Missoula County, MT

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

Missoula County is a county of approximately 120,000 residents, located in Western Montana. Its county seat and largest city is Missoula, MT. Instances of prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in the county. Local businesses and residents have complained about prostitution, and the community plays a role in law enforcement deciding to conduct enforcement operations. Cases of violence against women in prostitution have also been documented in the county. Among the more serious issues surrounding the area’s commercial sex market are child sex trafficking and related cases of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often referred to in criminal codes as “child pornography”). In 2019, a Missoula detective and member of the FBI Montana Regional Violence Crime Task Force stated that every year since 2012, he’d handled an average of 10 child sex trafficking and/or exploitation cases in Missoula County. The following year, a Missoula County District Court judge sentenced a woman to 50 years in prison for “selling a 5-year-old girl to a man for sex.”

Law enforcement utilizes reverse stings in an effort to reduce prostitution in the city. One such sting was conducted in August 1988. The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) worked with a woman who was a client of a local attorney “offering legal services to female clients if they would have sex with him or let him procure them for other men.” The informant met the man at a Missoula hotel, where he attempted to solicit her for sex. The interaction was recorded by the MCSO and later served as evidence in court. Officers arrested the male sex buyer on charges of soliciting prostitution and prostitution. The offender pleaded guilty to prostitution in order to have the charges of soliciting prostitution dropped. In addition to having to pay a $500 fine and obtain counseling, the attorney’s license to practice law was suspended by the Montana Supreme Court.

Web-based operations targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money have also been conducted. In December 2013, the MCSO and Missoula County Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force conducted a web-based reverse sting where officers posted advertisements posing as an adult female willing to prostitute a 12-year-old relative. Six men and one woman were arrested as a result; each was charged with felony child sex abuse and had their names released to the public. In August 2014, the Task Force conducted a similar sting with the support of the Missoula Police Department and Flathead County Sheriff’s Office that resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers. Although the details of the operation were not immediately disclosed, members of the local media reported that at least one sex buyer was charged with “felony attempted child prostitution after he allegedly tried to set up a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl through a detective posing as her mother.”

In September 2021, a detective with the MCSO received a report that a 36-year-old Missoula County male had been using social media and messaging applications to communicate with an FBI Special Agent assigned to the Child Exploitation Human Trafficking Task Force. For months the sex buyer communicated with the undercover detective, who he believed to be a 13-year-old girl, even when it was reiterated that he was speaking to a minor. In March 2022, the sex buyer asked the undercover agent to meet in person to engage in commercial sex. He was arrested upon his arrival to the predetermined location and charged with two felony counts of sexual abuse of children. The offender’s identity and image were included in reports by local media outlets.

Sex buyers have also been apprehended through alternative investigations and residential reports to local law enforcement. In 2010, city officials worked with teenage survivors of a sex trafficking ring to identify the male sex buyers responsible for their exploitation. 12 male sex buyers were arrested and charged with solicitation as a result. According to media reports at the time, “nearly all appeared in Missoula County Justice Court and pleaded guilty or no contest to being clients of prostitution” and were given a “six-month suspended sentences and fines and fees of $635.” Their identities were also publicized.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Cameras, Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Public Education:

Operation Cross Country:

Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Montana
Type County
Population 119533
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