Hundreds of would-be sex buyers were arrested on Super Bowl Sunday in a national sting operation started by the Cook County Sheriff’s office, officials said Monday.
A national coalition of local law enforcement agencies conducted a sting operation that led to the arrests of 570 would-be sex buyers, or “johns,” and 23 pimps or traffickers, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.
The operation ran from Jan. 15 through Feb. 1 and brought together 37 law enforcement agencies throughout 17 states in a widespread crackdown on the demand for purchased sex.
More than 60 arrests were made in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, Dart said.
“We go after the prostitution operations 24/7,” Dart said. “In that, we get the traffickers, the pimps and so on. This was primarily focused on the ‘johns,’ the people buying these services.”
The operation also targeted pimps and traffickers who have forced victims into prostitution, police said.
Dart conceived the sweeps idea in 2011 to “highlight the role of sex solicitors as perpetrators to this violent and exploitative industry.”
Police said 64 percent of the “johns” were arrested after answering what they thought was an online ad for prostitution on Backpage.com. In addition, 7 percent responded to fake ads on Craigslist, police said.
“We put an ad up on Backpage that we had for three days telling people we were going to be out arresting them and they still did it,” Dart said.
Charges included adult and juvenile felony sex trafficking, commercial sexual abuse of minor, pimping and rape. They also led to charges of kidnapping, drug trafficking and possession of illegal firearms.
Dart and Sen. Mark Kirk said they will work together on new legislation to make it easier for police to go after sites that allow sex trafficking, especially when victims are underage.
“I’m always for the First Amendment,” Kirk said. “We shouldn’t have the freedom to create slavery in America, especially in Illinois.”