Fargo, ND

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

Fargo is an eastern North Dakota city of approximately 124,000 located in Cass County. 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 serious issue associated with prostitution in the area is child sex trafficking. For example, in 2017 a man was convicted on charges of conspiracy and sex trafficking of five victims, one of whom was a minor. In June 2022, a man was sentenced to more than 17 years in federal prison for attempted sex trafficking of a child (and distribution of child sexual abuse material)s after trying to solicit commercial sex acts from an undercover officer he thought was a parent looking for a “tutor” for a 10-year-old girl.

Sex buyers themselves have also been targets of robberies in Fargo. In 2019, Fargo police investigated a string of robberies involving men who responded to false online prostitution ads and were robbed upon their arrival to the predetermined location. One victim reported that after he arrived and paid a woman, a man appeared from a bedroom and held a stun gun to his neck as the woman removed his wallet and cell phone. Another man said that he was approached in the building by several armed men who stole his wallet, car keys, and cell phone. Multiple people were sentenced for their roles in these crimes, including a 19-year-old woman who also may have been involved in sex trafficking a minor.

Efforts to combat demand for commercial sex have been documented in the county. Since 2007, police have heavily focused on apprehending those driving the demand for commercial sex by targeting sex buyers in street-level and web-based reverse sting operations. The identities and images of arrested sex buyers are also often released. 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 (although it remains as a sealed record, which can only be accessed by prosecutors and judges when needed).

In 2012, the Fargo Police Department (FPD) 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 lesser charge of soliciting prostitution and was sentenced to one day in jail, a $450 fine, and the completion of a sex buyer education program.

In September 2017, a web-based reverse sting targeting people looking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money was conducted in Fargo. 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, 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.

Other web-based reversed stings targeting people looking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money were conducted in 2018 and 2020. In the 2020 sting, 60 people responded to the FPD’s  decoy ads within six hours of being posted. The operation resulted in three arrests after those sex buyers took additional actions to meet with a child. One man wasn’t charged, but the other two were for patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity. Their names and ages were released to the public.

Additional demand reduction tactics such as public education and “john schools” have been documented in the county. For example, the FPD hosts safety trainings for local hotel owners to help them keep their properties and employees safe and attract positive business. They’re trained on what prostitution and drug trafficking signs to look out for both at the front desk and inside the rooms.

John School

The area’s Demand Reduction Program (DRP), a partnership between 31:8 ProjectNorth 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 and is offered quarterly in BismarckFargoGrand ForksMinot, 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. Program Curriculum includes the following:

  • 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.

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Cameras, Identity Disclosure:

John School, Public Education:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State North Dakota
Type City
Population 123550
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