Bellingham, WA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Bellingham is a coastal city in Washington state of roughly 98,000 residents, along the United States-Canadian border in Whatcom County, WA. Bellingham has a history of prostitution and sex trafficking dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the early 1900s, international sex trafficking rings transported women from Asia to the United States through Washington and Oregon. Since the 1980s, Bellingham has had several areas in the city with some level of street prostitution. Indoor prostitution is known to occur in hotels and storefront brothels such as nail salons. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking.

Driven in part by community complaints, Bellingham police have engaged in a number of strategies to combat prostitution and sex trafficking. Some of their efforts are directed toward deterring consumer-level demand. Both street and web-based reverse stings have been conducted; their identities released to local media outlets. For example, in June 2015, a two-day, web-based reverse sting operation focused on individuals seeking to solicit sex from prostituted persons online, resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers. Officers posted decoy ads on websites known for prostitution and sex trafficking, and arranged to meet with potential sex buyers who responded to the ads. The identities and ages of the arrested sex buyers were released to news outlets.

In December 2017, police conducted an undercover web-based sting that resulted in the arrest of 20 men for communicating and attempting to meet and sexually abuse minors in exchange for money. Undercover detectives posted ads on, a website known for hosting commercial sex activity. When suspected sex buyers responded, undercover detectives posed as teenagers or parents offering their children – some as young as six years old – for sexual exploitation. According to reports, the operation generated hundreds of responses. Upon their arrival to the predetermined location, sex buyers were arrested for traveling with intent to engage in sexual activity with minors. The identities of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.

In February 2018, Bellingham Police arrested eight people on prostitution-related charges. The arrests were made as part of joint operation among officers from the Bellingham Police Department, the North-Central Sound Child Exploitation Task Force, and the Seattle Police Department. BPD officer, Lt. Beckley, said in a statement, “Friday’s arrests are the latest effort as law enforcement continues to work at reducing the demand for prostitutes and ending human trafficking.” The Bellingham Police Department’s online daily activity reports and booking records at the Whatcom County Jail showed one King County man booked on a felony charge of promoting prostitution and seven men charged with misdemeanor counts of patronizing a prostitute.

Key Partners

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Washington
Type City
Population 97864
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