|IT Based Tactics
Worthington is a small city of roughly 14,000 residents, located in southern Minnesota’s Nobles County. In 2015, the Executive Director of the Southwest Crisis Center confirmed that youth sexual exploitation and sex trafficking had occurred in southwest Minnesota in the past year, including in Nobles County. Among efforts to reduce prostitution in the community, local law enforcement have conducted reverse stings.
During the reversal, conducted in late May 2015, Worthington Police Department officers, supported by officers from “other local jurisdictions,” placed decoy advertisements suggesting prostitution to a website known for online solicitation. Six men “responded via phone to the ad through calls or text messages, [and] offered to hire the person who posted the advertisement to provide sexual services. Arrangements were made for the services to be provided at a hotel in Worthington.” When the men arrived at the location, they were apprehended by police. Each of the arrestees was charged with gross demeanor solicitation of a prostitute; all of their identities were publicized in press.
In October 2018, three men — including two from northwestern Iowa — were arrested during a reverse sting in Worthington. According to court documents, multiple law enforcement agencies collaborated on the covert operation that targeted adults who electronically solicit children and offer or agree to exploit children for prostitution in violation of Minnesota law. The Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force led the operation, during which an undercover agent pretended to be a 15-year-old female and communicated electronically with the three men about compensation for sexual services. The defendants responded via text message to an advertisement for solicitation of prostitution, and were each taken into custody after they drove to agreed-upon meeting locations in Worthington where they expected to encounter a minor. Each was charged with the following felonies: third-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct; fourth-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct; prostitution of an individual believed to be between ages 13 and 16 years old; solicitation of a child or believed child through electronic communication to engage in sexual conduct; engagement in electronic communication relating or describing sexual conduct with a child; distribution of electronic communication material that relates/describes sexual conduct to a child.
In June 2021, a Worthington businessman entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge of soliciting prostitution. The 72-year-old defendant was arrested in January 2020 after an undercover Worthington police officer came into contact with him on the app Grindr. While exchanging messages, the suspect asked the officer, who he believed to be an adult male, “You ever hook up with older for cash?” The suspect agreed to pay the undercover officer $50 in exchange for a sex act, and the two met outside the Nobles County Library in Worthington. After verbally confirming the man’s intentions, the officer revealed his true identity, and the suspect was arrested and booked into jail. For his charges, Minnesota law imposes a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and a maximum possible sentence of 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. State law also allows for defendants found guilty of soliciting prostitution to be ordered to pay a penalty assessment of $500 to $750, 40% of which goes toward the Safe Harbor Regional Navigators, a program that aids victims of sex trafficking. Locally, the Southwest Crisis Center administers the Safe Harbor program. The judge ordered the offender to pay a $600 assessment, and sentenced him to 90 days in jail with a stay of execution, allowing him to serve one year of unsupervised probation, and a $500 fine.
Not all arrests of sex buyers in Worthington are the product of sting operations, but may instead result from investigations of other crimes. For example, in February 2022 a man was arrested and charged with engaging in prostitution with an individual between the ages of 14 and 16 and one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for reportedly engaging in sexual penetration with an individual under the age of 16 while he was more than 24 months older than the victim. The charges stemmed from Worthington police officers receiving a report of a possible sexual assault. The reporting party had received a Snapchat from the victim stating a sexual assault had taken place and called dispatch with a possible location. A Worthington Police Officer responded to the location in the 1500 block of Collegeway. Upon arrival, a young person ran out toward the officer’s squad car and identified themselves as the victim. The victim stated they were afraid and had just been raped. As the officer and the victim went inside, a male stepped out of one of the rooms. The victim reportedly identified the man as the person who had raped her. The victim spoke with another officer and said that the apartment owner had arranged this meeting for the victim to be sexually abused by the man, and said he would pay the victim $100. If convicted, the defendant faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and/or a $20,000 fine on the prostitution charge and 15 years imprisonment and/or a $30,000 fine on the criminal sexual conduct charge.
- Worthington Police Department
- Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Charges Filed: Worthington Prostitution Sting Nets Six Arrests,” KWOA-AM 730, June 24 2015.
- http://www.nwestiowa.com/news/n-west-iowa-men-busted-in-undercover-sex-sting (2018)
- https://www.dglobe.com/news/crime-and-courts/Davis-enters-guilty-plea-to-solicitation (2021)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.dglobe.com/possible-sexual-assault-report-results-in-prostitution-and-criminal-sexual-conduct-charges (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area: