South Burlington, VT

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

South Burlington is a city of about 19,000 residents in northern Vermont, near Burlington in Chittenden County.  While prostitution is not known to be widespread in the city, it (along with sex trafficking cases) have been reported in the area. To address such problems, it was announced in June, 2018 that the Vermont Human Trafficking Task Force (VT HTTF) would formally pursue the state’s multidisciplinary approach to combating human trafficking affecting the State of Vermont.  Since 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office had worked to facilitate a collaborative effort to eliminate and prevent the trafficking of persons within the State, and also pursue the links between opioids and other drugs to human trafficking. Between 2014 and mid-2017, in the Chittenden County area of the state, the HTTF’s data collection efforts estimate that there were over 250 suspected incidents of human trafficking, and state officials believe that the incidence of sex and labor trafficking in Vermont statewide is substantially higher than these numbers suggest. Among the law enforcement agencies signing the MOU of the HTTF are the South Burlington Police Department, the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Vermont, Vermont State Police, Vermont Department for Children and Families, Burlington Police Department, and the Office of the Chittenden County State’s Attorney.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. To identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, law enforcement agencies in the area have conducted reverse stings.  For example, in 2012, a reverse sting was conducted to arrest a man trying to buy sex from a minor, after a three-week investigation and period of negotiation between an undercover federal agent and the john.   An adult woman engaged in prostitution in Rutland told an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) that a client of hers had been asking about having sex with a child.  ATF began an inquiry that involved the Department of Homeland Security, which had a female agent pose as a 14-year-old and communicate with the child predator.  The two exchanged numerous text messages discussing prices for sex acts, and whether the man would need a condom, and asked if they could have group sex including the girl’s mother.  The man eventually texted that he was in the area and wanted to buy sex for $500.  A meeting was arranged and the man was arrested outside a movie theater.  We was charged with travelling in interstate commerce to engage in illicit sexual contact with another, and using a cellphone to entice a minor to engage in prostitution or unlawful sexual activity.  The man’s identity was available to the media from court records, and was published by local news outlets.

In June 2014, a more traditional web-based reverse sting operation was conducted, resulting in the arrest of seven sex buyers.   Minutes after police say they placed an ad on a website known to be used for prostitution, people started responding with phone calls, texts, and emails.  The ad was posted for 6 hours and during that time 40 people responded to ask about paying for sex. In July 2014, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office announced that the johns arrested during the June operation would be given the opportunity to avoid prosecution pending completion of a class that discusses the “complex circumstances that underlie prostitution.” The class will be taught by the director of Give Way to Freedom, a foundation that focuses on human trafficking awareness, prevention and recovery services, and will reportedly cover “statistics, facts and characteristics about all forms of human trafficking and the victimization caused by the crime.” When asked about his decision to offer a diversion program for sex buyers, the State’s Attorney stated:

“One of the purposes of sentencing is deterrence, and that purpose has already been achieved. They have all been publicly shamed. What’s more important is general deterrence. What best achieves that is educating these men that prostitution is complex, dangerous, violent against women — many are young, have issues, and are addicted to drugs… I’m trying to raise awareness that it’s not just about sex. You have to look at the context, and the context is the heroin epidemic in the state. We have 16, 17-year-olds prostituting themselves to feed their addiction. It provides us an opportunity to raise awareness of the larger issue here.”

Key Partners

  • South Burlington Police Department
  • U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives 
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office
  • Give Way to Freedom

Key Sources

State Vermont
Type City
Population 19141
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