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The twin cities of Minneapolis (pop. approximately 425,000) and St. Paul have had well-documented, persistent problems with prostitution and sex trafficking for decades. Collateral crimes have included the sex trade-related production of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, commonly referred to in legal codes as “child pornography”), rape, assault, theft, murder of prostituted and trafficked women, and various drug and weapons offenses. For example, in 2013, a 40-year-old man was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison following his convictions for running a prostitution operation in the Twin Cities that exploited minors and young women. The sentence resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in cooperation with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), and the Bloomington Police Department. The charges for which he was convicted included counts of sex trafficking a minor; possessing child pornography; conspiracy to produce child pornography; enticing travel for prostitution; transportation with intent to engage in prostitution, and conspiracy to entice travel and transport for prostitution. In the summer of 2007, the offender had lured girls under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex acts as part of his illegal business, and also enticed or coerced adult women to travel to other states to engage in commercial sex. In addition, he possessed one or more items containing visual depictions of “child pornography,” and conspired with others to possess such depictions, and induced or coerced a child to engage in conduct so he could produce “child pornography.” The city was also the site of at least one serial killer specifically targeting prostituted women. Sex buyers have also been assaulted and robbed during prostitution transactions. 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. Street-level reverse stings have been conducted since at least the 1980s, if not earlier. 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 male sex buyers being cited and more than 20 vehicles being seized. Officers with the Third Precinct Community Response Team conducted a 6-day undercover male sex buyer detail from July 12 to July 17 in response to neighborhood complaints of increased prostitution activity. The sting netted 53 alleged male sex buyers, 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.
Some reverse stings in the city have focused on apprehending those trying to purchase access to children for sexual abuse. For example, in January 2022, four men from around the Twin Cities faced prostitution charges after police conducted a sex trafficking sting in late October 2021. All faced one count of hiring an individual between the ages of 13 and 16, and one faced an additional charge of describing sexual conduct with a child over electronic communication. The prostitution charge carries a maximum 10 year sentence, if the defendant is convicted. Court documents say an undercover sex trafficking task force comprised of metro area agencies placed ads on websites offering prostitution services. Within the next day, the four men separately contacted undercover officers who were posing as 15-year-old girls. The officers told each man they were 15 years old, but the accused all set up in-person meetings. When they pulled into their agreed-upon locations, they were taken into custody. Eighteen people have been submitted for charging in connection to the 2-day long operation.
The Twin Cities are among the pioneers of programming designed to combat demand for commercial sex. A St. Paul program started the first brief treatment program in 1988 (Intervention Program for male sex buyers), 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) and one by Vednita Carter (Breaking Free, beginning in 2000). 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.
Loss of employment is another consequence of purchasing sex that has occurred within the city. For example, in June 2015, a 39-year-old Washburn High School chemistry teacher was charged with soliciting prostitution, after he had allegedly attempted to solicit an undercover female officer for commercial sex. He had been arrested in May and booked into the Hennepin County Jail, where he was released several hours later. A letter to Washburn High School families from the Principal said the chemistry teacher was on leave until the end of the school year and did not explain why. He did not return to the faculty after 2015. Anonymous sources confirmed that the teacher remained on administrative leave, but said that could change in light of official charges. The teacher faced one count of solicitating prostitution and one count of loitering with intent to participate in prostitution, both misdemeanors. The teacher’s Web page, which was taken down, said he had been teaching in Minneapolis since 2005, and at Washburn High School since 2007. According to the criminal complaint, he had pulled up to the corner of 12th Avenue S. and E. Lake Street, and an undercover officer standing nearby approached his vehicle. The man rolled down his window and asked how much she was looking for. The undercover officer reportedly told the former teacher, “$100 for everything,” but he countered with an offer of $60. The undercover officer accepted and the teacher was immediately arrested. His identity was released in reports by local media outlets.
IT-based tactics have been incorporated into the multi-site demand reduction operations coordinated by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Since 2011, the Cook County (IL) Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) has been coordinating periodic reverse sting operations occurring simultaneously in multiple cities throughout the United States. The collaborative effort was initially called the “National Day of John Arrests,” and then in 2015 was renamed National Johns Suppression Initiative (NJSI). The coalition of agencies that participate in these coordinated enforcement efforts grew from eight to more than 100. The 19 NJSI operations from 2011 through 2021 have involved the collaboration of over 140 law enforcement agencies, and have collectively produced the arrests of more than 10,000 sex buyers. In February 2018 the NJSI partnered with Seattle Against Slavery to roll out its AI bot, Project Intercept, in six municipalities. Since August 2018, some of the NJSI operations have incorporated the use of decoy internet ads that connected to an AI bot, created by Childsafe.ai. The bot interacts with sex buyers to the point where it sends a deterrence message warning of the legal and social dangers of prostitution and sex trafficking.
Initially, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police and eight other agencies utilized the bot, including the principle police departments and sheriff’s offices in Boston, MA; Des Moines, WA; McHenry County, IL; New York, NY; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Tarrant County, TX; and Upper Merion Township, PA. Across several subsequent NJSI operations, 18 cities and counties used the Childsafe.ai bots to combat demand.
The childsafe bot and other similar products can continuously scrape data or monitor “signal” from open source electronic communications, analyze the raw input, and flag messages as probably depicting a commercial sex offer or transaction. They also engage buyers in some form of interaction designed to deter individuals from attempting to purchase sex, at the present “point of purchase” moment as well as in the future. This approach seeks to disrupt (and ultimately collapse) commercial sex markets by reducing demand.
- 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
- Minneapolis School Board
- Action Network to End Sexual Exploitation in Minnesota
- Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
- Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA)
National Assessment Survey and Interviews (2012)
Breaking Free John School Program
- “A Way Out of Prostitution”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 14 2009.
- “Creating a ‘Safe Harbor'”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, April 4 2011.
Project Pathfinder John School Program (No longer operating)
- Sawyer, S., Simon Rosser, B.R., & Schroeder, A. (1998). A brief psychoeducational program for men who patronize prostitutes. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 26 ¾:111-125.
- Sawyer, S., Metz, M.E., Hinds, J.D., & Brucker, R.A. (2001). Attitudes towards prostitution among males: A “consumers’ report.” Current Psychology, 20(4):363-376.
Sawyer Solutions Treatment Program
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- 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.
- https://patch.com/minnesota/eagan/eagan-man-charged-with-soliciting-underage-girl (2012)
- https://www.cbsnews.com/58-arrested-28-victims-rescued-in-twin-cities-undercover-sex-trafficking-operation (2019)
- https://www.cbsnews.com/4-charged-in-metro-area-sex-trafficking-sting (2022)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.keyc.com/testimony-minnesota-gop-donor-paid-underage-girls-sex (2021)
- https://www.startribune.com/new-allegations-as-child-sex-trafficking-trial-nears-wealthy-gop-donor (2023)
“Dear John” Letters:
Disclosure of Sex Buyer Identities:
- “Online Site for ‘Johns’ in Works; Police Hope to Deter Offenders via Publicity”, St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 17 2004.
- “Prostitution Solicitation Arrest Photos”, Press Release, City of Minneapolis, December 5 2012.
Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-high-school-teacher-arrested-on-soliciting-a-prostitute (2015)
- https://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-teacher-charged-with-soliciting-prostitute (2015)
- “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.
- “Citizens’ Group Targets Male Customers in Battle Against Prostitution”, St. paul Pioneer Press, March 23 1997.
- https://mndaily.com/191930/uncategorized/local-groups-battle-prostitution (2002)
- “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.
- https://www.cookcountysheriff.org/national-sex-trafficking-sting-nets-630-sex-buyers-pimps-traffickers (2018)
- https://www.cookcountysheriff.org/national-sex-buyer-sting-nets-more-than-450-arrests (2018)
Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:
- https://original.newsbreak.com/1953-prostitution-sting-at-john-s-bar-and-funhouse-in-ne-minneapolis (1953)
- “Buying Sex Stops Here”, Talking Points, Action Network to End Sexual Exploitation in Minnesota, Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.
- “Kidnap-Prostitution Ring Broken by Wisconsin Police”, Charleston News and Courier, January 18 1972.
- “Teen Prostitution Cited”, Eugene Register-Guard, October 30 1977.
- “Prostitution: Minneapolis to N.Y.”, Milwaukee Journal, October 31 1977.
- “Many Prostitutes Start There: Twin Cities Are Vice Recruiting Center”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, November 6 1977.
- “Efforts to Curb Teen-Age Prostitution Having Little Effect in Minneapolis”, Lakeland Ledger, March 5 1978.
- “Police Probe Man’s Alleged Role in Juvenile Prostitution”, St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 7 1997.
- “6 Convicted in Prostitution Case; Minneapolis Men among 15 Accused of Managing Ring”, St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 29 2000.
- “Bust of Brothel Launches Sweep; Police Say the Arrests of Four Women and One Man in a Minneapolis Neighborhood Are the Opening Round in a Citywide Crackdown They Hope Will Slow Human Trafficking and Prostitution”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 7 2007.
- “Minneapolis Police, Immigration Agents Bust Alleged Prostitution Ring”, Duluth News Tribune, December 15 2007.
- “Action Network to Use RNC and Minnesota State Fair to Bring Attention to the Problem of Sex Trafficking”, Press Release, Action Network to End Sexual Exploitation in Minnesota (ANESEM), August 29 2008.
- “Case Links Juvenile Prostitutes to Ads Posted on Craigslist”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 21 2009.
- “Trafficking Native American Girls and Women in Minnesota”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, October 5 2009.
- “Charges Filed in ‘Nice Guys’ Sex Ring”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 29 2010.
- “Rescuing Local Girls from Prostitution Gets $4 Million Boost”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, December 20 2011.
- “Minneapolis a Human Trafficking Battleground”, NBC/KARE-TV 11, February 15 2012.
- “Woman Charged with Sex Trafficking After Missing Teens Found”, NBC/KARE-TV, August 1 2012.
- “Minneapolis City Council, Local Organizers: Stop Selling Girls on Backpage”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, August 19 2012.
- “Hotels Are Enlisted to Combat Sex Traffic”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 27 2012.
- “Mpls. Police Stepping Up Efforts to Thwart Sex Trafficking”, CBS/WCCO-TV 4, January 16 2013.
- “New Minneapolis Police Approach to Juvenile Prostitution Paying Off”, Minneapolis Post, January 16 2013.
- “Brooklyn Park Man Charged with Soliciting Teenage Prostitute”, CBS/WCCO-TV 4, July 5 2013.
- “Cheerleader Prostitutes 16-Year-Old Girl”, World Net Daily, September 9 2013.
- https://www.ice.gov/minnesota-man-sentenced-28-years-prison-producing-child-pornography-running (2013)
- “Minneapolis Pimp Held 2 Women Captive at Hotel, Charges Say”, St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 7 2014.
- “Report: Minneapolis Sex Trafficking Violent, Organized”, Minnesota Daily, September 16 2014.
- “Dontre McHenry Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking Girls Throughout Minnesota,” ABC/KAAL-TV 6, October 18 2014.
- “Man Sentenced in Sex Trafficking Case,” Rochester Post Bulletin, November 13 2014.
- “Man Accused of Trafficking Girls 12, 16, in Minnesota,” Bemidji Pioneer, February 21 2015.
- “State Takes New Tack on Prostitution, Human Trafficking; Coordinated Approach Is Boosting Conviction Rate,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, February 1 2016.
- https://www.minnesotamonthly.com/a-closer-look-at-minnesotas-sex-trafficking-problem (2018)
- https://www.cbsnews.com/sex-traffickers-increasingly-going-online-to-find-vulnerable-youths (2021)
- https://www.justice.gov/minneapolis-man-charged-child-sex-trafficking-conspiracy (2021)
- https://www.kare11.com/parents-describe-how-daughter-became-a-sex-trafficking-victim-in-new-bca-video (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- https://www.minnpost.com/in-1953-a-major-inter-state-prostitution-case-centered-on-northeast-minneapolis-johns-bar (1953)
- “Police May Pool Efforts on Prostitution-Related Deaths”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 17 1994.
- “South Minneapolis Struggles Against Rise in Prostitution”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, June 16 2006.
- “Restorative Justice Offers Second Chance for Offenders”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, November 21 2007.
- https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle (2007)
- “North Minneapolis Church Hopes to Offer Refuge to Victims of Prostitution”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, February 22 2010.
- “Despite Progress, North Minneapolis Drop-In Center Dealing with Setbacks, Too”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, June 8 2010.
- “Source Ministries Plan Transitional Home for Women Leaving Prostitution”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, November 4 2010.
- “North Minneapolis Congregation Turns Over Church to Victims of Sex Trade”, Twin Cities Daily Planet, April 29 2011.
- “Mpls. Police’s Prostitution Stings Criticized,” Minnesota Public Radio, August 20 2015.
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.
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