Eau Claire, 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

Eau Claire is a city of approximately 70,000 residents, located in Eau Claire County in the Chippewa Valley area of western Wisconsin. Sex trafficking and prostitution activity are known to occur in the region for decades, and associated problems include drug and weapons offenses, sex trafficking, and the robbery of sex buyers. For example, between 1951 and 1956, there was a federal campaign against organized interstate prostitution – much of which would now be called sex trafficking – in the upper Midwest of the United States. A series of investigations and enforcement operations revealed a prostitution and sex trafficking network centered in a bar in Minneapolis, MN, and spanning numerous cities in several states, including Chicago, IL; Sioux Falls, SD; Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Superior, WI.  In December 1951 the FBI announced a campaign against organized interstate prostitution in the Upper Midwest, and when George MacKinnon took over as US Attorney for Minnesota in 1953, he targeted a prostitution enterprise that stretched from Chicago to Sioux Falls and beyond, with a nexus at a Northeast Minneapolis saloon called John’s Bar and Funhouse. By the end of the campaign in mid-1956, John’s Bar had lost its license, and 110 men and women had been convicted of violating the Mann Act. More recently, in response to complaints from community members, the Eau Claire Police Department began an investigation into local prostitution networks in 2011.  The 10-month investigation initially focused on women engaged in prostitution, and several arrests were made.  In May 2012, however, a web-based reverse sting was conducted that resulted in 10 arrests of sex buyers.  A local hotel allowed police to use rooms for the meetings with potential sex buyers.

In April 2013, officers conducted a second web sting by placing a decoy advertisement to Backpage.com. As sex buyers responded to the listing, undercover officers arranged to meet the men at a nearby hotel. Eleven men were arrested in the operation.  Again, hotel owners cooperated with police during the investigation, and stated that it was aware “it had a stigma of seeming run down, but helped police with [the] prostitution sting operation in [the] hopes of making a positive change.”

In October 2017, the Eau Claire Police Department posted an ad on Craigslist with an officer posing as the father of two girls, ages 8 and 11, whose mother was away and the children were “available for sex.” A man responded and arranged to purchase access to sexually abuse the 8 year old girl for $400, and in the exchanges sent a nude photo of himself to the officer. He did not appear at the meeting place, but an email was traced to an IP address in Marshfield, WI, and investigators responded and eventually discovered more than 90 images and videos of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, also called “child pornography” in state law), including one image with a toddler, at his home.

In January 2018, a Minnesota man was sentenced for having driven to Eau Claire to have sex with a child, but instead was caught in a child sex trafficking sting. The man was convicted for responding to an ad placed by an undercover officer offering children for sex.  He was arrested at Hobbs Ice Arena after offering $200 dollars to sexually assault an 11-year-old girl. He was sentenced to eight years probation and six months in jail after he pleaded guilty to charges of enticing a child.

In addition to reverse stings, the city has implemented other demand-focused tactics. In mid-2012, local media outlets reported that the Eau Claire County District Attorney was considering a john school program, perhaps similar to the one in Madison that opened in 2010.  Other reports described the program as fully operational, and noted that “arrested sex buyers may plead guilty in Eau Claire County Court to a misdemeanor count of pandering, and receive a one-year deferred agreement with prosecutors.  We believe that the news reports are referring to the John School program in Appleton (which began operating in November 2012) and accepts men arrested for soliciting referred from other communities, including Eau Claire and La Crosse. In the John School program, men must pay fines of $250 – $350 and may be required to perform approximately 40 hours of community service. They must avoid rearrest for one year, and must complete the John School.  The class or series of classes teach about the abuse histories of many prostitutes, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and the effects of prostitution on families and communities.  If successful with their agreements, men will be found guilty of a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct a county ordinance violation of disorderly conduct.

In February 2018, a former Menomonie school board president was arrested in a web-based reverse sting and charged with soliciting prostitution in Eau Claire County court. He was charged with a single criminal misdemeanor count of prostitution, and the judge deferred a guilty plea for 12 months contingent upon several conditions: the offender must not commit any new crimes, avoiding using Backpage.com, complete an education program for those arrested for buying sex (the John School), perform 40 hours of community service, and pay a $250 fee.

In March 2018, a rural Eau Claire man was sentenced to one year on probation for trying to hire a prostituted woman for sex.  The man had pleaded no contest in Eau Claire County Court to a misdemeanor count of prostitution, and was fined $443.  As conditions of probation, Erickson must undergo any programming, counseling and treatment recommended by his agent. He must also complete the John School, which focuses on the experiences and harms of prostitution, such as the violence associated with prostitution, the sexually transmitted disease risks of prostitution and the effects of prostitution on families and communities.  According to the criminal complaint, an Eau Claire police officer, working in an undercover capacity, placed an ad for prostitution on Backpage.com and arranged to meet the man, who responded to the ad on January 11 2018.  The meeting was planned for a parking lot in the 2200 block of Fenwick Avenue.  The subject of the ad was portrayed as a 19-year-old woman.  Erickson indicated he was willing to pay $50 for sexual contact.

Some sex buyers are arrested as the result of alternative investigations rather than the product of reverse stings using fictional decoys. For example, in July 2019, an investigation into prostitution occurring in local massage businesses was initiated in response to community complaints. Three different premises were the focus of the investigation and surveillance on one of these revealed that 223 sex buyers frequented the business in an approximate one-month time frame. The allegations and evidence of prostitution were confirmed. One of the arrests made related to these investigative efforts was a man charged with “patronizing prostitutes” under Wisconsin state statute 944.31. The man’s identity was included in a police press release.

Key Partners

  • Eau Claire Police Department
  • Eau Claire County District Attorney’s Office
  • Local hotel allowing web based reverse sting operation on premises

Key Sources

John School:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Arrest of Sex Buyer, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation:

Background on Local Prostitution:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Wisconsin
Type City
Population 69441
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