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Winona is a city of approximately 26,000 residents, located in Winona County in southeast Minnesota. Prostitution activity has been well-documented in the city and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses.
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. For example, in December 2010, the Winona Police Department collaborated with members of the Southeast Minnesota Narcotics and Gangs Task Force and the Winona County Rural Crime Unit to conduct a web based reverse sting. After conducting a traditional sting operation that resulted in the arrest of a prostituted woman, officers encouraged her to continue to arrange appointments with sex buyers under police surveillance. As men arrived and attempted to solicit sex from the woman, they were apprehended by police. The names and identities of the sex buyers were published in local news reports.
In June 2014, the Winona County Sheriff’s Office participated in Operation Cross Country, a FBI initiative aimed at reducing sex trafficking nationwide. To this end, WCSO deputies “posted an online ad and an officer pretended to be a 15-year-old girl offering sex for cash.” Two men responded to the listing and arranged to meet the “15-year-old” and pay her for sex. Both were arrested and charged with soliciting a minor for prostitution. Their names, ages, hometowns and arrest photos were released to the public. Less than two weeks later, in early July 2014, the WCSO conducted a second web-based reversal that resulted in the arrest of six sex buyers. Dubbed “Operation Lady Liberty,” the sting was coordinated by the WCSO, the SE Minnesota Drug Task Force and the Winona, Goodview and St. Charles Police Departments. In August 2014, the Winona County District Court reported three of the male sex buyers arrested during the sting had reached plea agreements. Each of the men were “sentenced to a year of probation, a $335 fine and ordered to attend the Breaking Free Offenders Prostitution Program within 90 days. Offenders pay the full cost of the all-day program — all teachers volunteer their time, so the entire $750 fee goes to Breaking Free services for victims and survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution, including housing, transportation and food. There is no cost to the county to participate.”
- Winona County Sheriff’s Office
- Winona Police Department
- Southeast Minnesota Narcotics and Gangs Task Force
- Winona County Rural Crime Unit
- Goodview Police Department
- St. Charles Police Department
- Breaking Free Offenders Prostitution Program
Web Stings and Identity Disclosure:
- “2 Arrested in Sting for Soliciting Sex”, Winona Daily News, December 7 2010.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Two”, Winona Post, December 8 2010.
- “Two La Crosse Men Caught in Winona Prostitution Trap”, ABC/WXOW-TV 19, June 27 2014.
- “Two Men Caught in Winona Prostitution Trap”, NBC/KTTC-TV 10, June 27 2014.
- “Six Men Arrested in Winona Prostitution Sting ‘Operation Lady Liberty'”, NBC/KTTC-TV 10, July 7 2014.
- “Man Arrested in Winona County Prostitution Sting”, La Crosse Tribune, August 29 2014.
- “Man Acquitted in Prostitution Case,” Rochester Post-Bulletin, May 26 2015.
- “What Happens to Criminal Forfeitures in Winona”, Winona Post, January 2 2013.
Background on Local Prostitution:
- “The End of the Winona Line”, Winona Daily News, October 3 2009.
- “Men Caught in Parking Lot Sex Act; One Charged with Prostitution”, Winona Daily News, June 22 2010.
- “Witness: Children Saw Sex Act between Homeless Man and 89-Year-Old”, Winona Daily News, June 30 2010.
- “Winona Woman Charged with Prostitution”, Winona Daily News, December 11 2010.
- “Winona Officers Nab a Pair of Prostitutes”, Winona Daily News, May 11 2011.
- “Online Patrol Nets Another Prostitution Arrest”, Winona Daily News, May 14 2011.