Tempe is a city of approximately 162,000 residents, situated between Phoenix and Mesa in Maricopa County, Arizona. Like its neighbors, the city has experienced problems with prostitution and domestic minor sex trafficking. Among the problems associated with commercial sex in Tempe have been the assault and murder of prostituted women. For example, in 2011 a man was arrested for murdering his prostituted “girlfriend” (i.e., he was her pimp), who was also investigated for the murder of a previous girlfriend killed in 2006 and discovered in 2011. Between 2012 and early 2013, police had shut down 24 businesses for violating prostitution ordinances, most if which were massage parlors serving as fronts for prostitution and more than 100 cases have been presented to the District Attorney’s office.
To address prostitution and its negative impact on the community, the Tempe Police Department has conducted at least four street-level reverse stings. One such operation, conducted in December 2003, placed undercover female officers along the city’s troubled Apache Boulevard. Seven sex buyers were arrested after attempting to solicit sex from the officers. All had their names and other identifying information publicized by the local media. More recently, in July 2014, the TPD conducted a reverse sting at a local hotel near Priest Drive, and arrested 16 johns.
In addition to street-level efforts, the city has also coordinated with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to conduct two large-scale, web-based reverse stings, at least one of which specifically targeted sex buyers. In September 2012, following reports from residents and business owners of chronic prostitution and other illegal activity occurring at a local hotel, MCSO deputies moved in to one of the facility’s rooms and began answering and posting ads for sex on Backpage.com. As johns responded to the listings, undercover female deputies arranged to meet the men at the facility. Upon arrival, “the suspects made contact with [the] undercover deputy, who secured an offer of sex for money and then used a code word as a signal for other deputies to storm the hotel room.” At the end of the month-long investigation, the MCSO reported that they had arrested and charged five johns with solicitation. A similar, large-scale operation in 2013 led by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office used two female Tempe police officers as decoys, who posed as online teens being sexually exploited. The operation resulted in 111 arrests in total, 30 of which intended to buy sex with trafficked children. In April 2014, police posted online ads for sex with girls as young as 15, and arrested six men who responded and appeared to buy sex.
While Tempe currently imposes “order-out” restrictions on individuals repeatedly arrested for prostitution. Much like SOAP orders, city police may order a person to stay out of a specified place as a condition of his or her probation. Should he/she return to the area, he/she may be arrested and jailed for up to 30 days.
In July, 2019, twenty-five people in the Valley were arrested on child sex-trafficking charges in a multi-agency sting operation called Operation Summer Shield. The arrests came after an undercover operation by the Tempe Police Department, the Mesa Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. The men arrested ranged in age from 19 to 63 years old, and they faced charges that include child sex trafficking, sexual abuse, luring of a minor for sexual exploitation, attempted sex conduct with a minor, furnishing harmful materials to a minor and possession of dangerous drugs. Undercover officers and detectives had placed ads on various websites and apps used by people interested in illegal sex acts with children. The suspects are named and pictured on a Tempe Police Department News release.
- Tempe Police Department
- Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
- Mesa Police Department
- Homeland Security Investigations
- Arizona Attorney General’s Office
Street-Level Reverse Stings and Shaming:
- “Several Nabbed in Prostitution Sting”, East Valley Tribune, December 18 2003.
- “Mesa Man Nabbed in Prostitution Ring”, Arizona Republic, June 30 2006.
- “Prostitution Sting Snares 8 Suspects in Tempe”, Arizona Republic, February 1 2008.
- “Police: Tempe Prostitution Bust Nets 16 Arrests”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, July 16 2014.
- “Tempe Police Arrest 16 in Prostitution Sting”, KTVK-TV 3, July 16 2014.
- “16 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, East Valley Tribune, July 17 2014.
- “Tempe Prostitution Sting Nets 16 Arrests”, Arizona Republic, July 17 2014.
Web-Based Reverse Stings and Shaming:
- “Undercover Prostitution Sting Leads to Nearly 40 Arrests”, Arizona Republic, September 18 2012.
- “VIDEO: Prostitution Ring Busted at Tempe Hotel”, ABC/KNXV-TV 15, September 19 2012.
- “Tempe Teen Prostitution Sting: Dozens Hung Up after ‘Girls’ Said They Were 16”, Arizona Republic, December 27 2013.
- “Tempe PD: Multiple Arrests Made in Child Prostitution Sting”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, April 24 2014.
- “Tempe Police Arrest 30 in Prostitution Ring”, East Valley Tribune, April 24 2014.
- https://patch.com/arizona/phoenix/25-valley-men-nabbed-child-sex-trafficking-sting-operation (2019)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Tempe Police: 2 Teen Girls Tried to Trade Sex for Fast Food”, Arizona Republic, June 1 2012.
- “Child Prostitution Ring Busted in Tempe”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, July 7 2014.
- “Phoenix Man and Woman Arrested for Sex Trafficking and Forced Prostitution,” ABC/KNXV-TV 15, July 2 2015.
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Prostitution Sting Nabs 72; Deputies Arrest Women, Clients Countywide”, Arizona Republic, November 14 2003.
- “Prostitution Law Praised, Criticized”, Arizona Republic, June 24 2006.
- “Tempe Tries to Tame Its Sex-Themed Businesses: City Looks into Tighter Regulations”, East Valley Tribune, January 18 2007.
- “Tempe Bans Repeat Offenders”, East Valley Tribune, December 3 2007.
- “Police to Target Call Girls”, Arizona Republic, January 18 2008.
- “Tempe Sting Nets Prostitution Arrests”, East Valley Tribune, January 31 2008.
- “10 Prostitution Arrests Made in Tempe”, Arizona Republic, March 26 2009.
- “Tempe Bans Repeat Offenders”, East Valley Tribune, October 7 2011.
- “TPD: Cracking Down on Massage Parlors that Are Fronts for Prostitution”, FOX/KOKI-TV 23, March 17 2014.
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area: