Burleigh County, ND

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Burleigh County contains Bismarck, the capitol city of North Dakota, and has a population of approximately 95,000.  The county has a long history of problems associated with prostitution, and more recently has documented cases of sex trafficking.  Over the last 10 years, the entire state of North Dakota has been affected by drastic changes resulting from the discovery of billion barrels of untapped oil reserves in the Williston Basin in 2006.  From about 2008 to 2012, communities of North Dakota have observed dramatic increases in population size.  Public law enforcement officials and victim service providers have reported a dramatic spike in service requests, as thousands of people from across the country migrate to the region in search of work.  The population in some cities and counties has increased exponentially in just a few years, resulting in housing shortages and inflation, and overwhelming the local infrastructure for health and social services, law enforcement, and transportation.  Most of this population influx has been of men filling jobs on the oil fields and to meet the exploding demand for trucking services and construction.  In addition to overwhelming public infrastructures and housing, the “Bakken boom” also resulted in rapid growth in the market for commercial sex.  the vast majority of the  new population were males, many of whom were either single or have left families behind in other states in order to travel to North Dakota for work in the energy sector and other sectors of the economy.  From approximately 2014 forward, the rapid growth leveled off and then in many areas began to decline as global market forces suppressed energy prices to the point that much of the planned increase in production in North Dakota was suspended.  Throughout these economic shifts there is been a robust commercial sex market in Bismarck and surrounding areas.

Among its efforts to reduce prostitution, the Bismarck Police Department has conducted at least three reverse stings targeting johns. Over a two-day period in February 2015, BPD officers placed a decoy listing to a website known for commercial sex sales, and fielded calls and text messages from the men who responded to the listing. According to police, 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 arrested were intercepted after arriving at an agreed-upon location and making an offer of money for sex. Their names were not released to the public.  In March 2015, BPD detectives conducted their second web-based reversal of the year, netting 17 johns in the process. Unlike in the prior operation, however, the names, ages and hometowns were publicized in local media outlets.

In May 2017 a reverse sting operation led to the arrest of 18 adult sex buyers at a Bismarck hotel, including a judge advocate general officer for the North Dakota National Guard.  The operation was designed to attract people looking for sexual activity illegally online. Seven pleaded guilty to the charge of solicitation of prostitution and received sentences with three to five days of suspended jail time and $250 to $300 in fines, according to court records. 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.

John School:

A “john school” program for arrested sex buyers was approved by the State Legislature in 2015, and was operational in February 2017.  The program is a one-day course provided by the Director of the criminal justice program at the University of Mary.  The john school can be used as a sentencing option for people convicted of soliciting prostitution, and features a panel of survivors, discussion of negative effects on the community, and legal and health risks buyers may face as offenders.  Courses can be offered in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and Watford City.  During the first six months following its establishment, nobody had has been sentenced to the john school, in part due to lack of awareness and due to under-investment in operations that produce arrestees that would populate the program. In the first half of 2018, 18 men arrested during prostitution stings in Bismarck would have been candidates for the program, but the Assistant City Attorney, who was prosecuting the cases, did not know it existed even though it had been approved by the Legislature in 2015 and ready-to-go in February 2017.  Presentations had been given at conferences for district judges and state’s attorneys, but not to the city-level staff who often handle Class B misdemeanors like the solicitation of prostitution.

Key Partners

  • Burleigh County District Court
  • Burleigh County Detention Center
  • Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department
  • Burleigh County District Attorney’s Office
  • Bismarck Police Department
  • Bismarck Municipal Court
  • North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation
  • FUSE (North Dakota anti-trafficking coalition)
  • University of Mary

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Shaming:

John School:

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


State North Dakota
Type County
Population 95626
Comments are closed.