Since the first operation in 2011, the National John Suppression Initiative has led to the arrests of more than 8,200 sex buyers across the country.
In traditional prostitution stings, police officers usually arrested only the women who were selling sex. But there is growing awareness that many women caught in a life of prostitution are there against their will. Some prostituted people are victims of trafficking, and others feel that they have no other options. Arresting victims and the vulnerable has done nothing to prevent the harms caused by the commercial sex industry.
In recent years, law enforcement agencies increased efforts to target and prosecute pimps and traffickers who exploit the vulnerable for profit. But a key piece of the puzzle was still missing. Like all markets, the sex trade is based on supply and demand. If men weren’t willing to pay for sex, there would be no need for pimps and traffickers – and no harm to those being prostituted.
In 2011, eight law enforcement agencies came together to dedicate their time and resources to conduct coordinated “john stings” – targeting the men who purchase sex, rather than prostituted persons. Fifteen stings later, more than 100 jurisdictions have participated in the National John Suppression Initiative, leading to the arrests of 8,280 sex buyers.
NJSI has grown significantly over time because more law enforcement agencies realize that demand-focused operations are a smarter way to prevent the harms caused by prostitution and sex trafficking.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Department started this twice annual operation as a new approach to prostitution arrests—one that views prostituted persons as victims and the men who purchase them as perpetrating a harmful business. Marian Hatcher, the county’s human trafficking coordinator and a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, oversees NJSI. Her personal connection to the issue fuels her staunch commitment to holding buyers accountable and ensuring that prostituted persons are not criminalized in these operations.
Locations of NJSI Arresting Agencies
Total Arresting Agencies Over Time
When the first NJSI operation took place in October 2011, eight agencies participated. Since then, a combined total of 106 agencies have taken part in the country-wide demand sting.
To continue this upward swing, it is important for law enforcement to have access to the resources they need to deter potential buyers, conduct buyer stings, and ensure that victims get the care and support they need. In many cases, fines paid by arrested sex buyers are used to fund victim services and future buyer stings.
NJSI is the perfect opportunity to experiment with new technology and share information across jurisdictions. The latest NJSI in February 2018 was the first to use Project Intercept, a chatbot created by Seattle Against Slavery, in partnership with Demand Abolition and the CEASE Network (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation). Participating law enforcement agencies posted a fake ad for sex, and then when potential buyers contacted the ad, they engaged in conversation with the chatbot, which eventually provided them with a deterrence message. More than 9,000 potential sex buyers interacted with the chatbot, and around 60 percent of them heard the deterrence message.