Portland, ME

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

Portland is the largest city in Maine with a population of about 67,000, and is located on the state’s southeast Atlantic coast. For decades, police have been aware of prostitution occurring in the city and residents have complained to police about it.   Many local cases of sex trafficking of adults and children have been uncovered by investigators. An example of the regional nature of the sex trade that involves Portland: In June, 2021, a New Hampshire woman pleaded guilty to running a sex trafficking operation throughout northern New England through which she and her husband persuaded more than two dozen women living in China and the U.S. to be exploited in prostitution. She had been charged with an array of offenses including sex trafficking by fraud or coercion, and transportation for purposes of prostitution at her sentencing. The woman and her husband, both Concord residents, in 2016 set up a prostitution ring using rented houses and motels in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, according to court documents. Many of the women recruited came to the United States on B-2 non-immigrant visas that allow foreigners entry for pleasure, tourism or medical treatment but not to take legitimate jobs. The Associated Press reported at the time of her arrest that 27 women had been convinced to “work as prostitutes” with the promise of earning thousands of dollars. The couple rented houses in Portland, ME and Manchester, NH for periods in 2016, and the trafficked women were moved from motel to motel every few days. The prostitution ring advertised on internet sites, including Backpage.com.  The women had been recruited through fraud and exploitation of vulnerabilities:  they had been promised work outside of prostitution but weren’t able to find such jobs, many owed debts for their travel to the U.S, they spoke very little English, and they had no contacts in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont. Violence associated with the sex trade has also been well documented. For example, one of the women found murdered on Long Island by an apparent serial killer was from Portland, and had been transported between Portland and the New York City area to be sold for sex.

State legislation to address customers of prostituted persons passed in the late 1970s, to solve the double standard of selling sex being illegal while buyers were not subject to any penalties.  The first reverse sting known to have occurred in the city was conducted in 1982, and similar operations have been conducted periodically since then.  For example, in 1999 a female police decoy was deployed in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood and made four arrests in a few hours. At around the same time, the Portland Police Department experimented with sending warning letters to the homes of owners of vehicles that were spotted idling in areas known for prostitution. Police responses to our National Assessment survey in 2009 said that they average about three street-level and three web-based reverse stings per year.  They also noted that most prostitution in the city has migrated online, and involves prostitution of women and girls from all over New England.

In 2007, a 5.5 hour street-level operation resulted in the arrest of 11 male sex buyers ranging in age from 18 to 60.  In June 2013, two men were arrested in a reversal, and their photos and identifiers were released to news outlets.  Investigators say the two men approached an undercover officer at the corner of Congress and Weymouth Streets, and that the operation was in response to complaints from the Parkside Neighborhood Association of female residents solicited in the street and “being followed by men in cars.”

In July 2013, another reverse sting was conducted in the Parkside area.  The 1.5 hour operation resulted in four arrests, and the photos and identifiers of the arrestees were offered to the media.  City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the police crackdown was a direct response to the PNA’s request for “stepped-up enforcement due to the negative impact of prostitution on their community.” Clegg again stated that women who live in the neighborhood complained that they were followed and propositioned by men seeking sex.

In mid-2012, the Portland Press Herald requested the names of all sex buyers arrested in the city between 2008 and 2012, but the Portland Police Department declined to provide the information on the grounds that it did not know the outcomes of individual cases (i.e., whether or not they resulted in a conviction). When asked for comment about police’s hesitance to share this information, Parkside Neighborhood Association members were  “both puzzled and frustrated,” and noted that they would like law enforcement to issue news releases whenever a sex buyer is arrested.

In February 2015, Portland police released the names and arrest photos of four male sex buyers arrested during a web-based reverse sting in the city. When asked for comment about the investigation, the PPD Police Chief reported:

“Be very careful when you’re coming into this community or anywhere in Maine, cause there’s a lot of folks working hard on this and you may find yourself behind bars having to explain to your family how you put yourself in that situation.”

In August, 2016, a West End prostitution sting operation led to the arrest of four men for “engaging a prostitute,” a class E crime. City police conducted a prostitution sting targeting men who solicited an undercover female police officer. The arrests occurred between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. along Congress Street in the West End near Walker and Neal Streets. Police stated that the West End prostitution operation was designed to target consumer demand (i.e., sex buyers). It is indisputable that male sex buyers are the driving force in human sex trafficking, and it is their money that fuels this illegal industry. In November, 2016, police arrested 11 men in Portland within a five hour operation at one hotel.  The men were between 25 and 71 years old, all were charged with “engaging a prostitute,” and all had their identities included in news reports.

In an operation in 2019, two men were charged with “engaging a prostitute” in Portland. The two men – both of Portland – were arrested between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. in the area of Walker Street, for engaging an undercover female officer. Both men were taken to Cumberland County Jail, and their identities were included in news reports.  In May, 2022, six men accused of patronizing human trafficking victims were charged following a joint operation involving several state agencies and the FBI. Five men were charged for engaging a prostitute, a Class E crime, according to the Portland Police Department. The sixth man was charged  for patronizing prostitution of a minor, a Class C crime.

Key Partners

  • Portland Police Department
  • Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office
  • Parkside Neighborhood Association
  • Portland Press Herald

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Neighborhood Action:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:


  • https://news.google.com/newspapers (1992)
  • “A Moral Crusade; Despite Mixed Results, Chief Michael Chitwood Says Police Efforts to Clean up Portland Are Working. He Shows Every Sign of Continuing…”, Maine Sunday Telegram, March 16 1997.

Background on Local Sex Trafficking and Prostitution:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Maine
Type City
Population 66706
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