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390 arrested in nationwide prostitution sting, including 38 in Cook County

Cook County sheriff's office Facebook photo

A nationwide sting intended to curb sex trafficking by targeting people trying to buy sex netted more than 390 arrests since last month, 38 of them in Cook County.

The National Johns Suppression Initiative, the 17th operation of its kind since 2011, spanned 14 states and ran from Jan. 13 to Feb. 3, according to a statement from the Cook County sheriff’s office.

As part of the sting, law enforcement agencies placed decoy ads on “more than a dozen trafficking-related websites,” the sheriff’s office said.

The investigation made use of an artificial intelligence “bot” that interacted with people responding to the online ads, which was designed to send respondents “a deterrence message warning of the legal and social dangers of buying sex,” according to the sheriff’s office.

The ads led to at least 372 johns arrested nationwide, including 21 charged with soliciting a minor, the sheriff’s office said. Another 23 people arrested during the sting are also facing human trafficking charges.

Thirty-five people were “recovered and offered services” as part of the operation, according to the sheriff’s office.

In Cook County, 38 johns were arrested and one of them was charged with indecent solicitation of a minor, the sheriff’s office said. The Lansing, Matteson and Orland Hills police departments participated in the investigation.

Another 14 johns were arrested by the Lake County sheriff’s office, while three others were arrested by Rockford police, the sheriff’s office said.

Law enforcement agencies in Alabama, Arizona, California, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin also participated.