PHOENIX - Over the past decade, Phoenix-area law enforcement has used a three-pronged approach to stopping sex trafficking:
1. Rescue victims
2. Go after those doing the trafficking
3. Go after the sex buyers
"Until we actually impact the demand, it's never going to stop," said Phoenix Police Department Vice Division Commander, Lt. Brian Freudenthal.
Freudenthal and detectives in the Phoenix Police vice division came up with a plan to cut into that demand from persons they refer to as "commercial sex buyers."
It started when they busted an illegal massage parlor along the 2600 block of Greenway Road in north Phoenix. A couple of weeks later, Freudenthal says, detectives went into the massage business -- sort of.
"We reopened one, a fake one -- A fake one that was ran by police detectives," Freudenthal said.
And they say, it was very convincing.
"It looked like your typical massage establishment," Sgt. Mark Doty said. "Having a lobby, the rooms to do the massages in (were) inside."
Vice officers ran an ad on various social media sites to drum up some "business."
"We had over a 1,000 hits on the advertisement alone," Freudenthal said. "And we had a lot of phone calls, individuals trying to make appointments."
And for 10 days in early December, detectives ran a brisk business as customers came in, propositioned the employee detectives for sex acts, and were promptly arrested for soliciting prostitution -- 86 in all.
Advocates for victims of sex trafficking gave high marks for the latest effort to stem the ongoing crisis of sex trafficking and illegal prostitution in the greater Phoenix area.
"There were 86 other women, of those guys arrested, that didn't get put in that situation over that period of time," Nancy Baldwin, the executive director of the Hickey Family Foundation, said.
"When we can stop one person from being trafficked," Doty said, "that's what makes us feel good."