Bismarck, ND

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

With a population of approximately 73,000, Bismarck is the capitol of North Dakota and the county seat of Burleigh County. The city has a long history of prostitution and the problems associated with it, including sex trafficking and illicit massage businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is child sexual exploitation. For example, in 2021, a 37-year-old man exchanged meth with a 38-year-old woman for sexual activity with a minor. Together the two injected the young girl with drugs before raping her.

In 2006, the discovery of untapped oil reserves in the Williston Basin drastically changed the entire state of North Dakota. Many men—often either single or with families in other states—moved to fill jobs with the oil fields, trucking services, and construction. Known as the “Bakken boom,” this influx of men coming to North Dakota to work in the oilfields lasted until about 2014. Unfortunately, the rapid population growth the state experienced during this time also resulted in a rampant commercial sex market.

In effort to reduce prostitution and sex trafficking activity, the Bismarck Police Department (BPD) has conducted reverse stings targeting sex buyers. For example, in February 2015, BPD officers placed a decoy listing to a website known for prostitution. Officers received over 60 responses to the listing, but “due to logistical constraints such as a limited number of officers on hand to make arrests, [they] were only able to arrest and charge 17 of the men who answered.” All of the men were arrested after arriving at an agreed-upon location and making an offer of money for sex. Their names were not released to the public. When asked about the operation, a BPD spokesman stated:

“[These arrests] tell us there’s more demand than supply when we have that amount of people responding to an ad that we can’t even get them all processed… You know we have a problem. I think that [the arrests] send a message to everybody that any time you answer an ad it could be law enforcement lurking behind there.”

In March 2015, BPD detectives conducted a second web-based reverse sting, netting another 17 male sex buyers. Unlike in the prior operation, the names, ages, and hometowns were publicized in local media outlets.

In May 2017, a reverse sting operation led to the arrest of 18 sex buyers, including a judge advocate general officer for the North Dakota National Guard. The operation was designed to attract people illegally looking online for sexual activity. Seven pleaded guilty to the charge of solicitation of prostitution and received sentences with three to five days of suspended jail time and $250-$300 in fines. Six people were scheduled for trials, and five more had bench warrants. Two juveniles were also picked up, but Burleigh County prosecutors declined to say how they were handled. The identities of the adults arrested were publicly disclosed. Some of the men came from other states, including Texas, Louisiana and Nevada.

In August 2017, one of the men arrested in the May 2017 sting was caught again during an undercover sting operation after he allegedly attempted to solicit a 15-year-old girl for sex online. The arrest was part of a web-based reverse sting operation in which a Bismarck police officer posed as a minor and posted a decoy ad on websites known for prostitution and sex trafficking. The man was charged in Burlington County District Court with luring minors online, a Class C felony. His identity was included in reports by local media outlets.

Ad hoc sex buyer arrests have also been used to deter demand. In 2021, a Bismarck man was accused on paying a minor for sex. He told police that the money wasn’t specifically for sex and he believed the victim was 19, but he was charged with a felony for patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity. His identity was released to the public.

Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2013, the president of U.S. Recovery Services in Bismarck was one of eight men arrested in a web-based reverse sting conducted in Dickinson, ND. He reportedly told the Dickinson Press that he was fired from the position as a result. He ended up pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge in a plea agreement and agreed to pay $750 in fines and court costs and will serve a deferred sentenced under the guidelines that he not commit any crimes for 12 months.

John School

Additional demand-reduction tactics such as “john schools” have been documented in the city. The area’s Demand Reduction Program (DRP), a partnership between 31:8 ProjectNorth Dakota Attorney General’s Office, and the University of Mary, opened in 2017. After a slow start and lack of attendees due to low awareness and an underinvestment in demand-focused operations, 24 offenders (ranging from 20-54 years old) have completed the “john school” as of 2020.

The one-day, $500 program serves as an intermediate sentencing, diversion, and education option for offenders charged with purchasing prostitution (sex buyers) and is offered quarterly in BismarckFargoGrand ForksMinot, and Watford City.  Incorporating feedback from human trafficking survivors, the course raises awareness on the importance of implementing demand reduction efforts in order to combat prostitution and sex trafficking activity. Pre- and post-program tests are administered to assess changes in participant behaviors and/or perspectives.

Program Curriculum:

  • Cause of Human Trafficking: Connection between prostitution, trafficking, and criminal activity.
  • Impacts of Human Trafficking on the Buyer: Legal ramifications, medical and health risks of further criminal activity.
  • Impacts of Human Trafficking on the Victim: Connection between their criminal activity and health, psychological, and social impacts on the victim.
  • Impacts of Human Trafficking on the Community: Local, regional, and global aspect.
  • Developing Healthy Relationships and Communities: Conditions of healthy relationships, services available to aid individuals, responsibilities as a member of a community to develop healthy personal attitudes regarding intimacy and sexuality.

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:

John School, Public Education:

Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:


State North Dakota
Type City
Population 73435
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