Wausau, WI

Tactics Used

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

Wausau is a city of approximately 39,000 residents, located in Marathon County in central Wisconsin. Despite its modest small size, the city has reports of prostitution arrests dating back to 1953, and has twice drawn national media attention (first in the late 1980s and again in the summer of 2011) for its association with domestic minor sex trafficking cases. In both instances, the city served as the operating base for a network of adults compelling underage females into prostitution.  Prostitution investigations have also been reported in 2013 and 2014, and new sex trafficking cases emerged in 2014.  For example, in January 2014, police investigated “escort services” advertised online, such as on Backpage.com, and made several arrests.  Tips and complaints from residents to police have played a role in law enforcement operations.  Cases of prostitution-related violence have also been documented in Wausau.

To reduce prostitution in the area, the Wausau Police Department collaborated with officers from the Marathon, Shawano, and Outagamie County Sheriff’s Departments, and police from nearby Shawano and Oshkosh to conduct Operation Black Veil II, an anti-prostitution investigation that “targeted online predators who solicit children for sexually explicit conduct by using online advertising in places like Craigslist.” As a result of the operation, Wausau Police arrested one john for “soliciting for an adult prostitute.” The WPD also arrested and charged two adults with “child enticement and [the] use of a computer to facilitate a sex crime,” but it does not appear that the men attempted to purchase commercial sex.

In March 2014, a web-based reverse sting led to the arrest of six sex buyers. The sting spanned eight hours, and involved undercover officers placing advertisements in some of the online prostitution arenas and waiting for people to contact them to try to buy sex.  The WPD reported that 20 to 30 people contacted undercover officers and six traveled to the officers’ location and tried to buy sex, and were then arrested.  The names and photos of the arrested buyers were released to news outlets.

In August 2014, WPD officers staged a second web-based reversal, netting 8 johns in the process. When asked by a member of the local media how the Department would respond to criticisms that such investigations are a “waste of taxpayer money because [prostitution] is a victimless crime,” a representative with the WPD stated:

“People that would say that have not had to deal with human trafficking, [and] have not had to see the young girls being pimped out who are prostituting themselves under the threat of duress, facing being physically injured if they don’t perform sex acts for money.”


Key Sources


State Wisconsin
Type City
Population 39160
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