Des Moines, 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

Des Moines is a city of roughly 30,000 residents in King County, WA. It is located just south of Seattle. It has a population of roughly 30,000 residents. Among the problems associated with the local commercial sex market have been reports of targeted sexual assault, targeted homicide against prostituted women, and the commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors.

In response to community complaints, the Des Moines Police Department (DMPD) has conducted web-based and street level reverse stings, at times averaging one to two per year. Street operations were first deployed in the city in the early 1990s. In recent years, law enforcement has launched these operations during the summer months in areas known for prostitution.

The DMPD has partnered with other police departments who provide undercover decoys because female officers from the relatively small DMPD become too well-known to potential sex buyers. For example, in October 2014, officers from the Seattle Police Department assisted the DMPD with a web-based reverse sting that resulted in the arrest of nine male sex buyers, including a Level III sex offender “who had [previously] served prison time for attacking two prostitutes.”

Additional demand reduction tactics such as SOAP Orders and vehicle impoundment have been employed in the city. For example, in 2007, the Des Moines Police Department created a report demonstrating the location and frequency of prostitution offenses in the city. They used this map to implement an anti-prostitution activity emphasis area where individuals arrested for prostitution or patronizing a prostitute would be arrested upon reentry to areas with high prostitution activity. The ordinance was enacted as an emergency due to the significant increase in prostitution offenses along Pacific Highway.

John School Programs

Additionally, there have been at least four known john school programs in King County. The first known john school in the county operated from 2006 to 2007, whereby sex buyers could avoid significant criminal charges if they paid a substantial enrollment fee, attended educational classes, and avoided re-arrest. The course, which included lectures from health professionals and formerly prostituted women, also addressed the growing presence of trafficking networks in the region. By discussing the long-term impacts of sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation on victims and their families, the program hoped to educate sex buyers about the potential consequences of purchasing commercial sex. The program was a one-day classroom experience modeled after the San Francisco First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP). Although the program was not renewed beyond its pilot period, in 2015, a similar john school was launched in Seattle. In 2019, the program was transferred from the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS) to the Lantern Project, and modified. Its description may be found here.

Buyer Beware Program

In 2014, the King County Prosecutor’s Office launched a new initiative designed to reduce the demand for prostitution, change the attitudes and behaviors of men arrested for patronization, and eliminate cultural acceptance of 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 sex buyers. 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, community service organizations, and survivors to implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce demand for commercial sex and facilitate exit from prostitution. The Buyer Beware program model emphasizes prosecuting sex buyers and connecting prostituted people to services. The original goal in 2014 was to reduce demand for commercial sex by 20% in two years.

The program’s approach is essentially the “Nordic Model” or “Equality Model” which decriminalizes selling sex and criminalizes the actions of pimps and buyers, rather than the actions of prostituted persons. This model can be accomplished without changing prostitution law by making discretionary decisions not to arrest and prosecute prostituted or trafficked persons, even if selling sex remains illegal in state law and local ordinances. Additionally, the Buyer Beware program includes John Schools, neighborhood action, and public education. The key elements of the program 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.
  • Educating high school and college students on the harms of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Conducting social media campaigns to educate young men on the harms of sex buying.
  • Changing cultural norms surrounding the purchase of sex by involving a variety of community sectors, such as public health, education, business, media, and criminal justice.

The program planned to launch an online public education tool where advertisements “pop up” when sex buyers input certain terms into search engines. Although the mechanism for deploying these advertisements was not disclosed, when implemented the advertisements would “link to information about prostitution-related penalties and services for men who need help to stop buying sex.”

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

SOAP Orders:

Vehicle Seizure:

Buyer Beware Program:

Public Education, John School:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Washington
Type City
Population 29267
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