Wilmington, DE

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

Wilmington is the largest city in Delaware, with a population of roughly 73,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been documented to occur in the city for decades.  A recent example includes operations conducted cases from February, 2022: two illicit massage establishments in Wilmington were shut down during an investigation by the new DOJ Human Trafficking Unit (HTU), according to an announcement by the Delaware Attorney General’s office. In June, 2022, a Wilmington man who helped run a “prostitution ring” in the region who was found guilty of sex trafficking in 2019 was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison. He was convicted by a federal jury of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors by force, fraud, or coercion, and of sex trafficking three minors by force, fraud, or coercion. Local prostitution-related violence includes multiple murders of prostituted women. This activity and its ancillary crimes has resulted in complaints to local law enforcement from residents and businesses. Targeted homicide and rape of prostituted women have also been reported to occur as a result of the local commercial sex market.

In response to residents’ complaints of prostitution, and the need to curtail the wide range of problems and felony level crimes arising from the local sex trade, the Wilmington Police Department began conducting street-level reverse stings in the mid-1970s. One such sting, conducted in May 1974, yielded the arrest of 43 male sex buyers in just over 10 days. More recent street-level operations, which have utilized one or more undercover female officers as decoys, have focused efforts along Delaware Route 9, U.S. Route 13, and other major roadways in the area. In June 2018, seven men were taken into custody after they solicited undercover New Castle County Police officers for sex. The women were posted in Alban Park to act as prostituted persons as patrol officers and detectives surveyed the neighborhood. Sex buyers who drove to the area and offered to pay for sex with the decoys had their vehicles towed by police, and all seven men were issued a criminal summons, then released. Officers may release the men’s names and other identifying information to the local media, and this was done for the seven sex buyers arrested in the June 2018 operation. In October 2018, the Drug, Organized Crime and Vice Division of the Wilmington Police Department conducted an undercover operation along Lancaster Avenue and arrested four sex buyers, who were charged with with patronizing a prostitute. The combination sting/reverse sting was conducted in response to community complaints, and the identities of the arrested men were publicized.

“Dear John” letters have also been used as a demand reduction tactic by communities in areas with high levels of commercial sex activity. For example, the Quaker Hill Historic Preservation Foundation in 1997 began sending letters to suspected sex buyers in the Quaker Hill community.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action, Letters:

Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:

State Delaware
Type City
Population 72868
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