Prostitution Stings in Wisconsin: How they Work

Prostitution is sometimes referred to as “the world’s oldest profession.” If that is true, then patronizing or soliciting prostitutes may be the world’s oldest criminal activity. In many communities in Wisconsin, a perceived increase in prostitution is leading law enforcement to conduct undercover investigations or “stings” into prostitution and those who patronize prostitutes.

Setting the Trap

Law enforcement uses a variety of methods to set up these stings. They often employ methods similar to what you may have seen on “Dateline NBC, To Catch a Predator,” where law enforcement officers posing as prostitutes place ads on the internet and wait for patrons, or “Johns,” to respond to the ads. Law enforcement may set up a date or liaison at a local motel, and when the unsuspecting John shows up and offers money in exchange for sex to an undercover officer, the “John” is arrested. Most commonly in those situations, it is law enforcement posing as female prostitutes, and unsuspecting men responding to the fake ads and getting arrested.

Police will sometimes rent two adjoining rooms at the motel, with one room set up as the site where the bogus tryst would take place, and officers and audio/visual recording equipment set up in the room next door.

In the past, law enforcement may have used Craigslist to post these types of fake prostitution ads. Today, websites such as Backpage.com are commonly used.

“Johns” are not the only targets of such sting operations. Law enforcement sometimes target the women who are engaging in prostitution by responding to ads placed on the internet, posing as “Johns” themselves, setting up a liaison with the woman who has posted the ad, and arresting her after she accepts money in exchange for sex.

In areas where “escort services” are in operation, police may contact the escort service, schedule a date or liaison with an escort at a local motel or residence, and arrest the woman working as the escort after she accepts money in exchange for sex. “Escort service” is a name, a euphemism, sometimes used by an agency or business that advertises women for the purposes of prostitution.

In areas where there is frequent prostitution activity taking place in public, on the street, undercover officers may pose as prostitutes and wait for “Johns” to approach. Likewise, undercover officers may pose as “Johns” and approach women suspected of engaging in prostitution and attempt to negotiate the exchange of sex for money.

Prostitution takes place in nearly every community in nearly every corner of our state. As a result, prostitution stings conducted by police take place all over Wisconsin, from Superior to Beloit, Eau Claire to Milwaukee, and everywhere in between.

Potential Charges

Those caught up in a prostitution sting or undercover investigation in Wisconsin can be charged with a variety of crimes:

  • Prostitution
  • Patronizing or soliciting prostitutes
  • Keeping a place of prostitution
  • Pimping and pandering
  • Human trafficking

These crimes are codified in sections 940.30 through 940.34 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

It is not uncommon for arrests made in prostitution stings or undercover investigations to turn up evidence of other crimes or law violations, too. Drug charges, financial crimes, battery, resisting or obstructing an officer, and probation and parole violations are common examples.

Prostitution in Wisconsin is illegal, as it is nearly everywhere in the United States. Accordingly, it is considered an illegitimate or black market activity, and those involved will often disguise their true identity. The bottom line is that if you place or respond to an ad on the Internet, you have no idea who the person on the other end of that email or text message is. Even if you approach someone on the street, or are approached by someone on the street, you do not know whom you are actually talking to.

Police certainly do not have to identify themselves as law enforcement officers. Any time you place an ad or respond to an ad on the Internet that involves the exchange of sex for money, you are taking the risk that the person on the other end of the computer is a cop.

If you have been caught up in an undercover prostitution investigation or a prostitution sting in Wisconsin, you should not expect your legal problems to disappear. Whether you are a man or a woman, you should contact a competent criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your legal options.