A number of sex tourism operators in North Dakota have been caught using fake tourist cards to book sex with underage girls in exchange for money and goods.
Key points:The state Department of Tourism says its “very serious” about sex tourismBut many locals say they are shocked at the lack of police presence in their areaThe department has launched an investigation after two women who worked for the sex tourism firm were arrested and chargedTwo women in South Dakota were charged with prostitution after being caught with fake tourist passports in October.
The state department of tourism says its investigators have “very significant information” that two South Dakota women were booked into the sex trade and charged with “possessing a fraudulent passport and/or other illegal conduct”.
“We have also identified individuals in the US and the UK who may be selling travel and entertainment services to tourists from North Dakota, and we have launched an inquiry to determine the validity of the individual’s passports,” a statement from the department said.
“This investigation is ongoing, and as we do so, we are asking that anyone with information regarding this case to contact us.”
Police in South Carolina said they are also investigating a sex tourism business run out of the state.
North Dakota Tourism says the sex industry is a booming industry and it’s very serious about the issue.
“Our primary concern is for our residents and visitors who are in the area and we are committed to protecting their safety and our businesses,” a spokesperson said.
Police in the state say they’re looking into the business and will be sending an investigator to South Dakota to investigate.
“The state tourism department is very serious in its efforts to prevent this from happening in the future,” said South Dakota Tourism spokesperson, Chris McKeever.
“We are very concerned about this situation and we will be following up with the state to see if there is anything we can do to help stop it.”
The department says the women in question had been booked into a hotel in South Dakotas capital, Brookings, and that one of them, Sarah Schafer, was found with fake travel documents on a plane headed to the US.
“There are no words to describe the terror that this experience has caused us all,” South Dakota tourism spokesperson Chris McLeod said.
The investigation was launched after a second woman was arrested in October and charged.
The other two women have been charged with a crime that could land them in prison for life if convicted.
South Dakota Tourism’s spokesperson, McLeod, says that despite their arrest, the two women will not be charged in the investigation.
“They are in no way linked to this incident and we take all allegations of this nature very seriously,” he said.
South Dakotans have long struggled with the sex and drug trade, and prostitution has become a key issue in the recent election.