Des Moines, WA

Tactics Used

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

Des Moines is a suburb located just south of Seattle, with a population of roughly 30,000.  Among the problems associated with the local commercial sex market have been reports of targeted sexual assault and murders of prostituted women, and the forced prostitution of minors.

In response to community complaints, the Des Moines Police Department has conducted web-based and street level reverse stings, averaging one or two per year. Street operations were first deployed in the city in the early 1990s; in recent years, law enforcement reported that they are usually launched during the summer months in areas known for prostitution.

In its efforts, the DMPD often partners with other police departments who provide undercover decoys, because female officers from the relatively small DMPD become too well-known by potential buyers. In October 2014, for example, media outlets reported that officers from the Seattle Police Department had assisted the DMPD with a web-based reversal that resulted in the arrest of nine men, including a Level III sex offender “who had [previously] served prison time for attacking two prostitutes.”

In 2014 King County launched a new initiative designed to reduce the demand for prostitution, change the attitudes and behaviors of men arrested for patronizing, and change cultural acceptance for the purchase of sex. The Buyer Beware initiative is a partnership with eight police departments and city attorneys’ offices across King County that are shifting their emphasis to pursue the buyers of commercial sex. The initiative is led by the Organization for Prostitution Survivors and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Participating community organizations include Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), Stolen Youth, and Seattle Against Slavery. Participating law enforcement agencies include the King County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments of Seattle, Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way, Bellevue, and Renton. Buyer Beware brings together local prosecuting authorities with community service organizations and survivors to carry out a comprehensive strategy to reduce demand and facilitate exit from prostitution. The Buyer Beware program’s model emphasizes the prosecution of sex buyers and connecting prostituted people to services. The original goal in 2014 was to reduce demand for commercial sex by 20 percent in two years.

The general approach is essentially the “Nordic Model” or “Equality Model,” which decriminalizes selling sex and shifts to a victim service orientation to prostituted or trafficked persons, but retains legal prohibitions against buying or profiting from the sale of sex. This model can be accomplished without changing prostitution law, through discretionary decisions not to arrest and prosecute prostituted or trafficked persons, even if selling sex remains illegal in state law and local ordinances). The Buyer Beware program places a systematic law enforcement emphasis on arrests and prosecutions of sex buyers, and increasing penalties to deter them. In addition to shifting the emphasis on arrests and victim services, interventions of the Buyer Beware program include John School, Neighborhood Action, and Public Education. Its key elements are:

  • Referring sex buyers to “Stopping Sexual Exploitation,” a comprehensive intervention program.
  • Collecting fines from arrested sex buyers to fund services for prostituted people.
  • Reducing arrests and prosecutions of prostituted persons in favor of referral to services.
  • Expanding effective services to assist prostituted people in leaving the life.
  • Forming an alliance of public and private employers committed to implementing policies and practices against sex buying.
  • Engaging high school and college students on the harm of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Conducting social media campaigns to engage young men on the harms of sex buying.
  • Engaging a spectrum of community sectors, including public health, education, business, media and criminal justice to change cultural norms around buying sex.

Key Partners

  • Des Moines Police Department
  • Seattle Police Department
  • Organization for Prostitution Survivors
  • King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
  • Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST)
  • Seattle Against Slavery

Key Sources

State Washington
Type City
Population 29076
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