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St. Charles is a city in Winona County, MN, and has a population of approximately 3,700 residents. It promotes itself as the gateway to Whitewater State Park, which is located 7 miles north of the city on Minnesota State Highway 74. Instances of prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-documented in the city and surrounding areas. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking.
Efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex in the city have been deployed in the city. For example, in 2014, the St. Charles Police Department participated in a multi-agency web-based reverse sting, led by the Winona County Sheriff’s Office, targeting men seeking to engage in commercial sex online. As a result of the investigation, six male sex buyers were arrested, three of which entered a diversion program after pleading guilty to to the charge of prostitution patron. Each of the three men were sentenced to a year of probation, a $335 fine, and ordered to attend Breaking Free Offenders Prostitution Program, (a John School), within 90 days. Offenders pay the full cost of the all-day program — all teachers volunteer their time, so the entire $750 fee goes to Breaking Free services for victims and survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution, including housing, transportation and food. There is no cost to the county to participate. The seminar is led by Breaking Free staff, the St. Paul City Attorney’s office, law enforcement, sexual and mental health experts, community members, and survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution. The identities of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets. In 2021, the St. Charles Police Department once again participated in a multi-agency web-based reverse sting called, “Operation Lady Liberty.” The investigation resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers on charges of either hiring a prostitute or engaging in prostitution. Their identities and ages were released by police to local media outlets.
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the city. For example, in December, 2018, a part-time St. Charles police officer resigned after his arrest in a Rochester prostitution sting. According to the Rochester Police Department the man was arrested at a south Rochester hotel as part of an investigation. He was charged with gross misdemeanor soliciting prostitution in a public place. He was one of three men arrested; all were booked and released. The sex buyer was one of nine part-time police officers on the St. Charles police force, along with four full-time officers. The St. Charles Police Chief said that the man was no longer employed by the department after he turned in his resignation, which was accepted.
- https://www.postbulletin.com/newsmd/agreements-reached-in-three-winona-prostitution-cases (2014)
- Breaking Free Offenders Prostitution Program
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Shaming:
- https://www.postbulletin.com/newsmd/six-arrested-in-winona-prostitution-sweep (2014)
- https://www.winonapost.com/news/six-arrested-in-prostitution-sting (2021)
Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest; Shaming:
- https://lacrossetribune.com/news/local/st-charles-police-officer-resigns-after-his-arrest-in-a-prostitution-sting (2017)
- https://www.winonadailynews.com/st-charles-police-officer-resigns-following-his-arrest-in-a-prostitution-sting (2017)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area: