Rapid City, SD

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

Rapid City is the second-largest city in South Dakota, with a population of approximately 76,000 residents, and serves as the government seat of Pennington County. It is set against the eastern slope of the Black Hills mountain range in the western part of the state, and accommodates most of the tourist flow to Mt. Rushmore. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity are significant issues in the city and greater county area. This activity and its ancillary crimes have resulted in complaints to local law enforcement from residents and businesses. In 1985, the state increased penalties for prostituted people and sex buyers. The increase in penalties was a result of an increase in violence, targeted homicides against prostituted people and sex buyers, and an increase in sex trafficking activity within major metropolitan areas like Rapid City and Sioux Falls. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking/exploitation.

Reverse Stings

To address these problems, interventions targeting demand for commercial sex have been pursued. Rapid City law enforcement has been conducting street-level reverse stings since 2007, if not earlier. The first known street-level reverse sting in 2007, resulted in the arrest of four male sex buyers for “hiring for sexual activity,” after they had allegedly attempted to solicit sex from an undercover female officer. Officers frequently employ the use of audio and video surveillance equipment to record interactions between suspected sex buyers and undercover officers as a form of evidence presented during trials. For example, in 2010, the Rapid City Police Department conducted a street-level reverse sting in that resulted the citation of five male sex buyers. During the trial of one of the cited sex buyers, the audio and video tapes of his conversations with undercover officers were released to the jury. According to reports, these tapes demonstrate the sex buyer negotiating prices for various sex acts with undercover officers. The sex buyer in the 2010 case was believed to receive a 30-day suspended sentenced and a $400 fine, in addition to being held responsible for all other court costs and fees. The offender’s identity was included in reports by local media outlets. Hiring for sexual activity is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The RCPD has recently expanded their sting operations to include web-based stings. For example, the first known web-based reverse sting operation occurred in October 2012, and resulted in the arrest of four male sex buyers. A second web-based reverse sting conducted in February 2013, resulted in the arrest of seven male sex buyers. All were released and ordered to appear in court. In November 2013, four men were arrested by the Rapid City Police Department on misdemeanor charges of attempting to solicit prostitution over the Internet. The identities and ages of arrested sex buyers were released by local law enforcement.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is an annual event in which hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists from around the nation to tour the Black Hills, listen to outdoor concerts, and eat from local food vendors. Due to the influx of tourists in the area, the Sturgis Rally has become a main event that drives sex trafficking within the state of South Dakota. As a result of the increase in commercial sex activity, agents from the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation and South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force conduct reverse sting operations in coordination with local law enforcement agencies such as the Rapid City Police Department, the Sturgis Police Department, and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. These operations have been occurring since August 2013 when community complaints about prostitution activity occurring during the rally, coupled with concerns from law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups about potential sex trafficking activity drove local, state, and federal agencies to conduct a reverse sting operation during the rally. As a result of the first investigation, seven male sex buyers were arrested. According to reports, the FBI and Division of Criminal Investigation agents, along with the Rapid City Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force posted decoy advertisements for 12-to-13-year-old girls on Craigslist.com and Backpage.com (websites known for commercial sex activity) and communicated with potential sex buyers who had responded to the decoy ads, initiated communication, and negotiated sex acts with undercover officers. The male sex buyers were arrested upon their arrival to the predetermined location by undercover officers. Following their arrests, the identities of the arrested sex buyers were released to the public. Each was charged in U.S. District Court with attempting to entice a person under 18 into a commercial sex act. In January 2014, it was reported that at least one of the men had been sentenced to 10 years in prison and was required to register as a sex offender. “He was earlier convicted of attempted trafficking with respect to involuntary servitude and forced labor for seeking sex with [what he believed to be a] 12-year-old girl.”

In August 2018, six men were arrested as the result of a sex trafficking operation in the Rapid City area, which took place during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office worked in conjunction with law enforcement officials from Pennington County, Rapid City, Sturgis and the state Division of Criminal Investigation on the sting. The six men, ranging in age from 20 to 55, were charged with attempted enticement of a minor using the internet, which charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison upon conviction. In March 2021, two men were found guilty of sex crimes charges against minors stemming from the reverse sting operations conducted during the 2017 and 2019 Sturgis Motorcycle Rallies. One was an Arizona resident who was found guilty of Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking of a Minor and Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet committed during the 2017 Sturgis Rally. In multiple text messages with a person he believed was a pimp for a 15-year-old girl – but who was instead an undercover agent – he negotiated a time and place to meet to engage in sexual abuse of a minor. Upon arriving at the pre-determined location, he was met with law enforcement and taken into custody.

In 2020, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was the site of another undercover operation. This web-based reverse sting was conducted by a joint task force comprised of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and U.S. Homeland Security. In this most recent operation, eight men were arrested and charged with an assortment of sex crimes. Sticking to previously set precedents, the names and ages of the offenders were released in addition to their crimes. Many of the men face charges for attempted enticement of a minor using the internet. According to reports, the perpetrators were communicating with undercover agents using a variety of websites and chatrooms. When the men showed up to meet the underage girls, whom they believed would be engaging in sexual acts in exchange for various forms of payment, they were arrested.

Since the first investigation in August 2013, over 70 male sex buyers have been arrested and charged with crimes related to child sex trafficking, online solicitation of a minor, the creation/distribution of child sexual abuse material, etc.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Timeline of Operations and Sentencing

Sex Buyer Arrests

Sex buyers have also been apprehended through alternative investigations and as the result of residential complaints to local law enforcement. For example, in August 2016, in what began as a sex trafficking investigation into a local massage parlor, resulted in the arrest of eight individuals; two women on prostitution-related charges and six male sex buyers on soliciting prostitution charges. A similar investigation occurred in September 2017, that resulted in the citation of seven sex buyers and the arrest of two prostituted women. According to reports, an undercover detective initially contacted two woman who were separately advertising massage and sexual services online, and after an investigation they were arrested and charged for the offenses of prostitution, practice of massage without a license, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and a sales tax license violation. The reverse sting portion of the operation involved detectives fielding calls responding to online posting that advertised commercial sex, arranging meetings, and arresting those who appeared and offered to buy sex. The identities of the sex buyers were publicly released in both operations.

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Operations:


Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

  • Harsher penalties might mean more SD prostitution arrests (1985)
  • “Woman Tried on Pimping Charge,” Rapid City Journal, September 5 2001.
  • “Woman Guilty of Promoting Prostitution,” Rapid City Journal, September 6 2001.
  • “Prostitution Trial Begins in Rapid City,” Aberdeen American News, September 8 2001.
  • “Jury Convicts Woman on Prostitution Charges,” Aberdeen American News, September 9 2001.
  • “Pimping Charges Bring Two 18-Month Sentences,” Rapid City Journal, October 15 2001.
  • “City Proposes Licensing of Sex- and Adult-Oriented Businesses,” Rapid City Journal, September 10 2002.
  • “Adult Business Law Gaining,” Rapid City Journal, September 16 2002.
  • “City Approves Restrictions on Businesses,” Rapid City Journal, October 22 2002.
  • “City Rejects AOB License,” Rapid City Journal, July 17 2003.
  • “Police Bring AOBs into Compliance,” Rapid City Journal, March 16 2004.
  • “Compliance Checks Ongoing at Adult-Oriented Businesses,” Rapid City Journal, June 26 2004.
  • “Woman Charged with Pimping after AOB Sting,” Rapid City Journal, December 7 2004.
  • “Prostitution Sting Nets 3 Women,” Rapid City Journal, February 28 2006.
  • Strip club ‘crime’ a community issue (2010)
  • “Three Women Arrested in Connection with Website Advertising Prostitution in Rapid City,” Rapid City Journal, December 13 2012.
  • “Two Men Arrested for Prostitution in Rapid City,” Rapid City Journal, March 15 2013.
State South Dakota
Type City
Population 76184
Comments are closed.