Douglas County, WI

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

Douglas County has approximately 43,000 residents, located along Lake Superior in northwestern Wisconsin’ s Douglas County. It is situated across the bay from Duluth, Minnesota, which along with the city of Superior, WI comprise the Twin Ports metropolitan area.  Prostitution has been documented in Superior and Duluth, and throughout Douglas County, dating back to the early 1900s.  In contemporary times, commercial sex and sex trafficking activity have posed many local problems.

Among the efforts to address these problems is the recent addition of attempts to combat consumer-level demand for commercial sex. Douglas County agencies have collaborated with local municipal police as well as state and federal agencies, and regional task forces.  In December 2013, the Superior Police Department announced that they had completed a six-week investigation into prostitution in the area, with the assistance of the Duluth Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force. Although the operation initially targeted prostituted women offering commercial sex online, officers soon shifted gears and conducted a “spinoff operation” targeting male sex buyers. Media outlets reported that the sting was the first of its kind in the city. During the operation, “investigators created and posted [an advertisement] on offering pay-for-sex services.” Over a three-day span in late November 2013, officers arrested seven men who “responded to the ad and showed up with payment and condoms.” The men were charged with solicitation and/or “patronizing a prostitute.” Their names were not released to the public.  In the months that followed, it was announced that at least three of the men arrested had been “offered deferred judgment of conviction agreements.” Under the agreement, they were ordered to attend a $750 john school course offered through a St. Paul-based organization, Breaking Free. The restorative justice course addresses the underlying attitudes and assumptions that encourage offenders to participate in prostitution, according to the organization’s website. If they completed the course, paid $250 in fines, and abided by the agreement for a year, the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office would move to amend the charges to county ordinance disorderly conduct with no further penalties.

In August 2014, Superior and Duluth detectives again collaborated to conduct a web-based reversal, this time resulting in the arrest of seven sex buyers. Each of the men was arrested after responding to an online listing advertising prostitution and arranging to meet an undercover female officer at a Superior hotel. While six of the male sex buyers were charged with prostitution, one was also accused of child enticement. Unlike in prior investigations, all arrestees’ names and other identifying information were publicized in local media outlets.

Key Partners

  • Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
  • Douglas County District Attorney’s Office
  • Superior Police Department
  • Duluth Police Department
  • Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force
  • Breaking Free

Key Sources

John School:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Identity Disclosure:

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

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Wisconsin
Type County
Population 43497
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