Wilmington, NC

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 a city of approximately 120,000 residents, located on the southeastern coast of North Carolina. It serves as the county seat of New Hanover County.  As one of the state’s largest commercial and population centers, the city has dealt with significant problems related to prostitution for decades and more recently, sex trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation of children. For example, in August, 2021, a man was sentenced yesterday to 35 years in federal prison and a life term of supervised release for sex trafficking a minor and using the internet to operate a prostitution enterprise. He had been convicted of the charges after a four-day jury trial, and was also ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution to the minor victim. According to court documents and other information presented in court, the man prostituted an adult female and a minor victim in various locations throughout the Eastern District of North Carolina in December 2017 and January 2018. He targeted extremely vulnerable victims and enticed them with promises of money and romance. He also engaged in a sexual relationship with both women and, after convincing them to join him, manipulated them and took their money for himself. He was arrested during a 2018 prostitution sting operation at a hotel in Wilmington, NC, where the offender was sex trafficking the minor after posting ads online.

Additional cases include on occurring in December 2020, when a man and a woman were charged with human trafficking following a prostitution bust by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.  Vice and Narcotics detectives set up a meeting online with a provider of prostitution and agreed to meet at a hotel, but then realized the prostituted woman was instead an underage teen and a victim of human trafficking. They were both taken into custody and charged with promoting prostitution of a minor and human trafficking of a child victim. In December, 2022, a 70 year old Wilmington man was charged with 28 sex offenses after an initial arrest the previous month. An incident report listed the crimes as “Human Trafficking —- Commercial Sex Acts” at an address at Saint John’s Court;  six victims were recorded as residents. The charges included advancing prostitution of an adult victim, promoting prostitution of a minor, first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. The man had first been arrested on Nov. 29 with 12 adult charges and arrested a second time in Dec. 19 for 16 charges related to minors.

In addition to child and adult sex trafficking, women being sold for sex have also been murdered in the city, and men engaged in local prostitution and trafficking have been involved in related shooting and robberies.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. The Wilmington Police Department adopted the use of street-level reverse stings in 1981. The operations, which typically use one or more undercover female officers as decoys, have been conducted on a routine basis to identify and apprehend sex buyers. Wilmington police have frequently collaborate with officers from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, particularly on investigations into suspected sex trafficking. Additionally, the city and county have offered a diversion program (or “john school”) to select arrestees since 2004.

Some local arrests of sex buyers are the result of investigating allegations against real victims as opposed to the product of sting operations using police decoys. For example, in June, 2011, the commander of the Pender County Sheriff’s Office patrol unit was arrested in Wilmington on prostitution solicitation charges and suspended indefinitely from his post the following morning pending the outcome of an internal investigation.  The man was charged with “soliciting a prostitute” and crimes against nature following a traffic stop, but declined to go into further detail. Deputies processed the man through the New Hanover County jail and he was released on a $5,000 unsecured bond.

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Arrest of Sex Buyers; Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State North Carolina
Type City
Population 120194
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