Pittsburgh, PA

Tactics Used

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

Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in Pennsylvania, with approximately 306,000 residents. It is the county seat of Allegheny County. The city has experienced a wide array of problems associated with commercial sex, including the homicides of sex sellers (including 12 of which may have been serial homicides in the 1980s) and child sex trafficking.

To curtail commercial sex sales in the city, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has conducted period street-level reverse stings since 1981. Operations typically utilize several undercover female officers, who pose as decoys along thoroughfares identified by residents as “hotbeds” of prostitution activity. As johns attempt to solicit sex from the women, they are apprehended by a backup team. If the man was attempting to solicit sex from a vehicle, he may have his car seized and impounded by police. As a warning to other would-be sex buyers, 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 in his car.

Following a discussion with residents of the city’s Bluff neighborhood, wherein community members complained that johns’ punishments paled in comparison to those given to individuals selling sex, Pittsburgh police created a johns school in 1999. The six-hour course has offered first-time offenders the program to arrested sex buyers, and through 2005 a total of 418 johns had successfully completed the course.  The program has changed configuration and requirements several times in its 14 year history, and as of September 2013 was being redesigned.  Updated details about the program will be provided when they are made available to us.

Key Partners

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interviews

John School:

Reverse Stings, Shaming:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Child Endangerment:

  • “Police Raid Suspected Brothel, Drug Lab; Eight Arrested on Mount Washington”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 17 2002.
  • “Police: Man with Child, Drugs in Car Tried to Pick up Prostitute in Knoxville,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 9 2015.
  • “Pittsburgh Police Target Sex Trade; Dozens Arrested in Crackdown,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 3 2015.

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Pennsylvania
Type City
Population 311218
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