Law enforcement say sex trafficking is a serious problem in this country, including in South Dakota, with so-called pimps selling women, sometimes very young women, over the internet for sex.
KELOLAND News got exclusive access to efforts to stop the crime in the state when we went undercover in Watertown with the Division of Criminal Investigation.
It may look like an ordinary home, but the small house is wired big time. DCI agents have placed seven hidden cameras inside as part of an undercover prostitution sting.
In one of the back bedrooms, hidden out of sight, are several laptop computers and monitors where agents begin posting ads on Craigslist and Backpage, offering up a 13-year-old girl for sex. Only there is no teenager, just undercover officers.
It doesn't take long before there is interest in the online ads.
"I think what we see in this operation we're running here in Watertown, we have people interested from three states already. They are willing to travel the entire length of a state if they think they are gaining access to children," DCI Director Bryan Gortmaker said.
But why Watertown?
"Watertown is on I-29. It's accessible and Watertown is no different than any other town in South Dakota, but we could hold this operation in any town in South Dakota and receive the same amount of interest, which is a sad commentary, but it's true," Gortmaker said.
The DCI partners with local law enforcement agencies to conduct these types of operations for one reason and one reason alone: to keep our children safe.
"If we don't protect them from this, who will? To me, it's a no brainer," Watertown Police Chief Jo Vitek said.
Watertown's Chief of Police at the time we shot this story was Jo Vitek. She says sex trafficking is way more prevalent than people know and that's why we were allowed exclusive access to this undercover operation.
"If we don't stand up and we don't take a stand on this kind of stuff and don't raise the red flag and partner with folks like you at KELOLAND to make people aware that these things will happen, then who is going to stand there and make a difference, if you will, because those kids aren't big enough to take care of themselves. We have to," Vitek said.
Meantime, inside the house, the conversations and emails continue between undercover agents and the Johns.
"Asking about different things; if she's willing to do certain things," DCI agent Toby Russell said.
Minutes turn to hours, but the agents are persistent because it takes time to catch a sexual predator. Not every one of them is convinced they're actually talking to the girl's pimp.
"Still not believing you yet. I said, 'Trust me. She's real.' 'Any hotter pics?' 'Not any that I want to send over net,'" Russell said.
Two and a half hours into the operation, there have been lots of inquiries. Some more serious than others; asking about ages of the girl. Some people wanting pictures, but finally it sounds like we have our first suspect.
"You swing by the Shell station and give me another call from there' I'll give you directions," undercover agent replied.
One of the Johns agrees to come to Watertown and calls the undercover pimp to verify that he's real and so is the 13-year-old girl.
"Yep, she's here. I'll put her on speaker phone because I don't want you to scare her. Hold on a second," undercover agent said.
The DCI has sophisticated equipment that helps sell their online ad, including a converter box that allows an undercover officer to disguise his voice to sound like a young girl.
The John is convinced and takes the bait. He says he'll be in Watertown in a few minutes.
So other agents, called a take down team, gear up with bullet-proof vests and arm themselves to get ready to take down this sexual predator.
The John came to Watertown and drove by the house, but never stopped.
On Tuesday night, it's a different story. We'll take you to Rapid City where we conduct another undercover operation with the DCI and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the results are much different.