St. Louis, MO

Tactics Used

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

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.

Key Sources

State Missouri
Type City
Population 350759
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