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NEW YORK — Prostitution busts aren’t what they used to be.

During the first year of the pandemic, in 2020, 61.5% of the people arrested in prostitution cases were “johns,” or the buyers of sex. Just 24% were sex workers.

It’s a continuation of a strategy shift started by the NYPD in 2017, when greater efforts were made to prosecute the promoters of prostitution — many of them human traffickers — along with the customers who pay for the service.

But overall, prostitution arrests have “precipitously dropped” since 2014, according to statistics given to PIX11 News by the NYPD Office of Public Information.

In 2020, just 96 sex workers were arrested compared to 1,790 in 2014. In the same time period, 246 patrons of prostitution were arrested.

The NYPD Vice Squad utilizes undercover officers to post phony ads on websites advertising sex. When a prospective john responds to the ad, the cops send out a “Targeted Communication Deterrence Message.” 

Since 2018, “the NYPD has sent just under 19,000 such messages,” the department noted.

The NYPD told PIX11 News it has a mission to combat human trafficking, working to get emergency beds when it rescues a sex worker being forced to perform sexual acts against their will.

The department says members of the Vice Enforcement Unit have rescued 150 people since 2017 from trafficking situations, working with advocacy groups and other agencies to get them assistance.  

The Public Information Office said some vice investigators are so moved by the people they rescue that they often bring clothing, shoes and toiletries to them.