Federal authorities are cracking down on sex trafficking in a seemingly unlikely place: the friendly, low-crime state of South Dakota. It's been a relatively nascent effort: KDLT quotes Assistant US Attorney Jeff Clapper as saying, "Before 2010, we didn't have any of these cases. Since then, we've had a steady diet of prosecution of sex trafficking cases." That's partially due to a change in the mindset of local law enforcement, with a Sioux Falls officer telling KELOLAND.com that instead of going after prostitutes, the focus is on finding women who have been trafficked. By the AP's count, the feds in the last few years have gone after about 50 cases and secured life sentences on three occasions. Prosecutions have involved would-be customers (a Texas air traffic controller got 15 years for responding to an ad for sex with a 12-year-old at the Sturgis motorcycle rally) and the high-profile trafficker Mohammed Sharif Alaboudi.
In 2013, Alaboudi received four life terms for operating what US Attorney Brendan Johnson described as "a house of horrors"—a one-bedroom apartment where homeless or drug-addicted women were forced to have sex with strangers. So what's up in this otherwise sleepy state? "I think traffickers see this as a trusting place and think, 'They're never going to catch me,'" says the manager of a nonprofit that helps trafficked girls. "Well, we seem to be catching an awful lot of them." Traffickers are also said to like the state's poor areas; the AP notes about half of the feds' cases involved Native American women. Now a coalition including police, federal prosecutors, tribal law enforcement, the Junior League, and church groups is going after the problem. And a recent $750,000 grant has funded a shelter for trafficking victims, KELOLAND.com reports.