Pawtucket, RI

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

Pawtucket is a Rhode Island city of about 75,000 residents.  Prostitution and sex trafficking have been documented problems in the community for decades.  For example, in 1994 a woman was arrested for selling her daughter for sex for $10 per night. Brothels throughout Rhode Island advertised sex online, primarily with prostituted or trafficked Asian women. In 2013, Pawtucket police investigated a “madam” leading a prostitution ring that advertised on The woman was arrested after a 14-year-old girl told detectives that the posted erotic photos were of her, and she had been sold for sex 40 to 50 times. Detectives said that a 17-year-old girl was also in those photos and postings for the escort service, according to an affidavit accompanying a search warrant in District Court. The trafficker knew the runaway girl was 14, “but claims she only knew her age for about two weeks,” the affidavit said. The woman was charged with sex trafficking of a minor and pandering for prostitution, both felonies, as well as a misdemeanor charge of contributing to delinquency of a minor. The 14-year-old girl had been reported missing on August 22 after she slipped out of a bedroom window at a group home in Pawtucket.

Residents and businesses often complain to police about a range of problems arising from prostitution, and these complaints play a role in police activity. From the 1980 to 2009, enforcement of prostitution laws in all Rhode Island communities was unusually complicated due to a loophole in the state law that was interpreted and operationalized by police and the courts as meaning the solicitation of sex was illegal, but the actual exchange of sex for money was not.  In practice, overt street-level prostitution was enforced through stings and reverse stings, but most indoor prostitution was not.  During this period, indoor prostitution was widespread and overt, and brothels thinly disguised as massage parlors – often featuring their Asian staff – advertised aggressively online and in print. The loophole was closed in 2009, and enforcement became more straightforward.

The city addresses demand through reverse stings and publicizing the identities of arrested sex buyers, beginning with a street-level operation in 1987; more recently, four men were arrested for soliciting an undercover female officer in an October 2014 reversal. In a press release following their arrest, a PPD representative noted:

“The message is clear: If men attempt to proposition women for sexual activity in the city of Pawtucket, they risk arrest and prosecution to the fullest extent allowed by law… The Pawtucket Police Department will not tolerate this type of illegal activity to take place. We are committed to eliminating this behavior which destroys the community and subjects neighborhood residents to harm.”

In November 2018, the Pawtucket and Central Falls police departments arrested sex sex buyers in a joint prostitution sting in the area of Broad Street, in response to numerous complaints from local business owners, residents, motorists and pedestrians. The identities of the arrested men were included in press releases.  An operation conducted across three massage parlors in Pawtucket in December, 2019, resulted in 19 total arrests, including two men charged for purchasing sex.

Additionally, arrested sex buyers may be required to perform community service.  Neighborhood groups attempting to curtail prostitution and sex trafficking have organized efforts, including public education, that include a focus on demand.


Key Partners

  • Pawtucket Police Department

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:


Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Rhode Island
Type City
Population 75387
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