Phoenix is the largest commercial hub of and most populous city in Arizona, with approximately 1.5 million residents. It is the sixth largest city in the country, and the county seat of Maricopa County. Situated within a day’s drive from the Mexican border and at the crossroads of several interstates, it has also been identified as one of the largest hubs for human trafficking networks in the U.S by state and federal law enforcement and victims’ advocacy groups.
The Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County partners recognize the serious consequences of prostitution for the community as well as the presence of sex trafficking locally. More than one serial killer of sex sellers have also been active in the city. While some local residents continue to view prostitution as a quality of life issue, many in the community were compelled to demand reform following the 2005 discovery of a 15-year-old girl who had been kept locked inside a dog crate by her pimp. As another example, in June 2013, a 15-year-old girl was recruited and sex trafficked by a pimp using online ads for prostitution.
Phoenix police have engaged in an aggressive and multi-pronged approach to curtail commercial sex in the city. Officers have conducted frequent and large-scale street-level reverse stings since the mid-1980s; operations typically employ one or more undercover female officers, who pose as decoys along one of the city’s major thoroughfares. As men attempt to purchase sex from the women, they are intercepted by police. If a sex buyer solicited the officer from a vehicle, he may have his car seized and impounded for 30 days. He may also be issued SOAP (or “Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution”) orders, barring him from reentering areas of the city known for commercial sex sales. Recent examples of large scale, web-based reverse stings include one in February, 2021 that resulted in the arrest of 34 individuals, whose identities were publicized, for buying sex with minors.
Phoenix law enforcement also offers alternatives for first time offenders. As of 2005, those without a prior record may enroll in a “john school” program. The eight hour course, which costs $827 and is led by Catholic Charities, includes presentations from vice investigators, health care workers, community representatives, psychologists, and former prostituted women. In exchange for attending, the men may have their cases dismissed and avoid jail time. Since its inception, roughly 1,000 johns have enrolled in and completed the course.
The PPD had reported an increase in listings for sexual services on websites like Craigslist through about 2010, and more recently, Backpage.com and other sites dedicated to sexual commerce (e.g., worldsexguide, erotic review, skipthegames). To address the issue, officers and detectives have implemented surveillance checks of sites suspected of illegal activity, and have conducted several long-term web stings. One such investigation, undertaken in early 2011, targeted johns looking to purchase sex from a minor online. Officers posed an underage prostituted girl; as they received replies, they arranged to meet the men at a local hotel. Eight johns were arrested as a result. As a warning to other would-be johns attempting to prey on underage girls, police released the men’s names and other identifying information to the media. As per department policy, the list of arrestees was also posted to the PPD’s official website.
In mid-2015, Phoenix city officials, in partnership with the CEASE (Cities Empowered Against Sex Trafficking) Network, launched a public awareness campaign targeting sex buyers, particularly those who would solicit minors for acts of prostitution. According to media outlets, the initiative “includes a website in English and Spanish, brochures and posters that will be displayed in local businesses in areas with a high incidence of prostitution arrests, according to a statement from the city of Phoenix. The campaign will also include radio public service announcements and billboard messaging along major transportation routes.” An accompanying website has also been launched at NotWorthIt.org.
In June 2018, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that imposes new fees for soliciting prostitution on offenders who have been convicted more than once. Resources collected from the fines will be used to benefit victims. Under the amended city code, a $2,000 fee will be imposed for a second conviction, $2,250 for a third conviction, and $2,500 for each subsequent conviction. The fees imposed on convicted offenders will be directed toward the newly established City of Phoenix Anti-Human Trafficking Fund that will benefit Starfish Place, a long-term housing project for victims of human trafficking that opened in 2017.
- Phoenix Police Department
- City of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office
- Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
- Catholic Charities of Arizona
- John School Program
- Developing Individual Growth and New Independence Through Yourself (DIGNITY) Program
- CEASE (Cities Empowered Against Sex Trafficking) Network
National Assessment Survey, Interview and Site Visit
- “‘Johns School’ an Option for Men Arrested for Soliciting Prostitutes”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, November 5 2011.
Reverse Stings (Mode Unclear):
- “Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Sting Nets over 500 Sex Buyers, 30 Pimps,” Press Release, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, February 9 2016.
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Zisk Arrested on Charge of Soliciting Prostitution”, Lawrence Journal World, March 24 1981.
- “Anti-Prostitution Law Upheld”, Prescott Courier, January 11 1985.
- “Cardinals Assistant Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Tuscaloosa News, March 10 2007.
- “Tucson Border Patrol Agent Nabbed in Prostitution Sting”, KOLD/KMSB-TV, November 11 2009.
- “Local Police Arrest 150 in Nationwide Sex Trafficking Sting”, FOX/KSAZ-TV 10, August 6 2014.
- “Arizona Had Most John Arrests in Prostitution Crackdown”, Arizona Republic, August 8 2014.
Web-Based Reverse Stings with Shaming:
- “Wild Oats Founder Nabbed in Phoenix Child Prostitution Sting”, CBS News, February 14 2011.
- “Ex-Sunflower Farmers Market CEO Sentenced to Four Weeks in Jail for Attempted Pandering”, FOX News, January 8 2013.
- “6 Men Arrested in Child Prostitution Sting in Phoenix”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, October 16 2014.
- https://kyma.com/news/2021/02/19/police-34-arrested-in-child-sex-crime-operation/ (2021)
- https://ktar.com/story/4058932/34-valley-child-sex-crime-suspects-arrested-in-operation-broken-hearts/ (2021)
- Phoenix City Code Chapter 36-7
- “Phoenix Official Wants Cars of `Johns’ Seized”, Arizona Daily Star, August 29 1992.
- “Phoenix Launches New Anti-Sex Trafficking Campaign,” Ahwatukee Foothills News, July 12 2015.
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Prostitution Ring Stopped in Phoenix”, Prescott Evening Courier, July 6 1949.
- “Girl, 11, Sold into Prostitution, Police Say”, Arizona Daily Star, July 1 1991.
- “Missing Area Girl Detained in Phoenix; Authorities See ‘Scantily-Dressed’ 16-Year-Old at a Convenience Store”, Toledo Blade, February 28 1997.
- “Another Arrested in Teen-Captive Case”, Casa Grande Dispatch, December 28 2005.
- “2 Sentenced in Rape, Prostitution of Girl”, Arizona Republic, June 23 2008.
- “Two 16-Year-Olds Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Arizona Republic, February 23 2009.
- “2 Accused of Forcing Girls, Women into Prostitution in Phoenix”, Arizona Republic, November 24 2009.
- “Human Trafficking Is Targeted in Arizona; Problem Is Growing”, Arizona Republic, February 20 2011.
- “Police Arrest Man Suspected of Child Prostitution”, East Valley Tribune, October 7 2011.
- “Phoenix Police: Man Forced Runaway Teen Into Prostitution”, Arizona Republic, May 18 2012.
- “Adult Services Ads Are Targeted”, Arizona Republic, May 19 2012.
- “2 Arrested, Suspected of Child Prostitution”, Arizona Republic, July 30 2012.
- “PD: AZ Girl, 15, Forced into Prostitution by Online Friend”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, June 21 2013.
- “Man Sentenced to 40 Years for Sex Trafficking,” Detroit Free Press, May 22 2015.
- “Arrests Made in Phoenix Human Trafficking Case with Scottsdale Teen Reported Missing,” ABC/KNXV-TV 15, October 23 2015.
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Policeman on Prostitution”, Virgin Islands Daily News, May 16 1936.
- “Aroused Phoenix Oust Officials in Vice Clean-Up; City Manager and Chief of Police Are Forced Out”, St. Petersburg Evening Independent, December 22 1942.
- “Phoenix a Mecca on `Prostitution Circuit,’ Cops Say”, Arizona Daily Star, May 27 1993.
- “Phoenix Sheriff Hails Victory against Hookers”, Arizona Daily Star, June 8 1994.
- “Prostitution Posse Set to Resume Patrol”, Prescott Sunday Courier, October 2 1994.
- “Police Try to Eliminate Prostitution on the Streets”, Prescott Sunday Courier, January 3 1995.
- “Phoenix Gets Tough on City Hookers, Lengthens Jail Time”, Kingman Daily Miner, July 5 1996.
- “Phoenix Police Fight Prostitution with a Human Approach”, Arizona Republic, April 24 2012.
- “West Valley Safe House Remains Empty, Unfunded”, Arizona Republic, July 27 2012.
- “Phoenix Program Helps Women Out of Prostitution”, KTAR-FM 92.3, November 26 2012.
- “PD: Couple, 2 Workers Arrested in Phoenix Prostitution Business”, ABC/KNXV-TV 15, January 29 2013.
- “Phoenix Club Was ‘House of Prostitution’, Cops Say”, AZ Family, January 29 2013.
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Phoenix Cop Fired over Alleged Sex-for-Freedom Bribe on Job”, Arizona Daily Star, April 10 1994.
- “Police Believe Deaths of 6 Women May Be Related”, Casa Grande Dispatch, April 3 2003.
- “Phoenix Police Search for Connections after Six Women Found Dead, Dumped in Neighborhood”, Gadsden Times, April 6 2003.
- “Phoenix Man Is Held in Killings of 6 Prostitutes”, Los Angeles Times, April 14 2003.
- “Phoenix Man Charged in 3 Women’s Murders”, Casa Grande Dispatch, April 16 2003.
- “Mark Goudeau, Phoenix ‘Baseline Killer,’ Sentenced to Death”, Daily Beast, November 30 2011.