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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.
- Winchester Police Department
- Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office
- Frederick County Sheriff’s Office
- Strasburg Police Department
- Henrico County Sheriff’s Office
2021 National Assessment II Survey
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Prostitution Sting Operation Nets 11 Arrests”, Winchester Daily-Monitor, April 21 2014.
- “Eleven Accused in Illicit Sex Sting”, Winchester Star, April 22 2014.
- “Online Prostitution Sting Nets 11 Arrests”, Northern Virginia Daily, April 22 2014.
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Residents, Informants Assist in Spa Sting”, Winchester Star, June 23 2005.
- “The Oldest Profession Is New to City”, Winchester Star, October 6 2005.
- “Police Make Prostitution Arrests at Pine Tree Spa in Winchester”, Winchester Daily-Monitor, May 18 2011.
- “Two Charged with Prostitution at City Spa Operation”, Northern Virginia Daily, May 19 2011.
- “Court Papers: Police Interrupted Sex Act during Spa Arrests”, Northern Virginia Daily, May 20 2011.
- “Police Arrest Two on Prostitution Charges in Winchester”, Winchester Daily-Monitor, June 7 2013.
- “Four Arrested in Connection with Prostitution Ring”, Winchester Daily-Monitor, January 16 2014.
- “Martinsburg Woman Faces Charges after Winchester Arrest”, Martinsburg Journal-News, January 16 2014.
- “Warrant Reveals Alleged Prostitution Ring”, Winchester Star, January 30 2014.
- https://www.winchesterva.gov/winchester-woman-charged-prostitution (2014)
- https://www.winchesterstar.com/5-women-arrested-charged-in-regional-prostitution-ring (2016)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
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