South Portland, ME

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

South Portland is a small city of just approximately 26,000 residents, located near Portland and Westbrook in Cumberland County, Maine. Local residents and law enforcement have reported problems with indoor prostitution– at times arranged online and conducted within adult-oriented businesses and hotels and motels– for over two decades. In addition, the South Portland Police Department has investigated cases of potential sex trafficking, working with the neighboring communities of Lisbon Falls and Gorham after discovering sexually suggestive advertisements on websites known for commercial sex activity.

Among their efforts to curtail commercial sex and trafficking in South Portland, law enforcement agencies have used demand-reduction tactics. For example, in late February 2015, South Portland police launched a web-based reverse sting targeting sex buyers. Although the logistical details of the operation were not disclosed to the public, SPPD officers reported the arrests of three men near the Maine Mall after they “responded to an ad on social media and arrived at a predetermined location expecting to have a sexual encounter in exchange for money” with a female undercover officer posing as a prostituted woman. When asked about the impetus for the sting by CBS/WGME-TV, a SPPD representative stated:

“We were targeting johns, not the prostitutes themselves. It’s supply and demand and we were going after the demand side of it… I think a lot of people don’t know what human trafficking is so in a way, [we are] trying to spread the message [that] this is in our backyard and we’re not gonna tolerate it… We’re trying to get the word out to these customers, if you will, that every ad that they’re looking at, it may be me on the other end of it. So come on down, we’ll be waiting for you.” 

In December 2017, eight people faced prostitution-related charges after three Portland-area police departments completed a reverse sting. Police from South Portland, Portland and Scarborough performed the operation, and the men were arrested at a hotel in South Portland. All eight men faced charges of engaging a prostitute, a Class D misdemeanor.  The identities of the sex buyers were disclosed to news outlets. South Portland Lt. Frank Clark said the sting was part of a routine practice used to deter the demand for prostitution.   In October 2018, a similar web-based operation resulted in the arrest of four sex buyers in a South Portland hotel. Officers from the South Portland, Gorham and Windham police departments participated in the operation, assisted by the FBI.

In March, 2023, police arrested 14 men during a prostitution sting at a South Portland hotel. According to South Portland police, the Internet Reversal was designed to target the demand side of prostitution and human trafficking. The meaning of “demand” in reference to this operation is the “John” or patron/client in the sex-for-money scheme. Police said that it is widely recognized that sex buyers are the driving force in human trafficking by supplying the money that fuels the illegal industry. The operation also targeted human traffickers. The identities of all arrestees were included in news reports.

Key Partners

  • South Portland Police Department
  • Portland Police Department
  • Scarborough Police Department
  • Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office
  • Gorham Police Department
  • Windham Police Department
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security Human Trafficking Task Force
  • FBI

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:

State Maine
Type City
Population 25665
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