Stark County, OH

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

Stark County is a county in northeastern Ohio with a population of approximately 374,000 residents. Its county seat is Canton. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented within the county and in its unincorporated areas. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. For example, in 2014, due to the increase in neighborhood complaints to local law enforcement agencies regarding instances of prostitution, the Canton Police Department and the Jackson Township Police Department conducted an undercover prostitution investigation that resulted in the arrest of four male sex buyers on charges of soliciting prostitution.

Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are violence against prostituted people and sex trafficking of adults and minors. For example, in August 2012, a sex trafficker/pimp and two prostituted women (all of whom operated in Canton) drove a third prostituted woman from Canton to Muskingum County, where they beat her, choked her, and set her on fire as revenge for exposing the sex trafficker/pimp as a drug dealer. She survived for two days after a motorist found her on Rt. 208 near Zanesville, with over 70 percent of her body burned. The women pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated arson, and kidnapping in exchange for their lives and their testimony against the sex trafficker/pimp, who was sentenced to life for homicide and other offenses. A friend of the murdered woman, who also worked in prostitution in Canton, had previously been abducted, raped, and left without clothing in a rural area.

In 2019, the Jackson Township Police Department conducted a web-based operation that focused on targeting individuals seeking to engage in commercial sex in addition to identifying and rescuing potential victims of sex trafficking. According to reports, the investigation consisted of officers posting decoy advertisements online posing as a 13-year-old girl and communicating with potential sex buyers. The investigation resulted in the arrest of a 24-year-old man on felony charges of attempting to commit unlawful sexual contact with a minor and importuning. According to officials, the sex buyer had responded to a chat with an undercover officer from the Canton Police Department and discussed engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money. Additionally, the offender agreed to meet the undercover officer at a local hotel, where he was arrested upon arrival. The Jackson Township Police Department led the investigation, with assistance from CantonNorth Canton, and Wooster police officers, as well as the FBI’s Canton Office and the Massillon City Prosecutor. A preliminary hearing for the man was scheduled in Massillon Municipal Court. The offender’s identity was released in reports from local news sources.

The significant increase of prostitution and sex trafficking activity in Stark County beginning in the late 1970s severely impaired local law enforcement’s ability to cut down on prostitution and ancillary crimes. This issue forced officials to find new avenues for reducing the rate of prostitution arrests in Stark County, such as targeting the demand for commercial sex through street-level reverse stings. Street-level reverse stings have been deployed in the county since at least 1975. These operations uses female undercover officers as decoys and arrested individuals who attempted to solicit sex from undercover female officers in areas known for high rates of prostitution activity. The increase in prostitution-related arrests in Stark County resulted in the the county jail reaching its maximum capacity in the 1990s, subsequently forcing officers to cite and release individuals arrested for prostitution. To reduce the number of prostitution-related arrests, local law enforcement agencies began deploying additional demand reduction tactics such as vehicle seizures. For example, the Canton Police Department first reported seizing vehicles of arrested sex buyers in 1993. In 1989, members of the local media also reported that the department had used surveillance cameras to intercept a Canton city councilman attempting to engage in commercial sex with a prostituted woman. The investigation was initiated after the prostituted woman reported the former city councilman to local officials. Additionally, sex buyers have been arrested through other means such as routine traffic stops. For example, in 2010, a Canton man was stopped for driving a stolen vehicle. Officers reported an additional passenger in the car who was known to be a prostituted woman. Officers arrested the sex buyer and charged him with receiving stolen property.

Canton Police also offer the names of and other identifying information about arrested sex buyers to the public, although the city’s largest newspaper (The Canton Repository) has stated it will not publicize the information. In the early 1990s, city officials partnered with the local Warner Cable syndicate to air the names and arrest photos of individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses on a public access station. It is unclear how long, if ever, the show aired. In 2006, however, the CPD announced it would begin listing arrest information for individuals convicted of prostitution-related offenses on its website (available here).

In October 2021, ten people were arrested in Stark County as part of the statewide human trafficking investigation “Operation Ohio Knows.” The nine men and one woman arrested locally were among 161 people arrested statewide during the largest human trafficking investigation in Ohio’s history. Attorney General Dave Yost, who led the operation, explained, “We want to send a message to everybody in the country: Don’t buy sex in Ohio.” A Stark County sheriff’s deputy who is on the Summit County Human Trafficking Task Force participated in the operation. The Stark County residents arrested were charged with misdemeanor engaging in prostitution.

In December, 2022, seventeen men were arrested in Stark County and charged as the result of a human trafficking operation. The men were encountered, arrested, and charged after answering an online advertisement offering explicit sexual services in exchange for payment. The reverse sting was conducted by the Jackson Township Police Department and Summit County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, Stark County Metro Narcotics, North Canton Police Department, Springfield Township Police Department, and the Massillon City Prosecutor’s Office.

Neighborhood Action, Public Education

Local residents and business owners have also attempted to reduce underlying demand for prostitution. In 2003 and 2004, residents living in the Newton area staged a march and accompanying rally against prostitution and solicitation occurring in front of their homes. Around the same time, Canton Repository journalists reported that, in investigating online prostitution, they discovered posts on local message boards from sex buyers warning other would-be sex buyers to avoid the Newton area because residents had mounted eight surveillance cameras and would “jump out into the street with digital and video cameras to record their activity” to share with police. Soon after, a CPD representative announced the department had begun sending “Dear John” letters to the homes of arrested sex buyers.

The Central Canton Weed and Seed Initiative, which was established in 2007, created a new program in 2008 called “Off the Streets and Into Recovery,” designed to educate the community about prostitution in efforts to reduce overall prostitution rates in Stark County. From 2006 to 2008, the Neighborhood Impact Unit had identified 90 individuals in the central Canton region who engage in prostitution activity. The program was a collaborative effort from community organizations such as the Stark County Treatment Accountability for a Safer Community (TASC), Crisis Recovery Center, Canton Health Department, Pregnancy Support Center, Renew Counseling Center, IMPACT, Melymbrosia, Coleman Behavioral Health, and Trillium Family Solutions.

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Vehicle Seizure:

Neighborhood Action, Public Education:

  • “Newton NW Area Residents, City Want Hookers, Pimps Out,” Canton Repository, September 12 2003.
  • “March vs. Prostitution Attracts 60,” Canton Repository, September 21 2003.
  • “Residents Hope to Rid Streets of Prostitutes,” Canton Repository, October 4 2003.
  • “Sex Finder Warns to Avoid Hooker Hangout,” Canton Repository, July 10 2004.
  • “Residents Making Progress in Fight vs. Prostitution,” Canton Repository, November 7 2004.
  • “NE Residents Demand Action against Crime,” Canton Repository, April 19 2005.
  • “35 Residents March against Prostitution,” Canton Repository, May 14 2006.
  • “Chasing Hookers, Canton Father Sparks New State Law Keeping Prostitutes Away from Schools,” Canton Repository, June 24 2008.


Sex Buyer Arrests:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Ohio
Type County
Population 373834
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