Reno is a city and government seat of Washoe County, NV. The city has a population of approximately 247,000 residents and is the most populous Nevada city outside of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area. Prostitution in the state of Nevada is legal in counties with populations under 700,000 residents and is illegal in counties with populations over 700,000 residents. In the State’s larger cities such as Carson City, Reno, and Las Vegas, prostitution is prohibited. Legal prostitution occurring within counties consisting of populations less than 700,000 residents, is strictly limited to licensed and regulated brothels. All other forms of prostitution remain illegal in the state of Nevada. Individuals seeking to purchase commercial sex outside of licensed and regulated brothels can be arrested and sanctioned. Prostitution is not legal in Washoe County. For more information about the Prostitution and Solicitation laws in Nevada click HERE.
Prostitution and sex trafficking have been known to be widespread in the city and surrounding areas for decades; several assaults and murders of prostituted women have also been documented. One case involved a sex trafficker/pimp who murdered two prostituted women in the 1980s and 1990s. In another incident, a 16-year-old girl was abducted in Bakersfield, CA, and transported to Reno, where she was sex trafficked at a motel. She tried to escape twice but both times her sex trafficker assaulted and threatened her with weapons such as knives and pepper spray. The Reno Police Department has come to realize that neither prostitution nor sex trafficking – or their associated problems – can be effectively addressed without attempting to combat demand for commercial sex. The department has adopted several tactics that aim to reduce underlying demand and apprehend those who attempt to purchase sex in the community such as reverse stings, SOAP Orders, and shaming.
RPD officers have conducted periodic reverse stings since at least 1989, if not earlier. For example, in 1989, Reno police officers arrested and cited 37 male sex buyers as a result of a street-level reverse sting operation in downtown Reno. Reverse stings in Reno typically yield between five and 15 arrests of men trying to buy sex. In cases during 2010-2013, the arrested men were issued misdemeanor solicitation citations, which carry a $500 fine. Those cited or arrested for solicitation for prostitution are also required to submit to blood testing for sexually transmitted diseases. In a one-year period in 2012-2013, the Reno PD conducted at least three reverse stings citing at least 22 sex buyers. Reverse stings have continued since. For example, in June of 2019, the Reno Police Department Regional Street Enforcement Team conducted a sting targeting sex buyers of prostituted persons along the Fourth Street corridor and used undercover detectives as part of the operation. According to reports, seven sex buyers were arrested or cited as a result of the operation, in addition to their identities being included in news releases.
In addition to street-level reverse stings, RPD has also conducted web-based operations targeting sex buyers. For example, in June of 2014, a Sparks, Nevada resident was sentenced to five years in prison and 10 years of supervised release, as a result of an attempt to exchange laptop computers for sex with underage girls, according to an announcement by the United States Attorney for the District of Nevada. The investigation was conducted by the Innocence Lost Task Force, which is made up of the FBI and the Regional Street Enforcement Team, which includes the Reno Police Department, Sparks Police Department, FBI, and UNR Police Department. The man pleaded guilty to one count of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor for sex in addition to sentencing the offender was also required to register as a sex offender. A statement from U.S. Attorney Bogden describes law enforcement officials’ dedication for combatting demand for commercial sex in the city,
“We will continue to work with our local and federal law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute persons who exploit minors for sex. This includes using federal laws to pursue ‘johns,’ or customers of prostitution.”
In October of 2020, 28 sex buyers were arrested in a weeklong child sex trafficking sting led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Northern Nevada Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, with assistance from detectives and personnel from the Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Unit, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Northern Nevada Regional Intelligence Center, Reno Police Department, Sparks Police Department, and University of Nevada Police this operation sought to identify and arrest people seeking to pay to sexually abuse minors. Also participating were agencies involved in the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, which includes the Carson City Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Nevada Highway Patrol, the Nevada Department of Corrections, and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. All the suspects arrived at a home in South Reno to knowingly engage in, and pay for, sex acts with a minor as identified through the HEAT Unit. All suspects were arrested on felony counts of soliciting a child for prostitution, and attempted child abuse. Some suspects are facing additional charges. One of the arrested offenders was a defensive tackle from the University of Nevada, that was immediately suspended from the program as a result of his arrest. The identities of the arrested sex buyers were included in news reports.
In May of 2021, three men were arrested in a sex trafficking operation in Stateline, NV. According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the arrested offenders had contacted undercover agents posing as minors online and offered to exchange money for sex. Two of the sex traffickers were arrested on charges of solicitation of a minor for prostitution and attempted child abuse for sexual exploitation. In addition to facing solicitation and exploitation charges, the third sex trafficker was arrested on charges of luring a child with a computer device, attempted lewdness with a child under the age of 16 and attempted statutory sexual seduction by someone over the age of 21. Detectives from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Reno Police Department Human Exploitation and Trafficking, and the Nevada Department of Investigation arrested the three men.
In June of 2021, an operation focused on targeting individuals attempting to exchange money to sexually abuse children was conducted by The Reno Police Department’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Unit. The operation resulted in the arrest of three men who allegedly thought they were exchanging money to sexually abuse juveniles but were conversing with undercover officers. The men were booked on charges of soliciting a child for prostitution and attempted child abuse. An additional three men were issued citations for arranging through the Internet to pay for sex. Police did not release their names. The department said in a statement:
“Detectives were contacted by individuals via various online platforms and through their conversations, the individuals solicited to engage in sexual activity with the undercover detective, in exchange for money.”
Arrest and Shaming of Sex Buyers:
In March of 2020, a Reno man was arrested on charges of online solicitation of a minor. Officers with the Reno Police Human Exploitation and Trafficking unit initiated the investigation in February 2019 after allegations that the suspect was luring underage girls for prostitution. With the assistance of the Sparks Police Department and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, they located and arrested the suspect in March of 2020.
In September of 2020, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office announced that as a result of a collaborative investigation by the Regional Sex Offender Notification Unit (RSONU) and Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Unit detectives, a male sex buyer had been arrested. The man was in custody at the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Detention Facility and was charged with failing to register as a sex offender/failing to update address (NRS 179D.550), soliciting a child for prostitution (NRS 201.354.6A), encouraging a minor to be the subject of a sexual portrayal in a performance (NRS 200.710.2), facilitating sex trafficking where the victim is younger than 18 (NRS 201.301.2B), and first-degree attempted kidnapping (NRS 200.320). The man had previously been convicted of rape in New York in September of 2019. Detectives determined that he had been living in Reno since December 2019. The RSONU operates as a regional, multi-jurisdictional and collaborative entity to carry out the requirements of community notifications as set forth in Chapter 179D of the Nevada Revised Statutes. The RSONU’s jurisdictional boundaries encompass all of Washoe County, including the Cities of Reno and Sparks.
Law Enforcement and Community Collaboration:
The aforementioned Regional Street Enforcement Team, (a task force involving the collaboration of the Reno Police Department and the Sparks Police Department), and University of Nevada Reno Police Services, encourages tips and complaints regarding suspected prostitution activity from local residents. The locations of enforcement actions such as reverse stings are driven in a large extent by community complaints. Information about illegal prostitution in Reno or Sparks can be reported to the SET Team at 775-334-3065, Secret Witness at 775-322-4900 and www.secretwitness.com, or by texting the tip to 847411 (TIP 411) keyword-SW.
Reno has not had a “john school” program, although there had been efforts to establish one began in early 2012. Representatives of a 501c3 nonprofit called Awaken, met with police and prosecutors to research established “john schools” throughout the United States in order to determine local feasibility in addition to which john school model would best serve the city’s local needs and resources.
In March 2017, a bill penalizing illegal sex buyers and sending them to rehabilitation programs was proposed. First-time offenses were still misdemeanors under Assembly Bill 260, but people seeking illegal prostitution would also face a minimum fine of $400. The crime escalates up to a gross misdemeanor and at least a $1,300 fine for a third violation, as well as a $200 civil penalty per offense. Funds would go toward programs and enforcement. The bill allowed suspended sentences for first-time offenders if they attended “john schools” where available.
In a testimony to support the “john school” bill, a representative of the Washoe County Health Department (WCHD) said that Nevada Revised Statutes 201.356 requires that a person arrested for prostitution or solicitation submit to an HIV test and provide proof of the test to the court. To further the goal of reaching high-risk people for testing who may not access services, WCHD has partnerships with the Regional Street Enforcement Team (SET) and the Reno Municipal Court to provide mandated HIV testing along with offering testing for other STDs during prostitution and solicitation stings. Referrals to additional services often occur for health care and social services. In addition, a sexual health course providing information on common STDs, HIV, and prevention methods is provided if ordered by a judge. The course has been provided for a fee to recover costs to commercial sex workers, customers, and persons mandated by parole and probation. Washoe County Health District began providing the class when a community provider discontinued their involvement around 2005. Referrals to the course have been limited. Between 2005-2016, 13 males that have been involved in prostitution solicitation have completed the course.
The March 2017 news reports on the bill mentioned a program in Washoe County funded through fees that relies on courts to order participants to attend. Victim impact panels similar to those used for certain DUI offenders were also discussed as possible programs to deter repeat offenses.
Loss of Employment:
Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2000 five men were cited and released for soliciting prostitution, including a former Reno fire captain. According to reports, the sex buyer was fined $1,370 and ordered to complete 16 hours of community service, and filed for retirement within a week of his arrest. The former Captain was arrested for solicitating prostitution again in 2004 during a similar street-level reverse sting that resulted in the citation and release of 10 male sex buyers, including himself. In October of 2020, during a weeklong child sex trafficking sting led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Northern Nevada Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, 28 sex buyers were arrested including a defensive tackle from the University of Nevada. The former college football player was immediately suspended from the program as a result of his arrest.
- Regional Street Enforcement Team (which includes detectives from the Reno and Sparks Police Departments, University of Nevada, and Reno Police Services)
- Reno Police Department
- Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Unit
- Sparks Police Department
- Washoe County Sheriff’s Office
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Northern Nevada Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force
- FBI Safe Streets Task Force (which includes the Carson City Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Nevada Highway Patrol, the Nevada Department of Corrections, and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office)
- Awaken INC
- Washoe County Health Department
- Northern Nevada Regional Intelligence Center
- Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force
- Regional Sex Offender Notification Unit (RSONU)
National Assessment (2012)
- “Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Sting Nets over 500 Sex Buyers, 30 Pimps,” Press Release, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, February 9 2016.
- https://mynews4.com/reno-police-are-gearing-up-for-super-bowl-sex-trafficking-sting (2018)
- https://mynews4.com/12-men-in-reno-cited-during-super-bowl-sex-trafficking-sting (2017)
- https://www.kolotv.com/Police-bust-7-in-Reno-prostitution-sting-14-bike-rally-arrests (2019)
Street-Level Reverse Stings with Shaming:
- “7 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, December 2 2001.
- “8 Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, December 13 2001.
- “5 Men Arrested in Reno Soliciting Case”, Reno Gazette-Journal, February 6 2003.
- “11 Men Arrested in Reno Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 6 2003.
- “Police Arrest 7 in Fourth Street Vice Operation”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 29 2003.
- “Six Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, June 1 2003.
- “7 Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, February 20 2004.
- “19 Men Cited in West Fourth Street Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, August 21 2004.
- “11 Arrested or Cited in Prostitution Sting Along Fourth Street”, Reno Gazette-Journal, September 17 2004.
- “16 Men Cited in Solicitation Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 15 2005.
- “Street Enforcement Team Arrests Six on Suspicion of Prostitution”, Reno Gazette-Journal, August 20 2005.
- “12 Citations Issued in Reno Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, August 2 2008.
- “100 Arrests Reported During HAN Crackdown”, Reno Gazette-Journal, August 14 2008.
- “Downtown Reno Prostitution Sting Nets 3”, Reno Gazette-Journal, October 16 2009.
- “Helping Hookers: Former Madam Leads Effort to Assist Prostitutes”, Reno Gazette-Journal, November 1 2009.
- “Prostitution Sting Nabs 5 Customers in Reno, Authorities Say”, Reno Gazette-Journal, September 23 2011.
- “Prostitution Sting Targeting Customers Nets 6 in Downtown Reno”, Reno Gazette-Journal, March 24 2012.
- “Eight Men Cited in Downtown Reno Prostitution Sting”, ABC/KOLO-TV 8, February 6 2013.
- “State Housing Administrator Demoted after Prostitution Arrest”, Las Vegas Sun, June 4 2013.
- “Most Cited for Prostitution Receive a $500 Fine”, Reno Gazette-Journal, July 20 2013.
- “10 Men Cited for Soliciting Prostitutes in Reno Prostitution Operation; Face $500 Fine”, Columbus Republic, August 21 2013.
- “Prostitution Operation Targeting Customers/Demand Results in 10 Cited”, This Is Reno, August 21 2013.
- “Eight Cited or Arrested in Downtown Reno Prostitution Sting”, ABC/KOLO-TV 8, November 14 2013.
- “Prostitution Sting in Downtown Reno”, NBC/KRNV-TV 4, November 14 2013.
- “Editorial: How to Curb Sex Trafficking: Make Johns’ Names Public”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 5 2014.
- “Northern Nevada Cops Say No ATF Means No Money for Gun Buys, Undercover Operations”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 5 2014.
- “Sex Trafficking: Most Cited for Prostitution Receive a $500 Fine”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 5 2014.
- “Reno Prostitution Sting Nets 4 Citations, 1 Arrest,” Reno Gazette-Journal, April 27 2014.
- “8 Cited, Arrested in Reno Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, September 19 2014.
- “7 Cited in Reno Prostitution Sting,” ABC/KOLO-TV 8, October 17 2014.
- “7 Men Cited in Reno Prostitution Sting,” Reno Gazette-Journal, October 17 2014.
- “Sting Targeting Prostitution Customers Nets 9 in Reno,” Reno Gazette-Journal, January 10 2015.
- “2 Arrested, 4 Cited in Reno Prostitution Sting,” Reno Gazette-Journal, March 20 2015.
- “5 Cited in Downtown Reno Prostitution Sting,” Reno Gazette-Journal, June 5 2015.
- “18 Arrested in Reno Prostitution Sting,” Reno Gazette-Journal, September 4 2015.
- https://www.kolotv.com/home/headlines/Cops-Want-To-Shame-Johns-In-Prostitution-Sting (2015)
- http://www.ktvn.com/story/34493164/sex-trafficking-sting-reno (2018)
- https://www.kolotv.com/2021/06/11/three-arrested-three-cited-reno-sting-johns-soliciting-prostitution/ (2021)
Arrest and Shaming of Sex Buyer:
- https://mynews4.com/news/local/reno-man-arrested-for-child-pornography (2020)
- https://www.washoesheriff.com/outreach/archive/2000114.php (2020)
- https://lasvegassun.com/news/2017/mar/23/bill-oks-john-school-for-illegal-sex-buyers-on-fir/ (2017)
- https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/79th2017/Minutes/Assembly/JUD/Final/523.pdf (2017)
Web-Based Reverse Stings with Shaming:
- “Five Men Cited or Arrested During Prostitution Sting in Reno”, ABC/KOLO-TV 8, January 22 2014.
- “Reno Police Cite 5, Arrest 3 Men and Women During Prostitution Sting Operation”, Reno Gazette-Journal, January 22 2014.
- https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/lasvegas/news/press-releases/sparks-man-sentenced-in-sex-trafficking-case (2014)
- https://www.washoesheriff.com/outreach/archive/2000140.php (2020)
- https://mynews4.com/news/local/28-men-arrested-in-weeklong-fbi-human-trafficking-sting (2020)
- https://www.kolotv.com/2021/06/11/three-arrested-three-cited-reno-sting-johns-soliciting-prostitution/ (2021)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Nevada Man Convicted on Charges Related to the Sex Trafficking of Minors”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, June 27 2006.
- “Las Vegas, Reno Among 16 Cities Targeted in Child Prostitution Crackdown”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, June 25 2008.
- “National Child Prostitution Ring Hits Northern Nevada”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, October 27 2008.
- “Ex-Reno IRS Agent Arrested on Prostitution Charge”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, August 6 2011.
- “Human Trafficking Happening in Northern Nevada”, NBC/KRNV-TV 4, August 7 2011.
- “‘Innocence Lost’ Saves Children from the Streets”, NBC/KRNV-TV 4, August 15 2011.
- “IRS Agent Sentenced to Two Years for Prostitution”, NBC/KRNV-TV 4, March 5 2012.
- “Man Arrested Charged with Soliciting Prostitution with Minors”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, June 16 2012.
- “Alleged Pimp Indicted for Transporting Minor”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, January 24 2013.
- “The Game: Girls Forced into Prostitution Face a Harsh Reality on Reno Streets”, Reno News & Review, February 7 2013.
- “Non-Profit Group Fights Against Sex Trafficking in Our Area”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, March 1 2013.
- “Reno Officials Working to Stop Sex Trafficking”, USA Today, July 20 2013.
- “‘Guerilla Pimp’ Gets 14 Years for Bringing 15-Year-Old to Reno for Prostitution”, Reno Gazette-Journal, October 16 2013.
- “RPD Arrests Sex Trafficker for Second Time in a Year”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, December 22 2013.
- “Pimp Who Was Using 16-Year-Old Girl as Prostitute in Reno Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison”, Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada, February 24 2014.
- “Sex Trafficking: Former Victim Tells Story of How She Escaped”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 5 2014.
- “Sex Trafficking: Pimps’ Sentences Range from Probation to Life”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 5 2014.
- “Sex Trafficking: Women, Girls Held Hostage on Streets of Reno”, Reno Gazette-Journal, April 5 2014.
- “Man Pleads Not Guilty to Kidnapping and Sex Trafficking Charges”, NBC/KSNV-TV 3, October 2 2014.
- https://www.rgj.com/2018/10/15/it-takes-a-village-t0-end-human-trafficking-tolles (2018)
- https://www.washoecounty.us/outreach/2020/11/2020-11-10.php (2020)
- https://www.reviewjournal.com/nevada-vows-to-keep-the-pressure-on-sex-traffickers-in-2021 (2021)
- https://www.kolotv.com/2021/07/02/reno-man-sent-prison-sex-trafficking-his-girlfriend (2021)
- https://www.smdailyjournal.com/florida-man-arrested-in-south-san-francisco-on-suspicion-of-human-trafficking (2021)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Prostitution Legal Again in Reno”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 10 1948.
- “Reno May Ban Prostitution; Measure to Repeal Law Introduced”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 11 1948.
- “Reno Outlaws Legal Prostitution”, Florence Times Daily, August 24 1948.
- “Reno Chamber Out to Halt ‘Lurid’ Stories”, Lodi News-Sentinel, August 28 1948.
- “Downtown Reno Prostitution Told”, Los Angeles Times, July 14 1970.
- “Reno Police Nab Suspected Prostitutes”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, August 6 2007.
- “Prostitution Arrests Down in Biggest Little City”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, November 2 2009.
- “19 Arrested on Prostitution Charges”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, August 13 2011.
- “21 Arrests and Citations from Two-Day Prostitution Sting”, CBS/KTVN-TV 2, August 12 2012.
- “4 Netted in Reno Street Vibrations Prostitution Sting”, Reno Gazette-Journal, September 23 2012.
- “Man Charged with Pimping Mom of His 1-Month-Old Child in Reno”, NBC/KRNV-TV 4, April 12 2013.
- “Brothels in Nevada Suffer as Web Disrupts Oldest Trade”, Bloomberg, August 28 2013.
- “A Look at Reno’s Dark Vice History,” Reno Gazette-Journal, March 24 2014.
- http://www.ktvn.com/story/36141281/behind-the-scenes-hot-august-nights-prostitution-sting (2017)
- http://www.kunr.org/post/our-town-reno-homeless-prostitute-strives-better-life#stream/0 (2018)
- https://www.kunr.org/post/reno-red-light-district-colorful-history-brothels-washoe-county (2019)
- https://thenevadaindependent.com/reno-city-council-targets-illegal-prostitution-with-new-city-ordinance-on-massage-businesses (2020)
- https://www.shouselaw.com/nv/defense/laws/solicitation-of-prostitution/ (2021)