As most Americans counted yards and touchdowns during Super Bowl XLIX, law enforcement officers across the country were crunching a different set of numbers: Tallying the arrest records of hundreds of sex buyers, and almost half a dozen pimps and traffickers.
During the ninth National Day of Johns Arrests, a widespread crackdown on the demand for purchased sex, 37 law enforcement agencies in 17 states conducted stings that led to the arrests of 616 (and counting) would-be sex buyers and 23 pimps or traffickers. In addition, 54 women and 14 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation were connected with social service support, including mental health and domestic abuse counseling.
“Sex trafficking destroys countless lives,” said Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart. “And this broad national movement should send a strong message to prospective johns that their ‘hobby’ is much more than a ‘victimless’ crime.” Dart conceived the idea for the national sting in 2011 and his office coordinates it every year with support from Demand Abolition. “It’s particularly meaningful that this effort culminated during the Super Bowl, which unfortunately has emerged as a prominent haven for sex trafficking.” (Phoenix authorities recovered several women who said they were trafficked in for the Super Bowl. One victim suffered broken ribs and two black eyes from her pimp.)
This year’s sting was the largest and most successful to date, with some suspects being charged with multiple crimes. On top of the 23 individuals arrested for pimping or trafficking—which indicates that they may have forced their victims into lives of prostitution—some would-be sex buyers were also booked for felony sex trafficking, commercial sexual abuse of a minor, rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and possession of illegal firearms. (Of the 21 sex buyers arrested in Boston, three had long and violent criminal histories, including kidnapping and assault. The Newport News Police Department recovered eight weapons after arresting 12 people.)
Law enforcement targeted sex buyers online, indicating how the Internet has become a predominant conduit for the illegal sex trade. About 64% of those arrested responded to a dummy ad on Backpages.com. Another 7% ended up in cuffs because they responded to fake postings on Craigslist.com; providing a strong reminder that those fighting sexual exploitation must be as agile and technically savvy as today’s sex buyers, pimps, and traffickers who are becoming increasingly active online.
“We’re facilitating a strategic shift in how law enforcement monitors and addresses prostitution,” Dart said. “The victims need treatment rather than punishment, and sex buyers should be held responsible for their roles in perpetrating the sex trafficking industry.”
For more information on the most recent National Day of Johns Arrests, read the following:
New York Times