Reno is the county seat of Washoe County, Nevada. The city has approximately 214,000 residents and is the most populous Nevada city outside of the Las Vegas metropolitan area. Prostitution and sex trafficking are known to be widespread in the city and surrounding areas, and have been for decades; several assaults and murders of prostituted women have also been documented. One case involved a pimp who murdered two prostituted women in the 1980s and 1990s. In another, a 16-year-old girl was abducted in Bakersfield, California, and taken to Reno where she was forced into prostitution in a motel. She tried to escape, but was assaulted and threatened with a knife and pepper spray. The girl was forced to engage in prostitution and to pose nude for photographs. She again tried to escape and was again beaten and forced back into the room. In another example, a prostituted women and an accomplice were charged with abducting and raped a child, and were extradited to California to face separate murder charges. Other local problems include HIV-positive persons continuing to sell sex in Reno after being diagnosed.
The Reno Police Department has come to realize that neither prostitution or sex trafficking – and their associated problems – can be effectively addressed without attempting to combat demand for commercial sex. As such, the department has adopted several tactics that aim to reduce underlying demand and apprehend those who attempt to purchase sex in the community.
RPD officers have conducted periodic reverse stings since at least 2001, if not earlier. Operations have been conducted at both street-level and by using the web. These stings typically yield between five and 15 arrests of men trying to buy sex. In January 2014, a web-based reversal resulted in the arrest of five johns. In January 2015, a street-level reversal similarly netted eight johns. Following both stings, the names and ages of the men arrested were released to the media. When asked about the impetus for conducting stings targeting buyers, a RPD representative stated:
“The Regional Street Enforcement Team believes impacting sex trafficking/exploitation begins with an aggressive campaign against the demand for illegal prostitution… [the] SET believes the supply of exploited victims will decrease if the demand can be impacted and reduced by conducting frequent operations.”
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 four reverse stings leading to the arrest of 28 sex buyers. Reverse stings have continued since. For example, in June 2019, the Reno Police Department Regional Street Enforcement Team conducted a sting targeting patrons of prostitutes seeking sex along the Fourth Street corridor and used undercover detectives as part of the operation. Police arrested two male sex buyers and cited five, and their identities were included in news releases.
Law Enforcement and Community Collaboration:
The aforementioned Regional Street Enforcement Team, a task force involving the collaboration of the Reno and Sparks Police Departments, and University of Nevada Reno Police Services, encourages tips and complaints about suspected prostitution activity from local residents. The locations of enforcement actions such as reverse stings are driven to 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, 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, beginning in early 2012. Representatives of a 501c3 nonprofit (Awaken INC) had been meeting with police and prosecutors, and researching other john schools throughout the United States to determine local feasibility and what model would best fit 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 allows suspended sentences for first-time offenders if they attend “john schools” where available.
In testimony 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 are 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 and 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.
- Regional Street Enforcement Team (which includes detectives from the Reno and Sparks Police Departments, University of Nevada, and Reno Police Services)
- Reno Police Department
- Sparks Police Department
- Washoe County Sheriff’s Office
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Awaken INC
- Washoe County Health Department
- Reverse Stings:
- “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)
- John School:
- Web-Based Reverse Stings with Shaming:
- 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.reviewjournal.com/nevada-vows-to-keep-the-pressure-on-sex-traffickers-in-2021 (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/article/reno-city-council-targets-illegal-prostitution-with-new-city-ordinance-on-massage-businesses (2020)