Grand Forks, 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, the county seat of Grand Forks County, is a city of about 57,000 residents in eastern North Dakota. 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 were faced with human trafficking-related charges after they trafficked a 17-year-old girl into prostitution and advertised her online with pictures they had taken.

Local efforts to address these problems include targeting 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 the arrests of 13 sex buyers. In the days following the operations, their identities were released to the public. One male sex buyer arrested in the February 2015 reversal 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.

The GFPD conducted another sting in 2017. Three sex buyers were arrested and charged with soliciting sex from an individual. Police said they used “internet resources” to run this operation but shared no other details.

The GFPD has been known to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies. In 2017, the GFPD arrested one man for patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity. The Fargo Police Department arrested eight men during this same sting. In August 2021,  three men were arrested following a human trafficking operation targeting prostitution. The GFPD partnered with the Dickinson Police Department, the North Dakota BCI, and Homeland Security Investigations for this operation.

Additional demand reduction tactics such as public education and “john schools” have been documented in the county. For example, in 2016 a “Red Sand Project” event was hosted in downtown Great Falls. People poured red sand in the cracks in the sidewalks and started conversations about how to address the problem of sex trafficking in the area.

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

Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

John School, Public Education:

Community Service:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State North Dakota
Type City
Population 56588
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