Auburn, WA

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Auburn is a city of about 80,000 residents in King County, Washington and is part of the greater Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area. Problems associated with prostitution and sex trafficking in the city include the activity of Gary Ridgeway, a serial killer who targeted over 60 prostituted women in the region and who lived in Auburn. There have also been cases of child sex trafficking, and local street and internet based commercial sex that generates complaints to police. Reverse stings have occurred in the city dating back at least to 2011. In a street-level operation that year, three men were arrested, and their identities were disclosed to the media.

In October 2014, the King County Prosecutor’s Office launched a program to “crack down on men who sexually exploit others.” The initiative, known locally as Buyer Beware, involves several local law enforcement agencies (including the Seattle Police Department). As a group, this coalition prioritized the arrest of sex buyers over prostituted women with the intent of “curbing demand by 20 percent over the next two years.” In 2015, just one year after the King County Prosecutor’s Office launched the Buyer Beware initiative, the south King County cities of Kent, Auburn, Renton, SeaTac, and Tukwila launched the program of arrests and prosecutions similarly intended to impose tougher consequences on those who hire prostituted persons. The new “buyer beware” approach to prostitution arrests has resulted in arrests of sex buyers in other cities in the county, including Kent, which has made three arrests of “buyers” of sexual services for every arrest of a prostituted person.

As part of Buyer Beware, sex buyers convicted in King County will also reportedly be required to “take intervention courses similar to programs required of domestic-violence offenders.” Described as “a new eight-week course for convicted sex buyers” the course “is designed to be part of the offender’s sentence, not a way to avoid prosecution like some similar programs.” Through October 2014, it was unclear if the course would be administered through Seattle’s current john school program operated by the Department of Public Health, or offered through another platform. A Kent Municipal Court judge went on the record in a Seattle Times interview and expressed her belief that cases like these should no longer be eligible for “diversion” and that those who are convicted should be sentenced to attend a 10-week intervention program (the OPS program for sex buyers, held in Seattle) as a condition of their sentences. By the end of 2015 her concerns had been resolved, when a second program was launched in Seattle that is intended to address the belief systems motivating sex buyers. “Stopping Sexual Exploitation: a Program for Men” was developed and implemented by Peter Qualliotine, the co-founder of the Seattle-based “Organization for Prostitution Survivors” (OPS). The program a ten-week “transformative justice” intervention for court and self-referred sex buyers. The program includes 10 weekly sessions: Two individual 60-minute sessions before participation in the group, and then eight weekly group sessions of 2.5 hours each. The feel of $90 per session is paid by the buyers, and the proceeds support survivor services. Exercises and group discussions engage participants in a process of-self reflection and critical analysis. The program consists of the following topics or components:

  • Sexuality and Gender Socialization
  • Harm to Victim/Survivors
  • The Sexual Violence Continuum
  • Pimping, Trafficking and Domestic Violence
  • Power and Violence
  • Vulnerability
  • Mutuality in Relationships
  • The Will to Change

Additionally, Buyer Beware planned to launch an online public education tool, wherein advertisements will “pop up” when buyers input certain terms into local search engines. Although the mechanism for deploying these advertisements was not disclosed, when implemented it would “link to information about prostitution-related penalties and about services for men who need help to stop buying sex.”

In May 2018, police arrested four men in one hour on the 2300 block of Auburn Way North, each charged with patronizing a prostitute. In June 2019, Auburn police arrested at least nine men for prostitution related offenses during a reverse sting operation. According to filed reports, the arrests took place throughout the day and occurred primarily at or around a casino.

Key Partners

  • Auburn Police Department
  • King County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Stopping Sexual Exploitation: a Program for Men
  • Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS)
  • Seattle Police Department
State Washington
Type City
Population 80134
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