Grand Forks County, 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

Grand Forks County is located in Eastern North Dakota and has a population of about 70,000 residents. Its county seat and largest city is Grand Forks. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been known to occur in the city and surrounding areas dating back to the late 1800s when the railroads were being built. Prostitution increased a great deal with North Dakota’s oil and gas “boom” between 2011-2015 and continues to be an active problem. Among the more serious problems associated with the commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in 2012, three people faced charges after they trafficked a 17-year-old girl into prostitution.

Local efforts to address these problems target consumer-level demand for commercial sex. For example, in January 2013, the Grand Forks Police Department (GFPD) conducted its first reverse sting operation. After responding to a decoy online ad, four men were arrested for “hiring an individual to engage in sexual activity,” a Class B Misdemeanor in North Dakota. The maximum penalty is 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Similar operations occurred in April 2014 and February 2015, resulting in 13 sex buyer arrests. In the days following the operations, their identities were released to the public. One male sex buyer arrested in 2015 was charged with “human trafficking with a victim under the age of 18, a Class AA felony.” The offender allegedly attempted to purchase sex from an undercover officer who he believed to be an underage girl. In September 2015, the Grand Forks Herald said the man had “pleaded guilty to corruption or solicitation of minors, a Class A misdemeanor,” and had been sentenced to “two months in jail, though the court allowed him to serve the time on electronic home monitoring, followed by one and a half years of probation.” He was also reportedly ordered to complete community service.

John School

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 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 (sex buyers) 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:

  • 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

Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings and Shaming:

John School:

Community Service:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State North Dakota
Type County
Population 70243
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