Washtenaw County, MI

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

Washtenaw County is located in southeastern Michigan, west of suburban Detroit. It has a population of approximately 368,000, much of it centered in the county seat of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Through 2020, law enforcement agencies within the county had conducted reverse stings to address problems associated with prostitution and sex trafficking, resulting in arrests of sex buyers on charges of solicitation. Police could also seize the vehicles of arrested sex buyers and require fines to be paid for their recovery, and some communities had implemented a “john school” educational intervention for sex buyers. However, on January 14, 2021, the Washtenaw County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney announced that, effective immediately, prostitution had been de facto fully decriminalized within the county by adoption of a policy to decline the prosecution of these offenses. The new policy stated that no charges would be authorized against those engaged in “consensual sex work,” and that the policy applied to sex buyers as well as to prostituted persons. The de facto full decriminalization would not apply to sex trafficking of either minors or adults. While police could potentially continue to arrest sex buyers, since state law still prohibits prostitution, it remains to be seen whether law enforcement agencies will do so if the charges will be dropped by the prosecutor’s office.

Demand Reduction Tactics Used Prior to 2021:

In 2011, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office began posting the mugshots of arrested sex buyers on a new webpage intended to widely distribute their faces to the public. The photos were placed on the site after the men are arraigned. The effort, which targeted the demand side of prostitution, was part of the Enforcement Against Streetwalking in Ypsilanti (EASY) initiative led by the WCSO, Ypsilanti Police Department, and Ypsilanti Township Police Department. Businesses and residents had long complained about prostitution in the East Michigan Avenue corridor, and the departments teamed up because their jurisdictional boundaries cut through the area. Despite making hundreds of arrests, mostly of prostituted persons, the agencies had not observed success in stemming the problem and were trying new approaches.

Local police also adopted a three-part approach in targeting sex buyers. If caught since 2011, sex buyers could have their cars impounded and were required to pay the county $750 to retrieve them. That money was used to cover overtime costs for deputies on the undercover sting operations. Sex buyers were also criminally charged and sent to a “john school” at which women who were formerly in prostitution discussed the hardships of their former life, similar to the victim-impact panel for drunken drivers. Sting operations usually resulted in the arrest of around six to eight sex buyers or prostituted persons, depending on who was being targeted, but were only run intermittently because of logistical and financial limitations. In one case in 2019, an arrested sex buyer was ordered by a Washtenaw County judge to perform 150 hours of community service.

Also in 2011, EASY implemented a new program designed to help survivors of prostitution exit the streets and offered resources “to turn their lives around.” The program, which involved a collaboration between both departments, the judicial system, and county social workers, was created after police regularly arrested the same repeat offenders.

Key Partners

  • Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office
  • Ypsilanti Police Department
  • Ypsilanti Township Police Department

Key Sources

For information on city- and community-level stings in the county, see Ann ArborYpsilanti and Ypsilanti Township

2021 National Assessment II Survey

John School:

Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

2021 Decriminalization Policy – Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office

State Michigan
Type County
Population 368385
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