Pittsburgh, PA

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

Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in Pennsylvania, with approximately 300,000 residents. It serves as the government seat of Allegheny County. For decades, the city has experienced a wide array of problems associated with commercial sex, including sex trafficking and violence against prostituted and trafficked persons. For example, in May, 2022, a man faced facing multiple charges after police found that he had raped a woman and forced her into prostitution in Pittsburgh. SWAT agents arrested the man after executing a search warrant at an apartment building in 30th Street on Polish Hill. Court documents say that authorities took the man’s phone during the search, and found six photos and a video of the man performing sexual acts on an unconscious woman. Police spoke with the woman who was seen on the images, and she never gave the man permission to have sex with her while she was unconscious. The woman also alleged that the man forced her to “work as a prostitute,” taking photos of the woman, created ads, and set up meetings with sex buyers. The man was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, and dissemination of intimate images.  The city has also had numerous cases of the murder of sexually exploited persons (including 12 who may have been the victims of serial killers in the 1980s) and child sex trafficking.  Among the other problems associated with the local sex trade are child endangerment, drug, and weapons offenses.  For example, during a reverse sting operation in July, 2013, one suspect was accused of trying to pay to sexually abuse the man’s 7-month-old son in the car, inches from a loaded firearm and illicit drugs. The man was charged with drug possession, “patronizing a prostitute,” and child endangerment. These and other problems has caused businesses and residents of the city to complain to police, asking them to prevent and respond to sex trade activity in their areas.

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. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has conducted periodic street-level reverse stings since 1981. Operations typically utilize several undercover female officers, who pose as prostituting women along thoroughfares identified by residents as “hotbeds” of prostitution activity. As sex buyers attempt to solicit the women, they are apprehended by a backup team. If a person attempts to solicit sex from a vehicle, it may be seized and impounded by police. Pittsburgh police release arrestees’ names and other identifying information to local media outlets. In August 2015, for example, as part of the National Day of John Arrests, Pittsburgh police intercepted 61 sex buyers during a two-week anti-prostitution detail. At least one of the men solicited the police decoy with a child present in his car.

Employment loss is another consequence of sex buying that has occurred in the city.  For example, in September, 2011, an officer with the Pittsburgh Police Department resigned after 17 years on the force.  The man had been arrested by Allegheny County Police the previous month, charged with promoting prostitution, insurance fraud, filing false reports, drug possession and conspiracy. After his arrest, he was placed on paid administrative leave, and later resigned.

John School:

Following a discussion with residents of the city’s Bluff neighborhood, wherein community members complained that sex buyer’s punishments paled in comparison to those given to individuals selling sex, Pittsburgh police created a john school in 1999. The six-hour course has offered first-time offenders the program to arrested sex buyers, and at least 650 sex buyers have successfully completed the course.  The program has changed configuration and requirements several times in its 20 year history, and was redesigned in 2013.  Updated details about the program will be provided when they are made available to us.  To our knowledge, the following is still true of the program.  The PRIDE Court John School in Allegheny County was started to provide additional sources of funds for the PRIDE program and to re-educate individuals who buy sex.  The same agency that provides services for individuals in the PRIDE program also offers the John School. The fees paid for the John School are redirected to pay for survivor services. Arrested individuals are offered the chance to complete the program.  The case is postponed (charged, but not tried) until the person completes the John School class and returns to court with a certificate of completion. The charges are dropped at that point.

  • Class Details:
    • 6-hour class, 3rd Saturday of the month
    • 5-25 individuals per class, mostly arrested through reverse stings.
    • Rates of arrests are reportedly weather-driven (less stings or arrests in winter)
    • John school class can be canceled due to lack of participants
    • Only 1 opportunity to attend program, but does not need to be a first offense
    • 650 individuals have attended the program; 3 participants have been re-arrested in the county
  • The class covers the following topics:
    • Purpose of being in the class
    • Court/legal process for individuals ordered to the class
    • Personal questions or details of individual cases are never shared
    • Legal consequences for individuals arrested for prostitution across the country, such as vehicle seizures, publishing names/pictures in newspapers, billboards, etc.
    • How program came into existence—community clamor to rid the neighborhood of prostitution
    • Laws against prostitution, discussion of legalization (Nevada’s laws, etc.)
    • Explanation of solicitation charges—possibility of how serious the charges can be (statutory rape charges, etc.)
    • Health department talks about risk of contracting STDs
    • Police officer shares examples of serious risks, e.g. boyfriends or pimps beating up sex buyers, cars stolen, women living with HIV who continue to engage in unprotected acts of prostitution, etc.
    • Program Director talks about “he reality of the experiences of women in prostitution” and dispels myths
    • Women’s history of abuse, lack of education, lack of work options in general, and desperate circumstances; mental health and substance abuse issues, recovery process
    • Community member talks about the negative impact of the sex trade on her neighborhood
    • Survivor of prostitution talks about her experience (they women are usually graduates of the PRIDE program who are well prepared for the experience of speaking in the john school)

Key Partners

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interviews

Pittsburgh/Allegheny County John School:

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Employment Loss:

Background on Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Prostitution-Related Violence, Child Endangerment, Drugs, Weapons Offenses, Sexual Abuse Images:

State Pennsylvania
Type City
Population 301286
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