Web-based reverse stings involve police posting online decoy ads and setting up a reverse sting operation at a hotel or apartment. Those who arrive at the agreed-upon time and location and demonstrate the intent to complete the illegal transaction are arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution. This method has been employed in more than 1,610 cities and counties in the U.S. since 1995.
Over the past decade, and increasing number of web-based reverse stings target offenders seeking to pay to sexually abuse minors. The decoy ads is those stings state or imply that the person being sold is young, and during communications with suspects responding to those ads, investigators clearly state an age below legal limits. When individuals arrive to complete those transactions, they are arrested and charged with felony-level offenses, such as sex trafficking or “soliciting prostitution from a minor,” with the specific charges depending on state laws and the circumstances of the crime.
Another variation of web-based reverse sting involves police responding to real online advertising, rather than placing their own fictitious ads. When they arrest the people who had posted the ads offering paid sex, they seize their phones or other devices, and replaces the pimps and prostituted persons with police operatives, and continue taking calls and messages from sex buyers responding to the original ads. Another alternative form of a web-based reverse sting involves women police decoys responding to online ads placed by sex buyers, and arrested the ones to arrive to complete the trade of money for sex.
To learn more about this type of intervention and how it has been implemented, please see our Tactic Summary document (March, 2023). You may also locate where in the United States that this tactic has been used by visiting Demand Forum’s mapping or listing functions, and selecting from the list of tactics. By clicking on each of the cities and counties listed or mapped, you may access brief summaries of the implementation of each tactic in that community, and links to source documentation.
Examples of News Reports on Web-Based Reverse Stings
- Bloomington, MN (2023)
- Bellevue, WA (2017)
- Blount County, TN (2019)
- https://newschannel9.com/tbi-four-men-arrested-sex-trafficking-east-tennessee (2019)
- https://www.wrcbtv.com/tbi-human-trafficking-operation-east-tennessee (2019)
- https://wcyb.com/four-men-arrested-in-human-trafficking-operation (2019)
- https://www.knoxnews.com/human-trafficking-investigation-tbi-arrests-blount-county (2019)
- https://www.wbir.com/east-tennessee-arrests-human-trafficking-sting (2019)
- Greensburg, IN (2015)
- McLennan County, TX (2017)
- Odessa and Midland, TX (2018)
- Oklahoma City, OK (2013)
- Pekin, IL (2011)
- Philadelphia, PA (2013)
- Pinellas County, FL (2023)
- Polk County, FL (October, 2017)
- Provo, UT (2009)
- Putnam County, FL (2018)
- St. George, UT (2019)
- San Jose, CA (2012)
- Santa Rosa, CA (2014)
- Seattle, WA (2015)
- Staten Island, NY (2016)
Articles on 2018 “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA) and Related Action Against Internet Advertisers of Commercial Sex
Articles and Reports on Web-Based Prostitution
- Roe-Sepowitz, D., Hedberg, J., & Schmidt, C. (2013). Invisible Offenders: A Study Estimating Online Sex Customers. Arizona State University.
- Daneback, K., Ross, M.W., & Månsson, S-A. (2006). Characteristics and behaviors of sexual compulsives who use the internet for sexual purposes. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13:53-67
- Galvin, (2011). Internet helps prostitution thrive. Albuquerque Journal, July 23.
- Kristof, N. (March 18, 2012). Where Pimps Peddle Their Goods. New York Times.
- LaPeter, L. (2006). Escorts leave the streets to get on the superhighway. St. Petersburg Times Online.
- McCabe, K.A. (2008). The role of Internet service providers in cases of child pornography and child prostitution. Social Science Computer Review, 26(2):247-251.
- Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. (2005). The internet and family and acquaintance sexual abuse. Child Maltreatment, 10(1):49-60.
- Roane, K.R. (1998). Prostitutes on wane in New Yorkstreets but take to the Internet. New York Times, February 23.
- Ross, M. (2005). How the Internet is bringing the world’s oldest profession to a neighborhood near you. Diablo Magazine, June.
- Ross, M.W., Månsson, S.A, Daneback, K., & Tikkanen, R. (2005): Characteristics of men who have sex with men on the Internet but identify as heterosexual, compared with heterosexually identified men who have sex with women. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8:131-139.
- Sanders, J.Q. (2008). Central Arkansas prostitutes taking business to web. Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Northwest Arkansas Edition, February 11.
- Shaffer, J. (2008). Internet’s Anonymity Fuels Surge in Sex Traffic. Scripps News. Accessed March 3.
- Young, A.B. (2013). Vice squad prostitution ring features increasingly common online solicitations. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, January 7, 2013. http://lubbockonline.com/crime-and-courts/crime/2013-01-05/vice-squad-prostitution-ring-features-increasingly-common-online
- Youngbee, D. (2010). South Korea: Internet teen prostitution becomes out of control. Human Rights Examiner.
- Prostitution-Ad Revenue Still Falls Short Of Past Craigslist Totals
- Santa Fe, New Mexico: http://online.wsj.com/article/googlenews_wsj
News Reports on Internet-Facilitated Prostitution & Sex Trafficking
- Alaska: City’s Sex Trade Moves from Street to the Web. April 24, 2009
- Beloit, WI: Prostitution moves from street to web. January 28, 2012
- Chula Vista, CA: http://www.thestarnews.com/sex-trafficking-rides-internet-highway/. November 26, 2011
- Douglas County, GA: http://www.douglascountysentinel.com/news/local/ November 10, 2013
- El Paso, TX: http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ October 21, 2013
- Fayetteville, AR: http://www.fox16.com/state/story/Uncovering-Prostitution-in-Northwest-Arkansas May 9, 2013
- Grand Rapids, MI: Prostitution: Internet classifieds create element of secrecy, challenges for police. November 17, 2013
- Jacksonville, FL: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article/ November 9, 2012
- Lancaster, PA: Sex for Sale Along Route 30 Tourist Strip September 1, 2013
- Lexington, MA: http://lexington.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/technology-tips-lead-lexington-police-to-prostitutes June 12, 2012
- San Angelo, TX: Sex Trafficking flourishes in the internet age. July, 2013
- Staten Island, NY: http://www.silive.com/news/2013/06/staten_island June 9, 2013
- Tucson, AZ: http://www.wdam.com/prostitutes-flock-to-popular-websites. April 24, 2013
- Worcester, MA: Prostitution moving online, indoors, making arrests tougher. November 17, 2013