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Cass County is located in North Dakota and has approximately 180,000 residents. The county is over 80% urban, and most of the population resides in the county’s government seat, Fargo. Police report that commercial sex is a substantial problem in the area, especially at local hotels and motels. In recent years there have been more sex trafficking-related arrests in the area. The majority of commercial sex in the area has moved online—in 2017, it was estimated that about 72,000 sex ads were posted on Backpage.com in North Dakota alone.
Another problem associated with the local commercial sex market is child endangerment. For example, in 2014, a young woman was charged with prostitution and drug use in her home while caring for her newborn son.
Police efforts have focused on apprehending individuals driving the demand for commercial sex (sex buyers) through street-level and web-based reverse sting operations. The identities and images of arrested sex buyers are often publicized. Prostitution and soliciting sex are Class B misdemeanors in North Dakota, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. The cases often result in a guilty plea and deferred imposition of the sentence: if the offender does not violate probation, the charge is removed from his public record (it remains as a sealed record can only be accessed by prosecutors and judges when needed).
In 2012, the Fargo Police Department and Cass County Sheriff’s Office collaborated in a web-based reverse sting operation that resulted in the arrest of eight male sex buyers. During this operation, audio and video devices were placed in the room to record interactions between potential sex buyers and undercover officers. Police also publicized the identities and images of arrestees in order to raise awareness about efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex and deter individuals from purchasing sex in the future. One of the men arrested was the CEO of a local car wash. He pleaded guilty in Cass County District Court to a less charge of soliciting prostitution and was sentenced to one day in jail, a $450 fine, and the completion of a sex buyer education program.
Nine different agencies conducted another web-based reverse sting in June 2016 that resulted in the arrest of 18 sex buyers who tried to exploit children. In the Cass County portion of the sting, most arrestees were Fargo and West Fargo residents aged 20-54.
In September 2017, a web-based reverse sting targeting people looking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money was conducted. According to reports, 60 individuals responded to a decoy ad posted by law enforcement, but only two were arrested. The sting occurred during a large event in Fargo, meaning police had heavy competition with other online sex ads and a lower response rate than expected. It was reported that 40-50 other ads were posted on the same website as the decoy ad that week—four times the number of ads seen during a similar web-based reverse sting operation conducted a few months earlier (in that operation, undercover officers reportedly communicated with 85+ potential sex buyers in a single day and arrested 10 male sex buyers). The men arrested in September 2017 were charged in Cass County District Court with patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity.
Additional demand-reduction tactics such as “john schools” have been documented in the county. The area’s Demand Reduction Program (DRP), a partnership between 31:8 Project, North 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 Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, 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.
- 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.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Cameras, Identity Disclosure:
- Police to target prostitutes’ customers (2007)
- 3 arrested in Fargo prostitution sting (2011)
- Inside a police sting: Fargo police target prostitution in the area (2012)
- https://www.jamestownsun.com/news/two-men-arrested-in-prostitution-sting (2012)
- https://www.valleynewslive.com/Details-of-undercover-sting-to-combat-sex-crimes-against-juveniles (2016)
- https://www.inforum.com/local-two-day-sex-ad-sting-results-60-responses-two-arrests (2017)
- 9 jailed, including 8 in Cass County, as part of underage sex sting (2017)
- https://www.perhamfocus.com/eight-arrested-in-clay-county-as-part-of-underage-sex-sting (2017)
- Operation Guardian Angel nets 8 arrests (2017)
- https://www.wahpetondailynews.com/wahpeton-police-aids-in-cass-clay-county-sex-sting (2017)
- https://www.grandforksherald.com/jury-finds-ceo-of-dons-car-washes-guilty-of-lesser-sex-charge (2017)
- https://www.am1100theflag.com/fargo-man-arrested-human-trafficking-sting (2018)
- https://kfgo.com/news/articles/man-arrested-in-underage-sex-sting/ (2018)
- https://www.valleynewslive.com/3-men-arrested-in-underage-sex-sting-in-fargo/ (2020)
John School, Public Education:
- Don’s Car Washes president sentenced to 1 day for solicitation charge (2017)
- New ND anti-prostitution program for ‘johns’ has no takers so far (2017)
- North Dakota’s State Attorney’s Office – Demand Reduction Program (2017)
- North Dakota Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report (2018)
- North Dakota Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report (2019)
- North Dakota Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report (2020)
- Reducing recidivism: how one program is decreasing demand for prostitution in the state (2020)
- 318 Project Demand Reduction Program (DRP)
Background on local Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, and Child Endangerment:
- Fargo-Moorhead Authorities Break Up Prostitution Ring (1978)
- Prostitutes’ customers would be punishable under new bill (2005)
- Bills would clarify prostitution laws (2005)
- https://www.tulalipnews.com/as-sex-trade-ramps-up-in-untamed-oil-patch-dakotas-crack-down/ (2013)
- https://www.willistonherald.com/modernized-slavery-article (2014)
- https://www.grandforksherald.com/fargo-woman-accused-of-prostitution-at-home-with-baby (2014)
- https://www.businessinsider.com/north-dakota-sex-trafficking-prostitution-oil-boom-police-raid (2015)
- https://www.valleynewslive.com/ICE-involved-in-Fargo-human-trafficking-investigation-but-release-few-details (2016)
- Third person arrested for facilitating prostitution (2020)