Des Moines, IA

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

Des Moines is the state capital city located in central Iowa.  It also serves as the government seat of Polk County, and has a population of about 215,000. Prostitution has been identified as a problem in the city dating back to the 1800s, and in contemporary times, sex trafficking and related crime have been well documented. For example, in 2021, a Des Moines resident pleaded guilty in federal court to sex trafficking six victims by force, fraud, and coercion. He pleaded guilty to sex trafficking six adult victims and admitted to trafficking a 14 year-old victim, and admitted in his plea agreement to trafficking them beginning in 2009, and as recently as February, 2018. He had been arrested as part of a separate federal drug investigation, for which he was serving a term of federal imprisonment. He admitted to posting online escort advertisements of victims, transporting them to hotels and motels within and outside of Iowa to engage in commercial sex acts, and taking proceeds of the commercial sex acts. He admitted to using physical violence towards all six adult victims, and to providing heroin to one victim to keep her engaging in sex acts. He also admitted in his plea agreement to arranging for a 14-year-old to engage in commercial sex acts, knowing that she was not yet 18 years old.

Among the crimes occurring within the context of the sex trade that have occurred in the city has been the rape of trafficked minors and the murder of at least one trafficker. In August, 2022, a teenage sex trafficking victim from Des Moines was convicted of killing her alleged rapist, a male sex buyer. The girl, who was 15 at the time, stabbed the man to death in June, 2020. The man had raped the girl five times in the weeks before she killed him after another alleged sexual assault, according to a plea agreement. The girl was homeless after running away from what she said was an abusive relationship with her parents, and was a sex trafficking victim who was sent to the man’s apartment by another man she was staying with at the time.

To address the consumer level demand that drives all sex trafficking and prostitution, the Des Moines Police Department has conducted web-based and street-level reverse stings at local motels, homes, and streets using undercover female police officers or police informants. Details about the men arrested are often disclosed to the public, and records of the arrests are posted in court documents.

Arrest of sex buyers have occurred in the city as the result of investigating crimes against real victims, rather than using police decoys in reverse stings.  For example, in 2021, the owners of a Des Moines bail bond business are charged with multiple counts of fraud and prostitution. According to the criminal complaint in the case, one defendant demanded and received a sex act from a woman as a condition of paying her bond.

In the early 1990s, media outlets reported that an unnamed Des Moines neighborhood association had sent letters to the homes of men seen loitering in high-stroll areas, though details of how suspected sex buyers were identified and later contacted by residents were not disclosed. It is unclear if the tactic remains in use.

Key Partners

  • Des Moines Police Department
  • Mid-Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force
  • Polk County Sheriff’s Office

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Arrest of Sex Buyer, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

  • “D.M. Police Take Car Used to Pick up Prostitute,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 15 1993.


Background on Local Sex Trafficking, CSAM:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Prostitution and Sex Trafficking-Related Violence:

State Iowa
Type City
Population 215408
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