For the past several months, we've been bringing you stories on the human sex trafficking trade here in South Dakota and how law enforcement is cracking down on the illegal activity.
For over a year, we've worked with the Attorney General's office to gain exclusive access to some of its undercover sting operations as investigators go after sexual predators.
In tonight's Eye on Keloland, we caught up with the Attorney General to find out why he allowed our cameras to go behind the scenes of these covert operations.
Last April, KELOLAND News was invited to follow along on two undercover sting operations, one in Watertown and another in Rapid City. Our cameras went behind the scenes, as DCI agents posted fake underage prostitution ads on websites like backpage.com
It didn't take long for people to reply.
Hidden cameras caught two men trying to pay money to have sex with a young child.
Vincent: I've never done this in my life, seriously I've never f***d a 14 year old in my life."
In both cases, the two men brought cash and agreed to pay the undercover agent who they thought was the young girl's pimp.
"It's concerning when someone shows up to respond to an ad, like with money in hand negotiating down a price, negotiating down the age of a child for some individuals 12-years-old is too old, I mean that's a concern," South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said.
So big of a concern, the State has ramped up efforts to crack down human sex trafficking.
"One of the most important responsibilities of the Attorney General is to protect children, put in place crime prevention efforts to both educate the public and frankly deter the criminals from hurting children and vulnerable members of South Dakota society," Jackley said.
The Attorney General says one way to expose the seriousness of this illegal activity is to *show it to the public.
That's why he allowed KELOLAND News to have unprecedented access to some of the undercover sting operations to let people know that the sexual predators are out there and so are those who are willing to sell young girls for sex.
"When we do these types of operations, there's a certain amount of privacy law enforcement wants to have so it doesn't affect us later on down the road or impede any further operations or programs, but by allowing you guys to have access to these types of operations to prevent people from some of the perpetrators from acting out on a child and I guess our efforts are just as successful as if we were making an arrest or catching somebody in an operation," DCI agent Toby Russell said.
"That's why we have been proactive on the sting operations to include the media, include the public and let everybody know we are out there, so if there's an ad out there on backpage.com or craigslist the bad guy doesn't know if it's an ad from us or really an ad from a father trying to sell their 12-year-old little daughter," Jackley said.
Jackley has repeatedly asked the websites to help stop this type of illegal activity.
"Backpage has for all practical purposes has ignored the Attorneys General community. That's why 48 of us Republican and Democrat that felt so strongly that we needed to take action," Jackley said.
They've all signed this letter asking Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that would give local authorities more power to go after and prosecute websites like Backpage.com.
"God forbid, if we were to have an incident in South Dakota where a young child is put in danger or harmed by backpage.com we would probably look to move forward with a proper prosecution under state law and force the issue," Jackley said.
For now, Jackley says his office and other law enforcement officials from across the state will continue to put pressure on lawmakers, but at the same time keep up an aggressive approach to crack down on sex trafficking.
Jackley says that may mean allowing our cameras to follow along again in the future. Who knows who'll be the next person to take the bait?
"I think overall the media participating and coverage of our operations has been fair, I think it's beneficial it makes an awareness in the public that this is a serious concern in South Dakota and hopefully the bad guys who are out there stay away from or state, stay away from our children," Jackley said.
The undercover operations took place last February and April, but at the request of the AG's Office, KELOLAND News agreed not to show any footage of the stings until after the suspects had gone through court, were convicted and sentenced.