Reno, NV

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

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.

Reverse Stings:

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.

John School:

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.

Key Partners

  • 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)

Key Sources

National Assessment (2012)

Reverse Stings:

Street-Level Reverse Stings with Shaming:

Arrest and Shaming of Sex Buyer:

John School:

Web-Based Reverse Stings with Shaming:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Nevada
Type City
Population 246500
Location
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