Toledo, OH

Tactics Used

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

Toledo is a city of approximately 290,000 residents, located along the northwestern border of Ohio in Lucas County. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by law enforcement as substantial problems in the city, and residents have complained to police about prostitution in many neighborhoods. Among the crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is the homicide of prostituted persons, and others associated with this activity.  For example, a man was found guilty of killing one prostituted woman and raping another in 2000.  A serial killer admitted in 2006 to killing five prostituted women and around the city, and police connected him with at least to other similar murders.  HIV positive prostituted persons are known to have continued to sell sex in Toledo after their diagnosis, and prostituted local women have been kidnapped (and jumped out of moving vehicles to escape) and assaulted.

In response to the wide range of concerns about the local consequences of commercial sex, the Toledo Police Department has constructed an aggressive and comprehensive strategy that incorporates tactics targeting demand. City police were among the first in the country to implement the use of street-level reverse stings in 1975; operations are now routinely conducted, using one or more undercover female officers as decoys. As men attempt to solicit sex from the women, they are apprehended by police.  Once arrested, johns may have their vehicles seized and impounded, as per a city ordinance established in 1991. As a warning to other would-be sex buyers, the TPD may also release arrestees’ names and other identifying information to the local media.

In recent years, TPD anti-prostitution initiatives have uncovered several sex trafficking networks operating in the city. In 2005, federal agents identified 77 young women and girls from the Toledo area who had been trafficked to Pennsylvania and other states for prostitution. Recent reports have identified the city as the 4th largest hub of domestic minor sex trafficking in the nation. To address the issue, the Toledo Health Department has collaborated with the FBI to train public servants to better identify potential trafficking victims when and if they appear in the city’s correctional and healthcare facilities. In late 2012, Representative Teresa Fedor of Toledo sponsored and successfully passed the Safe Harbor Act in the Ohio House of Representatives, effectively creating “a two-tier system offering differing penalties and burden of proof, depending on the age of the trafficked person” for those attempting to sexually exploit minors. The legislation also establishes sex trafficking as “a stand-alone, second-degree felony… that carries a potential prison sentence of eight years.”

John School:

Local sex trafficking cases also helped spur the creation of a “john school” program in 2010. Led by the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, the Prostitution Offender Program of Lucas County is a diversion program limited to johns without prior prostitution-related offenses. In exchange for completing the daylong course, which includes presentations from local law enforcement, public health officials and former prostituted women, first-time offenders may have their cases “sealed.” The program began in 2013, and as of 2018, the john school is still operating and is named “First Offender Prostitution Program – Lucas County.” The fee paid by arrested sex buyers is $300, and the program incurs no cost to taxpayers. Participants must attend a one-time class and remain free from reoffending for one year in order to receive lesser penalty. Men who attend are taught the following:

• Health risks associated with prostitution
• Connection between commercial sex and human trafficking
• Legal consequences
• Encouraged to explore the psycho-social reasons they paid for sex

Key Sources

State Ohio
Type City
Population 295029
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