Worcester County, MA

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

Worcester County is a county with about 862,000 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.”

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure, Auto Seizure, Letters

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area

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

Child Endangerment

  • “Nearly Two Dozen Rounded Up in Sex Sting”,  Worcester Telegram-Gazette, April 3 2008
State Massachusetts
Type County
Population 862029
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