Benton County, WA

Tactics Used

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

Benton County is located in the south-central portion of Washington state. The county seat is Prosser, and its largest city is Kennewick. The Columbia River demarcates the county’s north, south, and east boundaries. The cities of Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick form the metropolitan area known as the Tri Cities (the former two cities are in Franklin County).

Prostitution and sex trafficking are well documented problems in the Tri-Cities area.  For example, in 2010, the Benton County Court ordered a Richland mortgage banker linked to a prostitution ring to serve jail time after he admitted paying for sex with three girls, two of whom were under 18.  A serial killer of prostituted women is known to have buried at least one victim in Richland. In mid-2013, three Kennewick teenagers were arrested for coercing a 15-year-old girl into prostitution. The teens pressured the girl to have sex with an adult male for $60. The teens gave the girl $10 of the money and kept the rest. They later tried to get her to sell sex again, and when the girl refused she was assaulted.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response.  For example, in August of 2017, a combined sting and reverse sting using the internet was conducted by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office in collaboration with the Richland and Kennewick Police Departments.  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 receive this illegal service.  After discussing payments for the service, and exchanging money an arrest signal was given, and suspects were arrested by the arrest team who were waiting in the next room.  The men and women were held at Benton County Jail. The women were charged with prostitution; men were charged with soliciting prostitution.

Key Partners

  • Benton County Sheriff’s Office
  • Richland Police Department
  • Kennewick Police Department
State Washington
Type County
Population 198171
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