Worcester County is a county with about 830,000 residents, located about 40 miles west of Boston and 40 miles east of Springfield in central Massachusetts. Some cities in Worcester County that have worked to address demand include Auburn, Fitchburg, Holden, Leominster, Milford, Northborough, and Worcester. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the communities within the county, especially in the city of Worcester. There have been chronic and visible “strolling” areas in some of the county’s communities for several decades, and multiple documented cases of child sex trafficking. The area has also dealt with a serial killer targeting prostituted people in the early 2000s, and there have been cases of targeted rape, physical assault, and robbery of individuals engaged in prostitution. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking.
After years of seeing no lasting benefits from arresting women involved in prostitution and attempting to make cases against pimps, local police began conducting reverse stings in the early 1990s. During that period, WPD officers conducted frequent street-level operations targeting sex buyers, at times netting over 50 men in a single operation. At the same time, law enforcement and city officials established a city ordinance allowing for the seizure of vehicles used for the purpose of solicitation (1992), and attempted to set up a website to publicize the names of arrested sex buyers (1999). The site was soon taken offline, after city officials received complaints from the ACLU. The identities of arrestees, however, were (and are still) made available to the public in WPD press releases. In 2006, media outlets reported law enforcement had begun sending postcards to the homes of owners whose vehicles were seized during stings with information about the offender’s arrest for soliciting sex. From 2007 through 2012, 210 sex buyers were arrested in reverse stings in Worcester.
In October 2014, Worcester drew significant media attention after a report by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) noted that the city, as well as several other communities in the area, had arrested a disproportionate number of sex sellers (157) to buyers (14) in 2013. A similar divide– 113 sellers, 5 buyers– was reported for 2014. Although WPD officers declined to comment on these arrests, the Springfield Republican reported that the department submitted a written statement to NECIR that stated that they had prioritized “reducing the visible presence of prostitution related activity that negatively impacts the quality of life in our neighborhoods” and that staging reverse stings pose “significant investigative challenges.”
Since 2015, there has generally been more gender balance in prostitution arrests, and more recently, the gender balance has swung back to more men being arrested. In 2010, 98 women were arrested for prostitution, while only nine men were arrested for paying for sex. In 2018, 33 women were arrested compared to 96 men.
In February 2017, eight men were arrested for buying sex in undisclosed locations within Worcester County. Street-level reverse stings in 2018 included one in August that produced the arrest of 8 sex buyers, and one in the Main South area of Worcester in October that produced 12. In August 2018, Worcester Police Vice Squad conducted a reverse sting in the Main South area of Worcester, arresting eight males, all of whom were arraigned at Worcester District Court. In response, some local residents mobilized to form End Demand Worcester, and “plan to hold a rally to urge law enforcement to do more” about prostitution in Main South, an area long troubled by commercial sex activity. In recent months, the group has reported problems with “early morning and late at night trolling” by sex buyers in the vicinity and verbal harassment of female residents.
In December 2014, WPD officers staged dual street-level stings along Main South that resulted in the arrest of 8 sex buyers and 4 prostituted women. All of the sex buyers’ names, ages, and addresses were released to the public, but the women’s personal information was not disclosed. When asked about the investigation, the Worcester Police Chief commented:
“Today’s sting operation is an example of our ongoing efforts to reduce both the supply and demand side of the illegal sex-for-a-fee transactions taking place on city streets. We recognize that reducing demand for prostitution by arresting the so-called Johns has the greater potential to shrink or destroy the market for this illegal activity. Community efforts in identifying and providing social services for women victimized by prostitution are a critical part of any long-term strategy… [At the] request [of] city groups advocating for the women involved in prostitution and in recognition that many women involved in prostitution are victims of drug and prior sexual abuse the Worcester Police Department opted not to release their addresses in a press release.”
Reverse Stings, Shaming, Auto Seizure, Letters
- “Worcester OKs ‘John’ Law Sought Here”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, October 13 1992
- “Program to ID Johns Sought”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 5 1994
- “Mariano Wants TV to Spotlight ‘Johns’”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, August 17 1994
- “Prostitution Offenders’ IDs on Web”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 20 1999
- “Web Site to Fight Prostitution; Photos of Suspects in Soliciting”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 23 1999.”
- “Prostitution Web Site Gets a Bit Tangled; Civil Liberties Issues”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 31 1999
- “Grand Rapids May Put Prostitute Arrests on Internet”, Ludington Daily News, July 26 1999
- “Sex Sweep Bags Mail Carrier, Police Seize Delivery Truck”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 12 2004
- “‘Dear John’ Letter Fights Prostitution”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 9 2006
- “Cars of 3 Suspected Johns Towed”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 12 2006
- “11 Arrested in Latest Prostitution Sting”, Press Release, Worcester Police Department, January 11 2012.”
- “Worcester, Mass. Considers Unique Prostitution Law”, NBC/NECN, August 13 2012.”
- “Worcester Council Backs Proposal Seeking to Take Johns’ Cars”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 30 2012
- “Worcester Still Battling Chronic Prostitution”, Go Local Worcester, October 1 2012.”
- “City Tries to Take Sex Off the Market”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, October 8 2012.”
- https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/02/17/eight-arrested-central-mass-prostitution-sting (2017)
- https://framinghamsource.com/index.php/2018/08/31/worcester-police-prostitution-sting-nets-8-arrests-including-framingham-man/ (2018)
- http://www.golocalworcester.com/news/eight-men-arrested-during-undercover-prostitution-sting-in-worcester (2018)
- http://www.golocalworcester.com/news/12-men-arrested-during-prostitution-sting-in-worcester (2018)
- http://www.worcesterma.gov/police/press-releases/vice-squad-prostitution-sting-operation-arrest-12-men-in-main-south-area (2018)
- https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20180720/eight-men-busted-in-marlborough-prostitution-sting (2018)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Prostitutes Tested for Deadly Disease”, Nashua Telegraph, February 18 1986
- “Hustling on the Triangle; Male Prostitutes Risk AIDS, Growing”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 24 1989
- “Main South Night Patrol Is Kept Busy”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 26 1992
- “8 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, November 16 2003
- “14 Arrested in City Vice Squad Sweep”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 4 2004.”
- “Vice Squad Arrests 11 in Prostitution Sting”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, August 22 2005.”
- “Prostitution Sting Team Strikes”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 13 2006.”
- “12 Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, August 10 2007.”
- “Prostitution Burrows into Neighborhood Life”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, October 1 2007
- “17 Arrested in Prostitution Sting in Main South Neighborhood”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 10 2010.”
- “City Woman Faces Prostitution Charges; Operation of 2 Brothels Is Alleged”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 23 2012
- “Suburbs Seeing Their Share of Sex Trade”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, November 12 2012.”
- “Worcester Officials Seek Ways to Curb Prostitution”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, October 1 2012.”
- “N.Y. Woman Charged with Prostitution in Northborough”, MetroWest Daily News, June 2 2012.
- “Northborough Police Searching for Six in Connection with Double Stabbing”, MetroWest Daily News, October 23 2012.
- “Suburbs Seeing Their Share of Sex Trade”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, November 12 2012.
- “Northborough to Consider Suspension or Revocation of Motel 6 License”, MetroWest Daily News, November 15 2012.
- “Northborough Town to Consider Yanking Motel 6 License”, MetroWest Daily News, November 16 2012.
- “Northborough Motel Owner Promises to Make Changes”, MetroWest Daily News, November 20 2012.
- “Prostitution, Drugs Raise Concerns of Student Safety in Main South”, Worcester Magazine, September 26 2013
- “Worcester Police Charge Five Women with Prostitution-Related Offenses”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 21 2014
- http://northborough.wickedlocal.com/article/20150923/NEWS/150928336 (2015)
- “In Search of Prostitution Solution, Worcester Wants to Crack down on Johns, Help Victims,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 13 2015
- “Woman Working to Help Worcester’s Prostitutes Get off the Streets Used to Be One of Them,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 29 2016
- http://northborough.wickedlocal.com/news/20170824/northborough-woman-faces-prostitution-gun-drug-charges (2017)
- https://patch.com/massachusetts/marlborough/2-marlborough-men-arrested-prostitution-sting-northborough (2017)
- http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20170806/human-trafficking-and-prostitution-in-metrowest (2017)
- https://patch.com/massachusetts/marlborough/break-arrest-prostitution-7-11-marlborough-police-log (2018)
- https://patch.com/massachusetts/marlborough/marlborough-man-among-10-arrested-paying-sex-worcester (2018)
- https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2019/09/10/changing-the-story-about-prostitution-in-worcester (2019)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area
- “Former Worcester Man Guilty of Inducing Boy into Prostitution”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 23 2000
- “Man Gets 3 1/2 Years in Prostitution Case; Worcester Boy Was Pawn in Extortion”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 29 2000
- “2 Men Sentenced in Teen Prostitution; 13-Year-Old Boy Was Procured for Sex”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 10 2000
- “3 Men Held in Worcester Kidnapping, Women Taken to Boston”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 14 2003
- “Man Seeks to Seal Records, Charges Involving a Minor Prostitute Were Dismissed”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 7 2003
- “Nearly Two Dozen Rounded Up in Sex Sting”, Worcester Telegram-Gazette, April 3 2003
- “Man Charged in Rape at Motel 6”, Northborough Patch, September 11 2013.
- “Northborough Police Investigate Alleged Prostitution at Motel 6”, Westborough Community Advocate, September 11 2013.
- “Worcester Man, 36, Accused of Having Sex with Teen Prostitutes at Northboro Motel”,Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 11 2013.
- “Prostitutes Move Online, Behind Closed Doors Making Arrests Tougher”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, November 17 2013.
- “Former Worcester Cabbie Held on Bail; Accused of Cavorting with Teen Hookers”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, August 6 2014.
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area
- “Serial Killings Suspected in Mass.”, Associated Press, March 25 2004
- “Slayings Highlight Need for a Women’s Shelter; Prostitutes, Drug Abusers Seen as Being at Serious Risk”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 28 2004
- “Serial Killer’s 3 Victims Shared Short, Troubled Lives”, Norwalk Hour, April 10 2004
- “Slayings Highlight Community at Risk, Program Examines the Troubled Lives of Three Victims”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, July 20 2004
- “Woman’s Apparent Slaying Probed, Police Suspect Link to Deaths of 3 Others”, Boston Globe, September 19 2004
- “Mean Streets, Desperate Lives; The Area of Worcester, Mass., Where Wendy Morello Was Last Seen Alive Is Plagued by Crime, Drug Addiction– and the Killings of Four Prostitutes in the Last Year; Police”, Portland Press Herald, September 26 2004″ Lack of Clues Stymies Case on Serial Killer”, Boston Globe, December 16 2004
- “Serial Killer Sought; ‘Person of Interest’ in Prostitute Slayings”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 2 2008
- “Man Is Guilty of Rape, Kidnapping; Prostitutes Said They Were Assaulted”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 30 2010
- “Ex-Officer Gets 10 to 12 for Rape”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 26 2010
- “Alex Scesny of Berlin to Be Tried for Raping, Murdering Theresa Stone”, Associated Press, April 29 2010
- “Scesny Rape, Murder Trial Date Slated”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 29 2010
- “Witness Says She Was Kidnapped; Man Charged with Knife-Point Rape, Beating of Prostitute”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 22 2011
- “No Sexual Assault Found; 1 Charge Sticks in City Case”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 24 2011
- “Scesny Guilty of ’96 Fitchburg Murder”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 29 2012
- “Briddon Convicted on Rape, Assault”, Worcester Magazine, July 23 2012
- “Worcester John Gets 8-10 Years in Rape of Prostitute, Assault with Brick,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 16 2015
- “Millbury Man Convicted of Attack on Prostitute in Sutton Cornfield,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 9 2015
- “Woman Working to Help Worcester’s Prostitutes Get off the Streets Used to Be One of Them,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 29 2016
- “Nearly Two Dozen Rounded Up in Sex Sting”, Worcester Telegram-Gazette, April 3 2008