St. Louis has had longstanding, widespread prostitution and sex trafficking problems, since the 1800s if not before. In 1870 the city passed an ordinance legalizing prostitution, requiring brothels and women who were exploited within them to register with the city. The experiment was declared a failure and ended four years later when it was clear that most prostituted women failed to register and brothels failed to abide by regulations, and that legalization caused a growth in the problems they had hoped to diminish and contain. Prostituted women from the city have also been targeted by at least on serial killer, Maury Travis. Travis focused on killing “drug addicts and prostitutes” in the city and neighboring East St. Louis, Illinois.
Among the strategies used to address problems associated with prostitution are attempts to cut off the revenue stream for these crimes by curtailing consumer-level demand. From the evidence we could gather, St. Louis has occasionally conducted reverse stings since at least 1991. In 1991, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office prosecuted over 135 men for patronizing prostitution.
In 2005, police began a new variation on shaming tactics: sending postcards to the home addresses of arrested sex buyers “reminding” them that prostitution is illegal and harmful. In 2012, residents of neighborhoods with high levels of street prostitution informally began posting signs urging “prostitutes and johns” to stay out of their neighborhood.
In October 2012, the city council was considering a proposed ordinance that expands the penalties for arrested johns. Under the new legislation, arrested sex buyers could face fines of up to $500 and be sent to a john school program. A nongovernmental organization, Magdalene St. Louis, is working to advance plans for a john school. The group’s board hopes to copy the model of Magdalene in Nashville, Tennessee. It features a program that guides women away from street prostitution, provides them with a secure home, and gives them services. As of December 2013, they also plan to offer a john school through the court system for first-time offenders.
In April 2014, the St. Louis Police Department announced it would begin using “dear john” letters to deter offenders. Those charged with trying to buy sex will receive postcards by mail admonishing them for their crime, and providing messages about spreading sexually transmitted diseases, as well as listing their court dates. The postcards say, “Thanks for your visit to…” and leaving a spot for the location and date of a crime. “The city of St. Louis, its residents and your neighbors would like to remind you that lewd, lascivious and/or suggestive behavior (including but not limited to prostitution, solicitation and prostitution loitering) are a violation of city ordinance and state law.” Police are rolling out the program in April 2014 in two city neighborhoods — Carondelet and Holly Hills — where residents have complained of prostitutes trolling for tricks. St. Louis Police Capt. Dan Howard said, “If there weren’t customers, prostitutes would be out of business, and what we’re looking to do is put them out of business.” In 2014, police said they planned to routinely provide local news outlets with mug shots of those charged with prostitution crimes to dissuade them from repeating the offenses.
- Reverse Stings:
- “Prostitution Arrests”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 6 1990.
- “Peach Prosecuted 250 for Vice; More than 115 Prostitution Convictions Resulted, Records Show”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18 1992.
- “Anti-Prostitution Prosecutor Found Guilty”, Lewiston Sun Journal, March 18 1992.
- “35 Men Arrested in Crackdown on Prostitution”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1 1992.
- “Pastor, 2 Others Post Bail on Sex-Trafficking Charges; Sting Is Second to Use Tough U.S. Charge to Target Demand for Child Prostitutes”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1 2009.
- “Undercover Sting Yields 29 Prostitution Arrests”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, May 30 2014.
- “Florissant Councilman Arrested for Patronizing Prostitution in St. Louis”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16 2014.
- Proposed John School:
- “Dear John” Postcards Sent to Arrestees:
- “Aiming for Shame”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 25 2005.
- “In Fighting Prostitution, Police Aim to Shame”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 26 2005.
- “Police Use Postcard to Publicly Shame ‘Johns'”, NBC/KSDK-TV 5, April 14 2014.
- “Dear John Letters from St. Louis Police Aim to Curb Prostitution”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 15 2014.
- “St. Louis Police Crack Down on Prostitution Clients”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, April 15 2014.
- “STL Cops to End World’s Oldest Profession by Publicly Shaming Johns with Postcards”, Riverfront Times, April 16 2014.
- Neighborhood Action:
- Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Two Men Accused of Forcing Girl into Prostitution”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 31 2007.
- “Feds Investigate Suspected International Prostitution Ring”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 28 2008.
- “No Jail Time for Man Accused of Soliciting Sex from a 14-Year-Old Girl”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, October 12 2012.
- “Nuns Trying to Stop Prostitution in St. Louis Hotels”, CW/KPLR-TV 11, November 12 2012.
- “3 Teen Girls Forced into Prostitution in North St. Louis County, Police Say”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2 2013.
- “Chicago Area Man Brought Women to St. Louis for Prostitution, Feds Say”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 3 2013.
- “Sex Trafficker ‘T-Rex’ Sentenced to 536 Months in Prison”, Kansas City infoZine, October 30 2013.
- “Breckenridge Hills Woman Gets 10 Years for Forcing Women into Prostitution”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 3 2014.
- “Local Woman Sentenced for Forcing Women into Prostitution”, NBC/KSDK-TV 5, February 3 2014.
- “St. Louis Siblings Sentenced for Forced Prostitution”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, February 3 2014.
- “Man Gets Four Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking”, Carbondale Southern, March 12 2014.
- “Two Suspects from Texas Arrested for Human Trafficking in St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 17 2015.
- “Missouri Couple Charged with Luring Girls into Prostitution,” Lake Expo, August 27 2015.
- Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- Murderpedia: Maury Troy Travis
- “Area Prostitutes Frightened By Series Of Deaths”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 22 1991.
- “Prostitute Testifies that Policeman Raped Her in East St. Louis; Officer, Who Was Fired over Claim, Says Sex Was Consensual”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 21 1998.
- “Former Policeman Is Convicted of Misconduct over Sex Claims”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23 1998.
- “Police: Violent Carjacking Linked to Prostitution”, NBC/KSDK-TV 5, July 29 2014.
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Corrections Officer Charged in Prostitution Investigation; Detective Says Suspect Used Women under House Arrest”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 22 1998.
- “Residents Up in Arms About Prostitution Problem in South City”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, September 7 2012.
- “St. Louis to Crack Down on Prostitution”, CW/KPLR-TV 11, September 19 2012.
- “Beyond Arrests, Getting Prostitutes Off the Streets for Good”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, November 19 2012.
- “Corrections Expert: Penalties Won’t Keep Prostitutes Off the Street”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, January 28 2013.
- “Prostitution Rehabilitation Program Coming to St. Louis”, CBS/KMOV-TV 4, May 8 2013.
- https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/history/a-look-back-at-st-louiss-brief-experiment-with-legalized-prostitution.1870s (2020)