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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 sex buyers 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 suspect 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 sex buyer’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 prostituting adult woman 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 sex buyer communicated an offer of cash for sex with both females, and arranged to meet at an undisclosed location in St. Cloud. When he arrived, the man was apprehended by law enforcement. His name and mugshot, as well as the felony prostitution charge levied against him, were publicized in press.
Some arrests of sex buyers occur through means other than reverse stings using undercover officers and fictitious ads posted online, but are instead the result of investigations about alleged offenses against reals sexually exploited persons. For example, in August 2021, a Glenwood man was charged with three felonies in Stearns County after allegedly soliciting a minor for paid sex and possessing child pornography. According to the criminal complaint, police were called to a home in Avon for a welfare check after the foster parent of a 13-year-old girl said she discovered troubling conversations with adult men on several different phone applications. In one conversation the girl said she met up with a man she met on a chat app and agreed to perform sex acts with him in exchange for $90. Investigators were able to identify and locate many of the adult men who had solicited the teen for sex. A Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force member allegedly found a conversation between the girl and someone on the TextMe app. Investigators then tracked the phone’s IP address and subscriber information registered to 22-year-old man, who had been told the girl was 15 and he then agreed to exchange drugs for sex with the teen and asked for nude pictures in exchange for marijuana. The man was charged with possession of child pornography (i.e., CSAM), solicitation of a child to engage in sexual conduct, and prostitution.
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.
- 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.
A law enforcement respondent to the 2021 National Assessment Survey reported that other arrests of sex buyers and the use of public education specifically targeting the demand for commercial sex have occurred in Stearns County since 2018.
- Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Task Force
- Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center
National Assessment Survey, 2022
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Man Sentenced for Soliciting Girl, 16,” St. Cloud Times, November 6 2015.
- “Man Charged after Prostitution Sting Arrest,” St. Cloud Times, March 11 2016.
- https://www.sctimes.com/3-men-charged-soliciting-sex-child-law-enforcement-sting (2018)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “As Sex Trafficking Case Hits Court, Probes Continue,” Bemidji Pioneer, March 17 2015.
- “As St. Cloud Sex-Trafficking Case Hits Court, Inquiries Continue,” St. Paul Pioneer-Press, March 17 2015.
- “Man Sentenced for Promoting Prostitution,” St. Cloud Times, August 7 2015.
- “Stearns County Judge Deliberating in Prostitution Case,” WJON-AM 1240, January 13 2016.
- “Judge Finds Man Guilty of Trafficking,” St. Cloud Times, January 20 2016.
- http://www.startribune.com/new-task-force-to-help-stearns-county-crack-down-on-sex-trafficking (2017)
- http://knsiradio.com/news/local-news/police-man-pimped-woman-jail (2018)
- http://knsiradio.com/news/local-news/two-guilty-selling-teen-sex (2018)
- http://www.kvsc.org/archive/news-detail/st-cloud-man-arrested-on-sex-trafficking-charges (2018)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
- https://knsiradio.com/man-charged-for-possession-of-child-pornography-and-soliciting-teen-girl-for-sex (2021)
- https://www.sctimes.com/man-charged-soliciting-child-sex-stearns-co (2021)
John School Program:
- “Not Buying It” Demand Reduction School
- Sex Trafficking: The Victims Next Door. St Cloud Times, July 21, 2016
- MASE Intake Form
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Charges: Man Promoted Prostitution,” St. Cloud Times, October 12 2015.
- “Sex Trafficking Sting Leads to Arrest of St. Cloud Man,” ABC/KSTP-TV 5, October 12 2015.
- “Man Charged with Soliciting Women for Prostitution,” WJON-AM 1240, October 13 2015.
- “City Approves Sex Trade Ordinance,” St. Cloud Times, December 7 2015.