Watertown, 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

Watertown is a city of approximately 23,000 residents in northeastern South Dakota, located in Codington County. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been known to occur in the city. For example, local law enforcement have reported that sex trafficking and prostitution are serious problems locally, with an increasing amount of prostitution activity moving online. Among the more serious issues associated with the local prostitution market is child sex trafficking.

Efforts to target demand from local law enforcement have occurred in the city. For example, in November 2013, officers with South Dakota’s Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) conducted a web-based reverse sting operation from a local residence, wherein they installed video cameras and other surveillance equipment. Investigators then placed decoy listings on Craigslist and Backpage.com offering commercial sexual exploitation of a 13-year-old girl. DCI agents reported that conversations and emails flowed between investigators and several male sex buyers, who “asked about different things, [such as whether or not the underage female was] willing to do certain things.” According to local CBS news affiliate KELO-TV 11, “the DCI [also] used sophisticated equipment [to] help sell their online ad, including a converter box that allowed an undercover officer to disguise his voice to sound like a young girl. An undisclosed number of arrests were made.”

In 2015, the The Watertown Police Department participated in a web-based reverse sting operation led by the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money. Undercover officers posted decoy ads on websites known for prostitution and sex trafficking, offering minors for commercial sexual exploitation. According to reports, five male sex buyers were arrested and charged with Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking after having responded to the decoy ads posted by undercover officers. In addition to the WPD, other participating agencies included the Sioux Falls Police Department, the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. The identities of arrested sex buyers were released by the SD Attorney General’s Office in a press release about the investigation.

State South Dakota
Type City
Population 22722
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