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.
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.
- 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
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Shaming:
- “17 Arrested in BPD Prostitution Sting,” Bismarck Tribune, February 11 2015.
- “17 Men Arrested for Solicitation of Prostitution in Bismarck,” NBC/KFYR-TV 5, February 11 2015.
- “North Dakota Prostitution Sting Nets 17 Arrests,” CBS/KPAX-TV 8, February 11 2015.
- “Bismarck Police Net 17 Men in Prostitution Sting Operation,” KFGO-AM 790, February 12 2015.
- “Prostitution Sting Operation Results in 17 Arrests,” ABC/WDAZ-TV 8, February 12 2015.
- “17 Men Charged for Soliciting Prostitution,” Bismarck Tribune, February 24 2015.
- http://www.kfyrtv.com/content/news/ND-National-Guard-judge-advocate-general-arrested-for-prostitution-in-Bismarck-422391824.html (2017)
Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Earning $2,000 a Night as a Boomtown Stripper”, CNN Money, October 25 2011.
- “Crime Turns Oil Boomtown into Wild Wild West”, CNN Money, October 26 2011.
- “Williston: The Town the Recession Forgot”, Advertising Age, October 31 2011.
- “Letters: The Negative Impacts of Oil”, Minot Daily News, November 13 2011.
- “Crime Overwhelming Law Enforcement in Oil Patch”, Great Plains Examiner, December 6 2011.
- “The Downside of N. Dakota’s Oil Boom”, CNBC, February 1 2012.
- “Oil Boom Creating Dark Side of Industry in North Dakota”, CBS/WCCO-TV 4, February 23 2012.
- “ND Officials to Attend Oil Patch Crime Summit”, Minot Daily News, March 12 2012.
- “Family Men Go It Alone in North Dakota’s Oil Fields”, New York Times, March 21 2012.
- “Prostitution in the Oil Patch”, Bismarck Tribune, March 31 2012.
- “As Bakken Oil Booms, Police Prepare for Change”, Dickinson Press, April 23 2012.
- “Oil Booms– And So Does Crime on the Plains”, Tampa Bay Times, April 23 2012.
- “ND Man Arrested on Charge of Pimping”, Dickinson Press, May 26 2012.
- “North Dakota’s Fossil Fuel Boom: Messy”, Grist Magazine, June 8 2012.
- “Oil Boom Brings Benefits, Problems”, Jamestown Sun, June 27 2012.
- “Prostitution Arrests Becoming Routine in North Dakota Oil Patch”, ABC/WDAY-TV 6, July 10 2012.
- “Human Trafficking Added to List of Crimes Affecting Native Americans”, Dickinson Press, July 18 2012.
- “Oil Patch Problem: Prostitution; from Williston to Dickinson, Authorities See Increase in Criminal Act”, Bakken Today, August 3 2012.
- “ND: Oil Puts the ‘Boom’ in Parts of the Economy Conservatives May Not Want to Think About”, Montana Watchdog, August 10 2012.
- “N.D. Man Sentenced for Human Trafficking”, Jamestown Sun, August 14 2012.
- “Letters: The Dark Side of the City”, Minot Daily News, August 19 2012.
- “Taylor Unveils Plan to Fight Crime”, Minot Daily News, September 18 2012.
- “Watford City Arrests Men in Prostitution Case”, Bismarck Tribune, November 5 2012.
- “Surrey Prostitution Sting”, NBC/KFYR-TV 5, November 30 2012.
- “Former Counselor Sentenced on Sex Crime Charge”, Jamestown Sun, December 12 2012.
- “Plea Deals Offered in Human Trafficking Case”, Jamestown Sun, January 4 2013.
- “8 Arrests in Prostitution Sting: 4 Dickinson Residents Among Those Booked”, Dickinson Press, January 8 2013.
- “Prostitution in Minot”, NBC/KMOT-TV 10, January 10 2013.
- “Woman Pleads Guilty to Prostitution”, Minot Daily News”, January 10 2013.
- “Alleged GF Pimp to Fight Human Trafficking Charge”, Jamestown Sun, January 11 2013.
- “An Oil Town Where Men Are Many, and Women Are Hounded”, New York Times, January 16 2013.
- “Purdon: Increased Population Associated with Boom Will Attract Organized Crime”, Jamestown Sun, January 23 2013.
- “GF Prostitution Sting Hooks Four”, Jamestown Sun, January 26 2013.
- “VIDEO: Prostitution Problem”, NBC/KUMV-TV 8, February 20 2013.
- “Prostitution Sting in Minot”, NBC/KFYR-TV 5, February 24 2013.
- “2nd Suspect Seeks Trial in Human Trafficking Case”, Jamestown Sun, March 5 2013.
- “‘The Darkest Evil’: Fargo Residents Work to Bring Awareness to Modern Slavery Crisis”, Fargo-Moorhead Inforum, March 7 2013.
- “Five Charged in Medora Prostitution Case”, Grand Forks Herald, March 7 2013.
- “Charging Ahead in the Bakken”, Minot Daily News, March 17 2013.
- “Two Arrested in Surrey Prostitution Sting”, NBC/KFYR-TV 5, March 18 2013.
- “Legislators Address Human Trafficking”, NBC/KULR-TV 8, March 24 2013.
- “Rise of Prostitution in Bakken Prompts Legislation”, Helena Independent-Record, March 24 2013.
- “Raising Awareness of Sex Trafficking in Montana”, KRTV-TV 3, April 4 2013.
- “Judge Gives Two Years of Probation to Woman in Grand Forks Pimping Case”, Jamestown Sun, April 25 2013.
- “VIDEO: Eight Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/KFYR-TV 5, May 3 2013.
- “Man Sentenced for Promoting Prostitution in ND”, Jamestown Sun, June 2 2013.
- “Opinion: Ignore This Stuff at Your Own Peril”, Jamestown Sun, June 4 2013.
- “Prostitution Rises in the new Wild West: North Dakota’s Oil Country”, Mint Press News, January 7, 2014.
- “Washburn Man Pleads Guilty to Multiple Sexual Abuse Charges,” Bismarck Tribune, November 12 2013.
- http://www.minotdailynews.com/news/local-news/2014/06/alleged-minot-pimp-arrested-in-bismarck/ (2014)
- “Wisconsin Man Held in North Dakota Human Trafficking Case,” Bismarck Tribune, June 23 2014.
- “Bismarck Hosts State’s First Summit on Human Trafficking,” Bismarck Tribune, November 13 2014.
- “Wahpeton Man Arrested for Human Trafficking,” Bismarck Tribune, December 15 2014.
- https://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/bechtle-gets-year-for-luring-minors.html (2015)
- “Ongoing Human Trafficking Cases,” Bismarck Tribune, January 4 2015.
- “Prosecutors, Police Gather in Bismarck for Human Trafficking Training,” Bismarck Tribune, January 20 2015.
- “Human Trafficking Suspect Tried to Chew off Fingerprints,” Williston Herald, January 6 2016.
- “Wisconsin Man and Woman Admit to Sex Trafficking,” ABC/WDAZ-TV 8, January 27 2016.
- “Does More Oil Mean More Crime?”, NBC/KFYR-TV 5, March 15 2011.
- “Unemployed? Go to North Dakota”, USA Today, August 28 2011.
- “Oil Boom Brought Us Money… And Pain”, CNN Money, October 20 2011.
- “Six Figure Salaries, But Homeless”, CNN Money, October 26 2011.
- “North Dakota Oil Boom Increases Crime, Costs, Road Mayhem”, Madville Times, November 29 2011.
- “North Dakota Oil Boom Brings Blight with Growth as Costs Soar”, Bloomberg Businessweek, February 1 2012.
- “North Dakota’s Oil Boom: The Dark Side”, ABC News, February 2 2012.
- “Inside the Belly of the Bakken”, Bozeman Magpie, July 1 2012.
- “ND Crime Rate Up”, CBS/KXMB-TV 12, July 2 2012.
- “North Dakota Oil Boom: Thousands Pin Their Dreams on Striking It Rich”, Guardian (U.K.), May 14 2012.
- “Williston, North Dakota Oil Boom Comes with Wealth, Worries”, Huffington Post, May 22 2012.
- “North Dakota Went Boom”, New York Times, February 3 2013.
- “Fastest Growing Boomtowns: Williston, N.D.”, CNN Money, March 19 2013.
- “ND Oil Patch No Wild West, Researcher Says”, Dickinson Press, May 26 2013.