Stearns County, MN

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Minnesota’s Stearns County is located about 60 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Cases of prostitution and sex trafficking, often arranged online, have been reported throughout the county, and within its municipalities such as St. Cloud and Waite Park.  In December 2017, Stearns County received a two-year state grant to convert a year-old sex-trafficking task force to a full-time operation beginning in February, 2018. The Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs grant was awarded to the Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Investigative Task Force, which is comprised of two Waite Park and St. Cloud police investigators, a part-time Stearns County Sheriff’s Office detective, and a new crime analyst in the County Attorney’s Office. The St. Cloud metro area is an hour from the Twin Cities and off Interstate 94, making it an efficient region for traffickers to operate.

Law Enforcement agencies have increased the focus on commercial sex since 2015, arresting more than 200 sex buyers in St. Cloud and Waite Park through 2017. The task force, modeled after one in Washington County, was designed to target sex traffickers and buyers while supporting adult and child sex trafficking victims.To combat commercial sex and its associated problems, law enforcement agencies have targeted johns for arrest in order to reduce consumer-level demand. For example, in June 2015, officers with the Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Task Force intercepted a man after he allegedly responded to an online advertisement placed by law enforcement. The ad suggested a 20-year-old woman was available for prostitution; in communications with an undercover officer, however, the john reportedly arranged for commercial sex acts with both the “20-year-old” and what he thought was her 16-year-old “friend.” He was arrested after arranging to meet the girls at a St. Cloud-area motel. His name was publicized in press. In November 2015, the St. Cloud Times reported the offender had pleaded guilty to a”felony count of attempting to hire a prostitute between the ages of 16-17,” and had been sentenced to 45 days in jail. Times reporters also indicated that the john’s arrest was “one of dozens made by the task force during undercover operations in the St. Cloud area… most [of which] involved men trying to hire adult prostitutes.”In early March 2016, CMSTTF officers intercepted a second offender using similar tactics. Law enforcement placed an online advertisement for a fictitious adult sex seller and her “friend.” A man replied to the listing, and “asked an undercover officer posing as [a] 22-year-old if her friend was over 18. The officer said the girl was 17 but would be 18 in a few months.” The john communicated an offer of cash for sex with both females, and arranged to meet at an undisclosed location in St. Cloud. When he arrived, he was apprehended by law enforcement. His name and mugshot, as well as the felony prostitution charge levied against him, were publicized in press.

In 2016 a “john school” program for convicted sex buyers was established.  The “Not Buying It” Demand Reduction School began offering classes in January of that year. The program is provided by the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, and classes are held periodically at the Waite Park Police Department Training Room. The class must be completed as a condition of a sentence (and is not an optional diversion program that can lead to dropped charges). The one-day program features seven hours of instruction on topics including:

  • Negative consequences of the sex industry.
  • Survivors discussing the impact of offenders’ exploitation.
  • Attitudes, behaviors, and social forces that lay the foundation for abuse and exploitation.
  • Addiction.
  • Pornography.
  • Health concerns.
  • Legal and criminal consequences of solicitation.
  • Recognizing and interrupting their individual thought and decision-making process to prevent re-offense (relapse prevention).

The class cost is $750, payable at the beginning of class. If needed, participants must arrange to provide their own certified interpreter. Certificates of completion are provided after successful participation at the end of the class, and participants are responsible for providing that proof of completion to their probation officers.


Key Partners

  • Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Task Force
  • Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center

Key Sources

State Minnesota
Type County
Population 154708
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