 2018 was convicted in federal court on three counts of sex trafficking of a minor, production of “child pornography,” and one count of using facilities in interstate commerce to operate a prostitution enterprise. In December 2017 and January 2018, the man had prostituted one adult woman and trafficked one minor in various places through eastern North Carolina. he was was arrested in a sting in Wilmington in January 2018. He had targeted extremely vulnerable victims and “enticed them with promises of money and romance,” the Department of Justice wrote in a release. After they joined him, he manipulated them and took their money for himself, and engaged in sexual abuse of both women and used the minor to create images and a video of “child pornography.”

In April, 2023, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office announced that six people had been charged in a human trafficking investigation involving over 150 victims. The Coastal Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force made five arrests in relation to the investigation that spanned over the prior six months. Suspects had been given over 300 felony charges in connection to the investigation. The charges were related to the criminal activity of an “escorts” and “entertainment business that would recruit victims by promising them thousands of dollars for dancing, but would have the victims engage in commercial sex and take the proceeds. All these incidents took place in the New Hanover County Area.

Police have responded to such problems in part by conducting reverse stings and releasing to news outlets the identities of the men arrested.  In 2004, the county launched a “john school” program held in the city of Wilmington.  The New Hanover County Drug Treatment Court (Judicial District 5) planned the program throughout 2003 and launched in 2004.  The john school was launched as a special project using a grant from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.   We believe the program lasted for about two years under the grant.  In 2011 the county was in the process of creating a new john school, which would be offered to men arrested for the first time for attempting to buy sex.  We do not know if the newer john school program was ever implemented.

Some arrests of sex buyers are the result of investigating offenses against real victims, rather than the product of stings using undercover police as decoys. Sex buyers have also lost employment for that crime. For example, in August, 2022, a New Hanover County Criminal Superior Court judge sentenced a 50-year-old man to six months in jail after the offender pleaded guilty for soliciting prostitution of a 17-year-old female. According to a release from the district attorney’s office, the man made “lude comments to and aggressively hugged” his young female co-worker at a local restaurant. He also solicited her to perform sexual acts for money in September, 2021. The victim’s father contacted restaurant management and the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office about the behavior, the release detailed. The man admitted his behavior to the managers of the restaurant, who immediately terminated and banned him from the property. The offender will have 48 months of supervised probation after his release from jail and if he violates the conditions of the sex offender control program, he will serve an additional 17 to 24 months in prison.

Key Partners

  • New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office
  • New Hanover County Drug Treatment Court (Judicial District 5)

Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure, Employment Loss:

John School:

Background on Local Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Related Violence, CSAM:

State North Carolina
Type County
Population 231448
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