Watford City, ND

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

With about 6,000 residents, Watford City is in Northwestern North Dakota that serves as the county seat of McKenzie County. Since 2000, a relatively large proportion of the population have been male workers in the energy sector. Prostitution activity has been documented in the city and surrounding areas. Among the more serious concerns associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. In the early 2010s, the Watford City Chief of Police promised to focus on combatting the demand for commercial sex through the continuous reverse sting operations. In late 2012, the Watford City Police Department (WCPD) arrested four male sex buyers and three prostituted women. Police contacted a prostituted woman from an advertisement offering escort services and arrested her on prostitution and marijuana charges. In the post-arrest interview, officers noticed the woman’s phone was receiving multiple text messages. They set arranged meetings with those who were trying to contact the woman. The four potential sex buyers were arrested upon their arrival and had their identities released to the public.

Sex buyers have also been arrested as the result of investigations of alleged prostitution or suspicious activity. For example, in 2012, a concerned resident called police and reported what they believed to be a commercial sex transaction. As a result of the investigation, police arrested a male sex buyer for soliciting prostitution and a prostituted man for prostitution (both misdemeanor offenses). The identities of arrestees were included in reports by local media outlets.

Additional demand-reduction tactics such as public education have been documented in the city. For example, the 2nd Annual Bakken Human Trafficking Summit was held in Watford City in June 2022.

John School

The area’s Demand Reduction Program (DRP), a partnership between 31:8 ProjectNorth Dakota Attorney General’s Office, and the University of Mary, opened in 2017. After a slow start and lack of attendees due to low awareness and an underinvestment in demand-focused operations, 24 offenders (ranging from 20-54 years old) have completed the “john school” as of 2020.

The one-day, $500 program serves as an intermediate sentencing, diversion, and education option for offenders charged with purchasing prostitution (sex buyers) and is offered quarterly in BismarckFargoGrand ForksMinot, and Watford City.  Incorporating feedback from human trafficking survivors, the course raises awareness on the importance of implementing demand reduction efforts in order to combat prostitution and sex trafficking activity. Pre- and post-program tests are administered to assess changes in participant behaviors and/or perspectives.

Program Curriculum:

  • Cause of Human Trafficking: Connection between prostitution, trafficking, and criminal activity.
  • Impacts of Human Trafficking on the Buyer: Legal ramifications, medical and health risks of further criminal activity.
  • Impacts of Human Trafficking on the Victim: Connection between their criminal activity and health, psychological, and social impacts on the victim.
  • Impacts of Human Trafficking on the Community: Local, regional, and global aspect.
  • Developing Healthy Relationships and Communities: Conditions of healthy relationships, services available to aid individuals, responsibilities as a member of a community to develop healthy personal attitudes regarding intimacy and sexuality.

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

John School, Public Education:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State North Dakota
Type City
Population 5866
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