Mt. Vernon is the county seat and largest city (population about 35,000) in Skagit County, located in northern Washington state. It is situated directly north of Seattle, along the Interstate 5 corridor. The city of Mt. Vernon has had street prostitution and indoor prostitution occurring in hotels and storefront brothels (such as nail salons), as well as documented cases of sex trafficking of juvenile victims. Complaints from the community play a large role in police conducting anti-prostitution operations. The rise of internet advertising has encouraged the spread of prostitution outside of “stroll” or brothels in the city, to drawing sex buyers from virtually anywhere in the county and beyond.
Some of the prostitution-related effort of county and city law enforcement is directed toward attempting to deter consumer-level demand. Both street-level and web-based reverse stings have been conducted, and the identities of arrested sex buyers released to local media outlets. For example, in 2013 police posted an ad with a photo of a 13-year-old girl on Backpage.com. More than 100 responses were received overnight from Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Burlington and Oak Harbor. Nearly all of them were overtly sexual messages from adult males. The photo was an old picture of an adult who grew up to be a law enforcement officer, and the ad was part of a sting set up by the Anacortes Police Department. Three people were arrested in the investigation. In 2014, eight more were arrested in a larger countywide online sex sting by the Skagit Multi Agency Response Team, known as SMART, that also focused on men seeking to buy sex with children.
In December, 2017 at least 19 men in Whatcom and Skagit counties were caught in a sting operation that targeted internet predators attempting to solicit sexual contact with minors. Operation “Net Nanny” was led by the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force. Most of the men were arrested on suspicion of attempted child rape and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. During the operation, undercover agents posted Craigslist ads online advertising for meet ups of a sexual nature, according to Whatcom County Superior Court records. Once the men responded, the agents would either pose as young teenage children, or as parents offering up their young children for sexual contact – some as young as 6 years old. Charges included second-degree child rape, communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, and prostituting/patronizing a minor.
- Skagit County Sheriff’s Office
- Skagit Multi Agency Response Team (SMART)
- Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office
- Washington State Patrol
Web-Based Reverse Sting, Shaming:
- www.columbian.com/news/2017/dec/18/at-least-19-men-arrested-in-child-sex-sting-in-whatcom-county/ (2017)
Background on Local a Sex Trafficking and Prostitution:
- https://www.goskagit.com/news/crime/six-arrested-in-online-child-sex-sting/article_46726592-df12-5639-9f5f-47a0c94e79b3.html (2014)
- https://www.goskagit.com/all_access/human-trafficking-skagit-faces-a-fast-growing-online-threat/article_5d1f7fd8-2231-5bd5-aee7-c42fcbd9cc85.html (2015)
- http://www.skagitbreaking.com/2017/08/14/man-held-skagit-county-jail-human-trafficking/ (2017)