Salem, OR

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

Salem is city that serves both as the state capital of Oregon and the county seat of Marion County, OR, and has a population of approximately 178,ooo residents. Documented cases of prostitution and sex trafficking have occurred in the community, and residents living in areas affected by prostitution have reported being propositioned by potential sex buyers, having their children approached and propositioned by men, and finding hazardous remnants of sexual and/or drug activity strewn about the neighborhood. In addition, in the late 1980s, a syphilis epidemic occurred in Marion County and Portland that community health experts believed to be connected to the significant increase in commercial sex activity occurring in the county. Among the more serious crimes associated with the area’s commercial sex market is child sex trafficking.

In efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex in the city, the Salem Police Department has been conducting reverse sting operations since at least 1988, if not earlier. These operations are often initiated in response to community complaints regarding prostitution activity occurring in the area. SPD officers often conduct “dual” stings, in which undercover officers target both prostituted persons and potential sex buyers. Additionally, the SPD frequently releases the identities and images of arrested sex buyers to local media outlets. For example, in 2007, police conducted a street-level reverse sting that resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers for soliciting prostitution. According to reports, the men were arrested after they had allegedly attempted to solicit sex from undercover female officers. The arrested sex buyers’ identities, ages, and images were released to the media.

Beginning in the early 2000s, police began to seize the vehicles of arrested sex buyers who had been using their cars while attempting to solicit sex from undercover officers. For example, in 2001, the SPD with assistance from the Marion County Area Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team, conducted a street-level reverse sting in response to complaints from the Highland neighborhood association, that resulted in the arrest of 11 male sex buyers. According to reports, arrested sex buyers were also subject to vehicle impoundment, in which offenders were required to wait a period of five days to retrieve their car, pay a $60 impoundment fee, pay a $200 towing and storage fee, and sign a written agreement promising not to repeat the offense of soliciting prostitution again. In addition, the identities of arrested sex buyers were released and letters regarding information about their arrest and the harms of sexually transmitted diseases were sent to the sex buyers’ homes.

In addition to street-level reverse sting operations, the SPD has also conducted web-based reverse sting operations since 2006, if not earlier. These operations typically consist of officers posting decoy ads on websites known for prostitution and sex trafficking, communicating with potential sex buyers to arrange a price, time, and location to meet. Upon their arrival to the predetermined location, and attempt to solicit sex acts with undercover officers in exchange for money, sex buyers are arrested. For example, in 2006, SPD officers posted decoy ads on Craigslist, a website known for prostitution and sex trafficking and communicated with potential sex buyers who had responded to the decoy ad. Upon their arrival to the predetermined location, sex buyers were arrested by undercover officers. As a result of the investigation, nine male sex buyers were arrested for soliciting prostitution. The SPD often participates in web-based reverse sting operations led by other local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies. For example, the SPD has participated in at least three of the FBI’s annual child sex trafficking investigations, Operation Cross Country, which focus on apprehending sex buyers and sex traffickers in addition to identifying and rescuing child sex trafficking victims across the nation.

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred in the community. For example, in September 2013, an Oregon State Police detective resigned after he was found with a prostituted woman while on duty. Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies cited the detective after getting a report about a man and woman engaged in a sex act in bushes in southeast Portland. Since the arrest was the product of an investigation and not a sting operation it is categorized as an example of “buyer arrests” for the purposes of Demand Forum. The Oregon State Police agency headquarters is in Salem, and since the decision to terminate the employment of the detective was made by agency leaders, we have located the loss of employment in this city although the arrest occurred elsewhere and the employee worked for a statewide agency.

In May 2021, the former Oregon House Speaker (D-North Clackamas) was cited in an online sex trafficking sting along with seven other men. In a press release, the Portland Police Bureau said its Human Trafficking Unit planted ads on websites in April to attract people who would pay for sex. The legislator’s  involvement was first reported by the Portland Tribune, which matched the man’s name, address and age with one of the men cited. The man’s attorney, said that his client “… denies the allegations, but respects the criminal justice process and will refrain from saying more until he has his opportunity in court.” Eight men were cited for commercial sexual solicitation, according to the bureau. The men were arrested individually when they arrived at the location agreed upon online. The Tribune noted that he voted for the law that was used to conduct the reverse sting. The man was also a board member at Clackamas Community College and the CEO and president of Columbia Public Affairs, a lobbying group. Effective immediately, the man was placed on a leave of absence from the board.

Additional demand reduction tactics such as SOAP Orders and john schools have been reported in the city. For example, in 2007, the city council passed an ordinance banning arrested sex buyers and prostituted persons from returning to areas known for high rates of prostitution activity for 90 days after their arrest, where entrance into designated exclusionary zones would result in the offenders’ arrest for trespassing. Salem community leaders were also involved in the development of the “john school” program that began operating in Portland in 2010, and Salem arrestees may be required to attend.

Key Partners

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Site Visit (2012)

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure, Letters, Neighborhood Action:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

SOAP Orders: 

Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:

John School:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Oregon
Type City
Population 177823
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