Idlewild, MI

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

Idlewild is a small community of less than 1,000 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, has attracted a large increase in women and girls engaged in prostitution. The prostitution problem first appeared in news reports in the 1970s. Reports described 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 described women and girls being “imported” (or trafficked) from Toledo, Ohio to serve in prostitution in Idlewild. Other news reports confirmed the presence of underage trafficked girls during “sweeps” of prostituted women and sex buyers.

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 sex buyers 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.


It’s [prostitution] been a problem for numerous years during hunting season.  It [arresting sex buyers] 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; six pled not guilty and were freed on $250 cash bond pending trial.

Key Partners

  • Michigan State Police, Reed City Post #62

Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Michigan
Type City
Population 928
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