Minneapolis, MN

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

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

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.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interviews (2012)

John Schools:

Breaking Free John School Program

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:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

“Dear John” Letters:

Disclosure of Sex Buyer Identities:

Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Neighborhood Action:

Community Service:

IT-Based Tactics:

Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Minnesota
Type City
Population 424536
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