The twin cities of Minneapolis (in Hennepin County) and St. Paul (Ramsey County) have well-documented problems with prostitution and sex trafficking dating back to at least the 1970s, and the local and regional commercial sex markets have involved the rape, assault, and murder of prostituted women. Hennepin County was the site of the activity of at least one serial killer who specifically targeted prostituted women. Various agencies and nonprofit organizations have engaged in a wide range of activities designed to reduce the prevalence and negative impacts of illegal commercial sex. Many of these efforts have attempted to address the chief cause of both prostitution and sex trafficking – consumer-level demand.
Reverse stings have been conducted within Hennepin since at least the 1980s (and probably before). Some of the recent reversals have been large-scale. For example, a recent operation in the 3rd precinct of Minneapolis ended with dozens of alleged customers being cited and more than 20 vehicles being seized. Officers with the Third Precinct Community Response Team conducted a 6-day undercover “john” detail from July 12 to July 17 in response to neighborhood complaints of increased prostitution activity. The sting netted 53 alleged customers, and police also made a handful of arrests for other offenses. “This is a crime that impacts the entire community and we recognize that sex buyers perpetuate an exploitative industry,” said Third Precinct Inspector Michael Sullivan. “Our officers did an excellent job re-enforcing that this illegal activity will not be tolerated in the City of Minneapolis.” Officers focused on the Lake St East Corridor between 3rd Ave South and 17th Ave South. Most of the details were conducted at night and during the lunch hour. Along with the citations issued, 23 vehicles were seized, and in Minneapolis, there is a forfeiture process in which vehicles used in the commission of certain crimes could be surrendered by owners and liquidated by the city.
Many of the other, smaller cities within Hennepin County also have conducted reverse stings. For example, in September, 2019, a multi-agency human trafficking sting was conducted in Eden Prairie. Officers posed as the person who posted an online ad for prostitution, and texted with people who responded to the decoy ad. Ten people were arrested after they responded to the ad and went to an Eden Prairie hotel near Interstate 494 and Flying Cloud Drive, to complete the transaction. All 10 were charged with hiring or agreeing to hire a person for sex, a “gross misdemeanor” that carries a maximum sentence of one year or a fine of $3,000. One person was also charged with interfering with an officer, a misdemeanor, after he tried to run when officers told him he was under arrest. In Maple Grove in March, 2021 a man was arrested in an undercover sting operation conducted by the Maple Grove Police Department that focused on electronic solicitation of minors. The 70 year old defendant was charged with one count of prostitution-hiring/agreeing to hire an individual believing to be between the ages of 13 or 16 to engage in sexual contact. Officers had placed numerous advertisements in online publications known to be used by individuals engaging in prostitution. One of those individuals responding to the ads was allegedly a 70 year old man, who engaged in a text conversation with an undercover officer posing as a 15-year-old girl. The criminal complaint stated that the suspect and the undercover officer exchanged information relating to their future encounter when the undercover officer stated that she was under 20 and asked if 15 was okay, and the suspect stated it was fine. They agreed on money and a time and place to meet. The man went to a park in Maple Grove as instructed by the officer, was arrested, and was positively identified. The arresting officer also called the phone the text messages originated from and determined it was the phone found on the suspect. In a post-Miranda statement, the man admitted to texting with a person who said she was 15 and he agreed to pay for sex. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison for this felony charge and/or up to a $20,000 fine.
The Twin Cities region has been a pioneer of programming designed to combat demand for commercial sex. A St. Paul program started the first brief treatment program in 1988 (Intervention Program for men who use prostitutes), preceded only by the John Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which began in 1981. The Twin Cities have had two programs running concurrently, one led by Steve Sawyer (a brief treatment program started in 1988, in Ramsey County) and one by Vednita Carter (Breaking Free, beginning in 2000 in Hennepin County). The program run by Mr. Sawyer accepts referrals from cities throughout the Minneapolis/ St. Paul metropolitan region and outside of the state of Minnesota. A second version of the intervention Program partners with a community restorative justice program in Minneapolis ( Restorative Justice Community Action) to combine brief therapy with community service. The Breaking Free program began accepting men arrested in Rochester and Olmsted County, Minnesota, in 2011, and has accepted referrals from Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as other communities throughout Minnesota.
- Minneapolis Police Department
- St. Paul Police Department
- Northeast Minneapolis Citizen Patrol (NECP)
- Sawyer Solutions, LLC
- Breaking Free
- Offenders Prostitution Program/The John School
- Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women
- Action Network to End Sexual Exploitation in Minnesota
- Web-Based Reverse Sting, Shaming:
- Reverse Stings:
- Minneapolis Prostitution Solicitation Convictions: Overview, City of Minneapolis.
- “Twin Cities Neighborhoods Wage Dogged Fight Against Prostitution”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 27 1986.
- “‘John Sweeps’ Round Up Sex Customers”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 20 1988.
- “2 Arrested in Male Prostitution ‘Sting’”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, June 7 1988.
- “‘Johns’ Have Role in Police Videos”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 24 1988.
- “Police Fight Prostitution on Lake St.; Decoy Sting Nets 12 ‘Johns’, Ages 20 to 81”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 16 2004.
- “Minneapolis to Go After Johns to Fight Prostitution”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 12 2009.
- “3 Twin Cities Somalis Guilty of Sex Trafficking”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 4 2012.
- “Mpls. Ringleaders, Johns Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 13 2012.
- “2nd Ex-Con Guilty of Drugging Teen, Prostituting Her in Chicago Area, Mpls. Hotels”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 20 2012.
- Auto Seizure:
- “Bill Would Allow ‘John Sweeps’, Car Seizures”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 6 1993.
- “Car Seizures Not a Detterent to Prostitution; Sweeps in Minneapolis, St. Paul Target ‘Johns’”, St. Paul Pioneer Press, November 20 1994.
- “Police Innovate to Close Prostitute ‘Revolving Door’”, Minnesota Daily, April 10 2002.
- Neighborhood Action:
- “Citizens’ Group Targets Male Customers in Battle Against Prostitution”, St. paul Pioneer Press, March 23 1997.
- “Residents Work the Anti-John Beat in South Minneapolis”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, October 13 2006.
- “Northeast Minneapolis Citizen Patrol Looks Back on First Year”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, December 2 2006.
- “Arrests Say No, Some Say Yes; ‘World’s Oldest Profession’ in Northeast Minneapolis”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, July 8 2007.
- “Prostitution Issues in Powderhorn”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, March 26 2009.
- Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Case Questions Use of Voice Analysis”, Eugene Register-Guard, December 11 1984.
- “Complaint Describes Stabbing, Rape of Minneapolis Prostitute”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 11 1993.
- “Public Wary, But Not Panicked, Over Killings”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 11 1996.
- “Prostitutes Victims of Brutal Killers – and Apathy; Advocacy Group Seeks Solutions”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 26 1996.
- “Suspected Serial Killer Goes on Trial in 1 Death; Mark Profit, Who Has Been Charged with Strangling Renee Bell, Mutilating Her Body and Dumping It in Theodore Wirth Park, Also Is the Prime Suspect in Three Other Deaths”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 13 1997.
- “Consecutive Life Terms for Profit in Wirth Park Attacks”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 3 1997.
- “Convicted Killer Confesses to Two Unsolved Homicides”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 19 1997.
- “A Convicted Killer with Little to Lose; Already Serving Life, Mark Profit Wants to Be Charged in Another Killing”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 30 1999.
- “Justices Order New Trial in 2006 Killing; The Supreme Court Said the Prosecution Prejudiced Jury; Shooting Occurred at Minneapolis Prostitution House”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 24 2010.
- “Unsolved Stabbing Death of Minneapolis Woman Came after Years of Drug Addiction, Homelessness,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 1 2014.
- “Former Minneapolis Man Pleads Guilty to Killing Male Prostitute in 1993,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 5 2015.