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National Sex Buyer Sting Nets More Than 450 Arrests

COOK COUNTY, IL – More than 450 sex buyers have been arrested by two dozen police agencies as part of an ongoing national effort to reduce sex trafficking, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.

The 16th National Johns Suppression Initiative (NJSI) ran from July 25 to Aug. 26 and included 24 law enforcement agencies across 12 states, including the nation’s four largest urban areas. At least 473** sex buyers were arrested, most of them from street-level reverse stings due to the changing landscape of online sex trafficking. Ten individuals face charges related to attempting to have sex with a minor, six individuals were charged with trafficking-related offenses and 11 juveniles were recovered. Law enforcement agencies in Cook County recorded 75 sex buyer arrests.

To deter Johns, NJSI partners also utilized an artificial intelligence (AI) bot to interact with sex buyers who responded to decoy online ads in nine jurisdictions. The bot interacts via text message with individuals seeking to buy sex and a deterrence message warns the Johns of the legal and social dangers of buying sex. In total, 1,576 potential sex buyers were engaged via the bot, which was created by childsafe.ai. Using the bot, this summer’s NJSI also found indications that this spring’s closure of Backpage.com and passage of federal anti-trafficking laws has disrupted the online marketplace for purchasing sex.

The bot was strategically deployed to measure the level of potential trafficking taking place across several emerging “escort service” websites in five jurisdictions: Chicago, Phoenix, Boston, Seattle and Minneapolis. On average, decoy ads on the new sites attracted just three John inquiries per ad. In January, similar ads on Backpage.com in those same cities drew an average of 17 inquiries per ad during the 15th NJSI.

After years of efforts by Dart to stop Backpage.com’s illegal activity, the site was shuttered in April as federal agents arrested the company’s executives on money laundering and trafficking-related charges. That same month a new federal law, titled FOSTA-SESTA, took effect to hold Web sites more accountable for sex trafficking.

“Of course the days of sex trafficking are not behind us and countless victims and perpetrators remain,” Sheriff Dart said. “We must remain vigilant, continue to reach victims and work to hold offenders accountable for the harm they cause.”

Sheriff Dart started NJSI in 2011 to draw national attention to the linchpin role sex buyers play in fueling sex trafficking. Since then, Sheriff’s Police and more than 100 participating agencies have arrested nearly 9,000 sex buyers.

Average Number of John Inquiries Per Decoy Ad

January 2018 August 2018
Chicago 19 2
Phoenix 25 3
Boston 16 5
Seattle 9 11
Minneapolis 10 2

  • Alabama

    • Tuscaloosa PD: 28 Johns arrested and 2 guns recovered
  • Arizona
    • Mesa PD: 9 Johns arrested
    • Phoenix PD: 18 Johns arrested and 43 bot contacts
  • California
    • Los Angeles Sheriff: 37 Johns arrested, 6 charged with attempting to arrange sex with a minor, 5 charged with attempting to recruit, 8 juveniles recovered and 2 guns recovered
  • Illinois
    • Arlington Heights PD: 2 Johns arrested
    • Cook County Sheriff: 73 Johns arrested, 241 bot contacts and one man charged with child endangerment for having a 5-month-old in the backseat while soliciting.  The stings included operations with the Maywood, Lansing and Matteson police departments.
    • Lake County gang Task-force: 9 Johns arrested
  • Nebraska
    • Douglas County Sheriff: 5 Johns arrested
  • New York
    • New York PD: 58 Johns arrested, 1 charged with seeking sex with a 14-year-old and 960 bot contacts
  • Ohio
    • Cincinnati PD: 6 Johns arrested
  • Oregon
    • Portland PD: 17 Johns arrested and 2 juveniles recovered
  • Pennsylvania
    • Pittsburgh PD: 27 Johns arrested
    • Upper Merion Township PD: 1 John arrested
  • Texas
    • Harris County Sheriff: 63 Johns arrested and 1 juvenile recovered
    • Houston PD: 64 Johns arrested and 37 bot contacts
    • Arlington PD, Tarrant & Collins county sheriffs: 32 Johns arrested
  • Washington
    • Seattle PD: 66 bot contacts
  • Wisconsin
    • Brown County Sheriff: 19 Johns arrested, 3 charged with us of computer to facilitate a child sex crime, 1 facing trafficking-related charges and 2 guns recovered
    • Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation: 5 Johns arrested.

*Special thank you to Demand Abolition for their continued support of this national initiative.
**Numbers subject to change based on additional law enforcement agencies reporting


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