Waco, TX

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Cameras
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
Letters
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Waco is a city of about 138,000 residents in McLennan County in central Texas, located along an interstate highway (Rt. 35) that links the Dallas/Fort Worth area with Austin, and is home to Baylor University. The city has long recognized that substantial prostitution activity occurs locally, and generates a wide range of other crimes and complaints from the community to police. Cases of sex trafficking of children, child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, or “child pornography” in many legal codes)  and the murder of prostituted women are among the problems associated with the local commercial sex market.

In July, 2017 McLennan County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested over 70 men in a month long effort to combat demand. In late 2017 and early 2018, another large scale effort to arrest sex buyers was conducted, but was not a conventional reverse sting.  Instead, it was based on the video equivalent of a brothel” client list.” An investigation of prostitution and sex trafficking in massage parlors in Waco discovered hidden cameras in the massage rooms showing approximately 400 persons involved in sex acts with the trafficking victims, according to McLennan County Sheriff’s Office.  In the first few months of 2018, police continued the investigation and were able to identify over 50 of the sex buyers.  Many of the men arrested were found using the surveillance footage, which allegedly showed some of the men attempting to force themselves on women after they completed massages at the business.  In April 2018, a Mertens Volunteer Fire Department firefighter and four other men turned themselves in to police and were charged with Class B misdemeanor prostitution. According to arrest affidavits, each of the men paid for sex services between October and November, 2017. The alleged operator of the businesses was arrested and charged with forcing women to work at the business and perform sex acts in exchange for money.

The historically dominant tactic of arresting prostituted women and girls did not produce noticeable impact on the prevalence of prostitution, so in the early 1990s police began conducting reverse stings.

John Schools

A Waco Police Department patrol officer, Anita Johnson, initiated an effort to develop an educational program for arrested sex buyers. She used the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP) in San Francisco as a model, and adapted it to fit local conditions, such as the availability of people qualified and available to provide presentations on particular topics.  She also has deviated from the FOPP model by adding novel topics and presenters. For example, the Waco’s John School has a presentation by the former wife of a sex buyer, detailing the impact of her former husband’s involvement in commercial sex on her personally, and on their family.

Presentation slides created by WPD Officer Johnson describes the Waco John School program (for the presentation, click HERE), including:

  • program objectives
  • eligibility requirements
  • program completion requirements
  • process of admission and completion
  • curriculum outline and class agenda
  • summary of the content of separate presentation topics

The Waco john school has several noteworthy features that can be helpful to other smaller cities considering establishing such programs. For example, most john schools that operate in larger cities meet monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly. To operate efficiently, police must feed participants into the program by conducting frequent reverse sting operations. This is appropriate and sustainable for many larger cities, but monthly or weekly reverse stings are either unnecessary in smaller cities, or not feasible given the resources available to smaller police departments.  The Waco program was properly scaled for the needs and resources of the community. The police department generally conducts a small number of reverse stings each year; therefore, WPD decided to hold just one john school class per year.  A benefit of a single class per year is that staffing the program with presenters who volunteer their services requires a relatively small commitment on their part – they can contribute to the john school by committing a small number of hours just one day each year, rather than being obligated to conduct monthly or quarterly sessions.

The small number of participants annually means that the Waco program would be unable to provide a substantial revenue stream or restorative justice kinds of programs, such as those in Nashville and San Francisco where hundreds of john school participants each year provide revenue that is used for survivor support programs.  While the WPD did not structure the john school as a restorative justice program, they were able to make it self-sustaining financially, by calibrating the fees to fully cover program costs.

As we have observed in many other cities with john schools, the Waco program has seen fluctuations in the number of men made available as participants due to a reduction and increases in police resources, and a corresponding variation in reverse sting activity necessary to generate program participants. A second version of the program began in 2016: The Stop Demand School offered by a faith based organization, with a curriculum similar to the original Waco john school program.  As of October 2018, the Stop Demand School classes are offered on a monthly basis in McLennan County, and expansion to other sites in Texas was planned for 2019.

Stop Demand School (SDS)

In 2015, The Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition was founded and one of their primary goals was to create a new ‘John School.’ In 2016, a local nonprofit, Jesus Said Love, joined The Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition to launch the Stop Demand School. SDS was created as a sex buyers intervention program in coordination with the local justice system to stop demand for commercial sex in Texas and beyond. Stop Demand School is a pretrial diversion and intervention program that judges and probation officers can refer to when sentencing those charged with crimes related to the solicitation of sex. SDS is housed under the non-profit, Jesus Said Love and operates as an educational program of the organization.

The Stop Demand School is an eight-hour intervention and diversion class for individuals who have been arrested for sex buying offenses. SDS has three main goals:

  1. Reduce recidivism and demand for commercial sex
  2. Restore offenders to society and provide resources for individual growth
  3. Restore the prosperity and vitality within communities

The class covers a range of content that including, The Commercial Sex Industry, Human Trafficking, Sex Buying and Trauma, The Dangers of STDs, and Survivor Interviews. Upon a participant’s successful completion of the program, they receive a certificate pf completion to submit to their attorney and/or the court. Since the program’s initial in 2016, with three offenders, the Stop Demand School program has significantly expanded. From 2016 to 2021, 198 participants have been reached, 17 classes have been held, and four counties have implemented SDS (McLennan, Bell, Dallas, and El Paso). The program has also generated an overall revenue of $97,550 that directly funds the Jesus Said Love Victim Services Programs. The Stop Demand School program is traditionally offered in two forms of experiences: The Live Class Experience and The Online Experience. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, SDS is currently only offered in through the Online Experience. 

The Live Class Experience

$525.00

The Live Class Experience is held at a location in downtown Waco, TX. The location is sent via email to the participant upon their registration. The class begins at 8am and doors close at 8:15am. If the participant arrives after 8:15am they will not be admitted and will be required to re-register for the class and pay for a new class at full price. If a participant needs to change their class date, they will be required to pay a $100.00 for a fee of $100.00. There is a $100.00 fee to change class dates after initial registration. There is no exam when attending the Live Experience. Participants are given a certificate of completion upon the conclusion of the class.

Online Experience

$525.00

The Online Experience allows participants to take the Stop Demand School class from the privacy of their own home. While The Live Class Experience is completed in a single day over the course of 8 consecutive hours, the Online Experience may be completed over a period of three days. Participants must complete the entire Stop Demand School class within three days of initial registration. In addition, participants are required to pass a final exam at the conclusion of the Online Experience class. The final exam consists of 40 questions, covering all course content. The participant must earn a score of 70% or higher to pass the exam. Upon passing the exam, the participant will receive a certificate of completion. Failure to pass the final exam, will require the participant to re-take the final exam for a fee of $50.00. If the participant does not pass the final exam re-take, they will be required to re-take the course at the full price of $525.00.

In response to a survey conducted in 2022 by the NCOSE team for a National Institute of Justice grant to update and expand Demand Forum (Grant #2020-75-CX-0011), representatives from the Stop Demand School reported that although the program is run by a faith-based organization, the john school program utilizes a science based curriculum. Classes are offered on six to eight Tuesdays annually, last a total of 8 hours, beginning at 8am and concluding at 4pm. Accountability is a key component of the program. Participants must arrive on time, pay the full fee prior to arrival, and participate in class to receive their certificate of completion. At the start of each session, classroom doors are locked. Failure to arrive on time results in a missed session and requires participants to retake the course. Participants who are required to retake the course for either being late or failure of the final exam are also responsible for paying for the course in full once again. Program administrators collect participants’ demographic information, recidivism rates, and administer pre and post test evaluations. As of March 2022, this information is currently being analyzed by program administrators. According to representatives, participants generally agree that identity disclosure is the worst consequence of their arrest. Since the program’s conception in 2017, a total of 230 participants have successfully completed the program, and only four have reoffended. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is offered in person and online. The online course requires participants to take a final exam in which they must complete the course within 24 hours of registration and pass the 40 question final exam with a score of 70% or higher. Failure to do so requires retaking the course and exam.

In 2018, another shift occurred in how local law enforcement handles prostitution cases: instead of focusing on the source of the problems of prostitution and sex trafficking (consumer-level demand), the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement agencies are now focusing on reacting to its symptoms (those who respond to consumer demand by exploiting victims).  The shift from prevention to symptom management can be traced to evidence obtained in an investigation in 2017, including video recording of over 400 men engaging in sex acts for cash at two Waco massage parlors.  Only 13 either have been adjudicated or have had prosecution pending on misdemeanor prostitution charges. The seized videos demonstrated the scope of local human trafficking offenses, but the task of  identifying 400 men and building misdemeanor cases that could stand up in court is time-consuming and expensive. So, investigators ultimately shifted focus to rescuing victims and going after traffickers.

In the summer of 2018, for the first time since 2016, the sheriff’s office did not participate in the bi-annual National Johns Suppression Initiative. The nationwide effort focuses on sex buyers, rather than the prostitutes and has received local and national attention for most of this decade. When it participated, McLennan County consistently ranked in the top 10 among major metropolitan agencies. In McLennan County, most of the arrests for prostitution charges are listed as Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Most people arrested on a Class B misdemeanor prostitution charge with no criminal history can get deferred probation. A Chief Deputy of of the Sheriff’s Office said,

“The john suppression effort is a great effort, but they are primarily all misdemeanors. We’ve proven we can fill our books with misdemeanor arrests that are time consuming to do, but the bottom line is that the people who are making money off sex buying, the ones that are facilitating it, the ones that are bringing people to our country to use in sex acts, those are the people that we cannot lose focus on.”

This shift from focus on primary prevention (attacking root cause of human trafficking) in favor of reacting to the trafficking that occurs is in direct opposition to evidence-based practice.  For decades, law enforcement throughout the U.S. had focused on arresting and prosecuting pimps and traffickers, and identifying and rescuing victims.  The rise of demand-side tactics occurred in response to the lack of results from decades of supply-side tactics alone. Through the late 1990s in Waco, the new focus on demand was initiated precisely because of the ineffectiveness of arresting the providers and attempting to make cases against pimps and traffickers. The 2018 shift in Waco and McLennan County reverts back to that failed approach, albeit one that is improved by using a less punitive approach with the providers of commercial sex. While addressing supply and distribution are essential to a comprehensive, balanced effort, there is no evidence that supply-side approaches alone have a significant impact on prevalence.  They are inherently reactive, manage the symptoms but ignoring the cause.  There is substantial evidence that focusing on demand can reduce the scope of the problem – and consequently, lower the economic incentive for sex traffickers and pimps, and reduce the number of victims needed to serve the market.

In September of 2017, Waco Police Department carried out a reverse prostitution sting with their Street Crimes Unit that resulted in 17 arrests- 15 men and two women. The Street Crimes Unit used online surveillance and arranged meetings with suspects who answered online ads for money. Police officers met suspects at local hotels and arrested them. All 15 men were arrested on Class B Misdemeanor charges of prostitution. Waco PD stated,

“Our Waco street crimes unit conducted a sting like we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future. Officers ran online ads and people would respond to that, thinking they were coming to meet a prostitute for sex, but instead they’d meet Waco PD.”

Police said that the 15 men arrested were sex buyers whereas the two women arrested were most likely victims of sex trafficking and that they would receive help from sex-trafficking victim services and resources provided by the Waco PD.

In January of 2021, a man was arrested by McLennan County deputies in an online child prostitution sting. The offender had responded to an undercover deputy’s online advertisement place on a site known for human trafficking and prostitution. He was arrested on charges of prostitution of a minor and his bond was set at $10,000. He was free on bond the same night as his arrest.

In April of 2021, a man was arrested by McLennan County deputies on charges of prostitution of a minor and distribution of child pornography.  The Belton Police Department had previously contacted the McLennan County Human Trafficking/Child Exploitation Unit investigators in late March for help in investigating a case in which a man, “contacted another person and offered to pay money in exchange for having sexual relations with a child.”

**Prostitution of a Minor is a Second Degree Felony and is punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in February, 2017, Baylor University fired a newly hired assistant strength and conditioning coach after he was arrested on a prostitution solicitation charge. The man was fired Saturday after school officials learned he had been arrested earlier in the day on a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in a jail and a $2,000 fine. McLennan County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested the 33-year-old coach at a Waco-area hotel. Other cases of sex buyers terminated or resigning from their jobs in response to an arrest for buying sex include a tutor hired by the Waco Independent School District.

Key Partners

  • Waco Police Department
  • Waco Municipal Court
  • McLennan County Health Department
  • Brook Oakes Neighborhood Association
  • The Freeman Center
  • Presenter affiliated with the VAO-Hutchins Comprehensive Sanctions Center for the Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • Stop Demand School (2nd version of Waco john school)
  • Baylor University
  • Waco Independent School District

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interviews

John School:

Reverse Stings:

Web Stings:

Sex Buyer Employment Loss:

Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Texas
Type City
Population 137779
Location
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