Williston, 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

Situation in Northeastern North Dakota, Williston has about 28,000 residents and is the county seat of Williams County. Due to the North Dakota oil boom, the city’s population nearly doubled between 2010 and 2020. This increased prostitution and sex trafficking of both adults and minors in the area, as well as community complaints to the police about the local sex trade.

In 2006, the discovery of untapped oil reserves in the Williston Basin drastically changed the entire state of North Dakota. Many men—often either single or with families in other states—moved to fill jobs with the oil fields, trucking services, and construction. Known as the “Bakken boom,” this influx of men coming to North Dakota to work in the oilfields lasted until about 2014. Unfortunately, the rapid population growth the state experienced during this time also resulted in a rampant commercial sex market. CNN reported that female dancers were earning $2,000-3,000 a night at one of Williston’s strip clubs in 2011. On any given day in 2015, you could find 150-200 sex ads on Backpage.com in North Dakota, with oil cities such as Williston and Minot containing the largest percentage of these ads.

The Williston Police Department (WPD) has implemented tactics to reduce the demand for commercial sex. In 2013, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that a web-based reverse sting was conducted in Williston after federal authorities posted a decoy ad of an underage girl on websites known for prostitution and sex trafficking. According to media reports, each of the men arrested allegedly attempted to pay for commercial sex acts with someone who they believed to be a 14-year-old girl. Three men were arrested in Williston and 11 were arrested in Dickinson, No further details were released to the public.

Sex buyers and sex traffickers have been arrested as the result of alternative investigations or through residential tips. For example, in August 2014, a man was charged with sex trafficking in the city after law enforcement recovered a prostituted woman at a local Walmart. Police discovered the woman after responding to calls describing a “distressed female crying and asking for police.” The trafficker had allegedly “picked her up” at a bar in Stanley and brought her to Williston to engage in prostitution. He was arrested and charged with “human trafficking, a Class A felony, two Class AA felony counts of gross sexual imposition, promoting prostitution, terrorizing, felonious restraint and reckless endangerment.” In October 2014, court testimony indicated three women may have been involved in the sex trafficking operation. According to reports, the man was arrested in two separate sex trafficking cases and had been arrested for similar crimes in 1999. He was also the subject of a documentary about sex trafficking and the oil boom in North Dakota. His identity and image were included in reports by local media outlets.

In 2021, more ad hoc sex buyer arrests occurred. One was a Williston man was charged for corruption of a minor after a 16-year-old girl told Williston police that she was being paid in vape pods and juice to send him nude images (child sexual abuse material) and have sexual acts performed on her. Another Williston man was accused of paying a minor for sex. According to reports, he was initially charged with two felonies: patronizing a minor for commercial sex and corruption or solicitation of minors after he paid a 16-year-old for sex after communicating through a mobile app. He ended up entering a plea agreement which amended the charge to fornication. Both sex buyer identities were released.

Public education has also been used as a tactic. Shared Hope International posted billboards to raise awareness about child sex trafficking in the Bakken region, and a film campaign called “Boom” was designed to train the public, oil industry, and law enforcement to recognize and respond to human trafficking issues in “boomtown” communities.

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:

Public Education

Background on Local Sex Trafficking, Prostitution, Related Drug Trafficking:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State North Dakota
Type City
Population 27812
Comments are closed.