Winchester, VA

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

Winchester is a city of approximately 28,000 residents in northern Virginia, located in the Shenandoah Valley along Virginia’s northwestern border about 25 miles south of Martinsburg, West Virginia. It is the county seat of Frederick County. Local law enforcement and residents have reported problems related to prostitution in the city, with activities often concentrated in and around illicit massage businesses and hotel prostitution arranged over the internet. For example, in October, 2016 five women were arrested during a prostitution sting that included the cooperation of several regional law enforcement agencies. The Winchester Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division had undercover officers arrange to meet the women at a local hotel via the internet and other electronic means. They each were charged with solicitation of prostitution. In response to a survey conducted in 2021 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 Frederick County Sheriff’s Office reported that they had collaborated with the local FBI I-81 Human Trafficking Task Force to address exploitation in the area.

To address problems associated with prostitution, the Winchester Police Department has conducted street-level and web-based reverse stings targeting sex buyers. In the 2021 survey, a representative from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office reported stings were conducted in the city about once a year prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the summer of 2006, officers responded to citizens’ complaints about a spike in prostitution activity in the North Cameron Street area of the city and sent both male and female officers undercover as decoy sex buyers and prostituted women. Six individuals, including three sex buyers, were arrested as a result. All had their names and arrest photos published by local media outlets.

In April 2014, WPD officers conducted a web-based reverse sting resulting in the arrest of 11 sex buyers. Following the investigation, a WPD spokeswoman reported that police had used “confidential informants and internet advertising in setting up the arrests,” and that “defendants [had] responded to the online advertising by appearing at an unidentified Winchester hotel. Police arrested them after they exchanged money for sex.” When asked about the impetus for the operation, the spokeswoman stated:

“The goal of these undercover investigations is to send a message to the public that we will not tolerate this illegal behavior in the city, and we will charge.”

In May 2017, two individuals were arrested in Winchester on charges of solicitation during a series of undercover operations. Two male sex buyers had their identities included in news reports; one was arraigned for solicitation for prostitution, and the other was arraigned for use of an electronic device to solicit a minor and indecent liberties with a child. Virginia agencies had been trained the prior day by the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office on undercover human trafficking operations, and the next day the group conducted multiple undercover operations in Winchester. The operations were part of the hands-on training focused on enforcement of prostitution violations, including arresting offenders soliciting for sex acts, and the other focused on women who were agreeing to perform acts for money.

Key Partners

  • Winchester Police Department
  • Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office
  • Frederick County Sheriff’s Office
  • Strasburg Police Department
  • Henrico County Sheriff’s Office
  • FBI

Key Sources

2021 National Assessment II Survey

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

State Virginia
Type City
Population 27912
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