Phoenix, AZ

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

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, 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

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.

Key Partners

  • 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
  • FBI
  • CEASE (Cities Empowered Against Sex Trafficking) Network


Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Interview and Site Visit

John School:

Reverse Stings (Mode Unclear):

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings with Shaming:

Auto Seizure:

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:

State Arizona
Type City
Population 1552259
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