Idlewild is a small community of 685 residents, situated in the Manistee National Forest approximately 50 miles north of Grand Rapids in central Michigan. The town has a history of once being a prosperous resort and recreation area from the 1910s through 1960s. It was one of the main vacation destinations in the Midwest for African Americans in the era of segregation. At its peak, over 25,000 people would fill the city in the summer. The boom period passed, due in part to the civil rights movement ending overt segregation and opening up other vacation opportunities for African Americans. The town has been described as having declined since the 1960s, and stabilized on a smaller scale during the 1990s. Its location has made – and continues to make – it a tourism and recreation destination, particularly during hunting season which reportedly attracts “thousands” of hunters.
The seasonal population increase, which is disproportionately male, attracted a large increase in women and girls engaged in prostitution. The prostitution problem first appears in news reports in the 1970s. Reports describe mobile brothels in vans or motor homes (often with out-of-state license plates) from which women would solicit hunters in campgrounds, parking lots, and the town’s sidewalks. A news report on the prosecution of a Mann Act case describes women and girls being “imported” (or trafficked) from Toledo, Ohio to serve as prostitutes in Idlewild. Other news reports confirm the presence of underage prostituted girls during “sweeps” or prostituted women and johns.
The first known attempt to combat prostitution occurred in 1977, when seventeen women and one 16-year-old girl were arrested in stings. The supply-side intervention did little to address the problem. The following year, police conducted reverse stings and nine johns were arrested. No reports provided follow-up analyses about effectiveness, although police leaders believed that attacking demand was a promising alternative to the ineffective focus on supply.
“Its [prostitution] been a problem for numerous years during hunting season. It [arresting johns]should help considerably in reducing the problem. If arresting prostitutes doesn’t have an adequate effect, sometimes if we can reduce the demand by discouraging the johns it should have considerably more effect.”
Thomas Grasel, Commander of Michigan State Police post in Reed City, 1978
In the 1978 reverse sting, nine men were arrested; three men pled guilty, were sentenced to nine days in jail, and fined $150 each; and six pled not guilty and were freed on $250 cash bond pending trial.
- Michigan State Police, Reed City Post #62
- Reverse Stings:
- “10 Arrested in Idlewild,” Ludington Daily News, November 20 1978.
- “Arrest 3,” Ludington Daily News, November 20 1978.
- “Deer Hunters Target of State Police Decoys,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 24 1978.
- “Hooked; Policy Decoys Trapping Hunters,” Beaver County Times, November 26 1978.
- “Deer Wasn’t Only Quarry for Hunters,” New London Day, December 14 1979.
- Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Wild Dears Hunting Men,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 28 1977.
- https://www.nytimes.com/1978/11/21/archives/machigan-deer-hunters-are-also-stalked (1978)
- “Operation of Motorhome Brothel Draws Conviction,” Bend Bulletin, March 10 1979.
- “Deer Hunters Also Hunting for ‘Dears’,” Spencer Daily Reporter, December 4 1979.
- “Court Chides ‘Licentious’ Deer Hunters,” Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, December 13 1979.
- “The Rise & Fall of Idlewild,” Traverse City Northern Express, June 6 2002.
- “Once a Paradise, Idlewild Hopes to Rise Again,” Detroit Free Press, November 30 2014.
- https://www.bridgemi.com/children-families/down-and-out-lake-county (2014)
- https://savingplaces.org/stories/whats-next-for-idlewild-michigans-black-eden (2018)