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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 Craigslist.com, 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.
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Police Button up Downtown Sex Trade; Crime: Citizen Complaints Lead to Crackdown, Citing of Men and Women for Prostitution, Patronizing a Prostitute,” Bellingham Herald, July 18 2003.
- Bellingham Police partner with other agencies in undercover operation (2018)
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Former NFL Tackle Arrested for Patronizing Prostitution in Bellingham,” Bellingham Herald, August 17 2011.
- Former Lyncs player arrested in Bellingham (2011)
- 6 arrests in Bellingham prostitution sting (2015)
- 20 Arrested in Whatcom County “Net Nanny” Operation (2017)
- At least 19 men arrested in child sex sting in Whatcom County (2017)
- Operation Cross Country XI (2017)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- Dillingham, W.P. (1910). Importing Women for Immoral Purposes (1907-1910). United States Immigration Commission.
- “Pair Held in Prostitution Case Denied Bail,” Eugene Register-Guard, December 20 1997.
- “Court Won’t Release Victims in Forced Prostitution Case; Crime: Two Canadian Teenagers Allegedly Forced into Sex Acts, Are Still Being Held,” Eugene Register-Guard, December 23 1997.
- “Teen Girls Return Home for Christmas; Prostitution: The Canadian Ministry of Children and Families Has Custody of the Girls,” Eugene Register-Guard, December 26 1997.
- “5 Years in Child-Prostitution Case,” Seattle Times, October 9 1998.
- “Man Gets Prison for Prostitution,” Eugene Register-Guard, December 18 1998.
- Murders in the United States: Crimes, Killers and Victims of the Twentieth Century (2001)
- “Suspect Accused of Soliciting in Prostitution Case,” Bellingham Herald, August 30 2007.
- After he murders two Bellingham women, police arrest serial killer Kenneth A. Bianchi on January 12, 1979
- “2 Seattle Men Convicted under New State Juvenile Prostitution Law; Two Seattle Men Accused of Coercing Two 17-Year-Old Bellingham Girls to Work as Prostitutes Were Convicted Wednesday of a New State Law,” Seattle Times, June 5 2008.
- Rapid Assessment on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Washington, Report, Shared Hope International, June 2011.
- Dickerson law targets pimps involved in child prostitution (2011)
- “Man Accused of Pimping out 17-Year-Old Girl in Bellingham,” Bellingham Herald, February 8 2012.
- “Man Gets 4 Years for Pimping out Girl, 17, at Bellingham Motel,” Bellingham Herald, May 2 2013.
- An Unspoken Past (2016)
- Human Trafficking in Whatcom County (2018)
- Strip mall spas investigated for prostitution (2019)
- Teen girl rescued from shack near Bellingham; wanted sex offender arrested on kidnapping and rape charges (2020)
- Leader of Western Washington human trafficking operation sentenced (2020)
- Child Trafficking and Exploitation News (2020)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Police Raid Parlors,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 4 1975.
- Two massage parlors closed (1978)
- Downtown merchants, police try to combat prostitution (2002)
- “Downtown Merchants, Police Try to Combat Prostitution; Crime: Bellingham Inn Operator Admits Prostitution, Drug Dealing Occur at His Business,” Bellingham Herald, July 11 2002.
- “Woman Denies Police Charge of Prostitution,” Bellingham Herald, July 19 2003.
- “Effort against Prostitution a Good Start; Community: Police Need to Keep after Those Engaging in Sex Trade and Its Attendant Problems,” Bellingham Herald, July 31 2003.
- “Craigslist Ads Lead to Arrests for Prostitution,” Bellingham Herald, February 13 2007.
- “Arrest Alleges Prostitution,” Bellingham Herald, November 19 2007.
- “Craigslist Sex Ads Lead to Bellingham Arrests; Police: Any Kind of Payment Makes It Prostitution,” Bellingham Herald, November 27 2007.
- Bellingham Police investigate spa businesses for sex trafficking (2019)
- “Bus Driver Accused of Promoting Prostitution on the Job,” NBC/KING-TV 5, January 19 2011.
- “Operation Cross Country VIII Recovers Four Juveniles Being Victimized through Prostitution in Washington State,” States News Service, June 23 2014.