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Benton County is a county in the south-central portion of Washington state and has a population of approximately 21,000 residents. Its county seat is Prosser, WA. The Columbia River demarcates the county’s north, south, and east boundaries of the city. Prostitution and sex trafficking are both well-documented problems within the community. For example, a 1981 multi-agency raid intro three Benton County homes suspected of being brothels resulted in the arrest of 12 individuals on charges of prostitution. In mid-2013, three Kennewick teenagers were arrested for coercing a 15-year-old girl into engaging in commercial sex activity. The teens pressured the victim-survivor to engage in commercial sex with an adult male for $60. The teens gave the girl $10 of the money and kept the rest. They later tried to exploit the victim again, and when she refused, the three teenagers assaulted her. Additionally, a serial killer of prostituted women is known to have buried at least one victim in Benton County. Drugs have been involved in several of these situations.
Benton County police have engaged in a number of strategies to combat prostitution and sex trafficking. Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking and, as a result, has been targeted by local law enforcement as a strategy for prevention and response. In August 2017, a combined street-level and web-based reverse sting was conducted by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office in collaboration with the Richland Police Department and the Kennewick Police Department. The operation resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers. All of the arrestees had posted (or responded to) sex ads online, and met with undercover officers at local hotels to pay or engage in commercial sex. After discussing payments for the service and exchanging money, an arrest signal was given and suspects were arrested by police who were waiting in the next room. The arrested women were charged with prostitution and the arrested men were charged with soliciting prostitution.
Sex buyers have also been arrested as a result of alternative investigations and residential reports to local law enforcement. At times, these arrests have resulted in loss of employment as a consequence. For example, in 2012, the Benton County court sentenced a local mortgage banker to time in jail after he admitted to soliciting sex from three females, two of whom were under 18. The offender was charged with two counts of commercial sex abuse of a minor and one count of soliciting prostitution. During the time in which the offender’s felony charges were pending, the mortgage banker had applied to renew his mortgage license by completing the NMLS Uniform Individual Mortgage License/Registration & Consent form (Form MU4). Within this form are questions regarding criminal history to which the sex buyer denied having any previous felony charges. As a result of this, he was found guilty of perjury and as a result, his license was revoked. The sex buyer’s identity was included in reports by local media outlets.
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- Pasco Police Set Up Undercover Prostitution Sting Friday Evening In Downtown Pasco (2008)
- “They met up to have sex, but instead wound up in cuffs.” Tri-City Herald, August 22, 2017.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- Kadlec pediatrician is 1 of 10 arrested in Tri-Cities prostitution sting (2017)
- Police release names of 10 arrested in Tri-Cities prostitution sting (2017)
- 8 men arrested at Corvallis hotel in prostitution sting (2021)
Employment Loss, Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
- “Richland Man Sentenced for Prostitution”, Tri-City Herald, May 12 2012.
- Consent Order with Attached Statement of Charges (2014)
Background on Sex Trafficking and Prostitution in the Area:
- 12 jailed as Tri-City vice sweeps nets 88 (1981)
- Spokane serial killer (1998)
- Man Who Forced Teen Girl Into Prostitution Gets Nearly Four-Year Sentence (2014)
- Benton City Man Sentenced to 30 Years in Federal Prison for Sex Trafficking (2016)
- Human trafficking: a devastating yet unspoken reality in the Tri-Cities (2017)
- Former pro fighter sentenced for Pasco, WA, sex trafficking (2018)
- Trial begins for man accused of human trafficking in 2018 (2021)
- Warrants issued for father, step-mom wanted in murder of 8-year-old child, trafficking of others (2022)