Federal Way, 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

Federal Way is a city of 99,000 residents located King County, Washington. Among the problems associated with the local commercial sex market have been targeted sexual assault of disabled persons, targeted homicide against prostituted women, and sex trafficking of children.

In 2014, a Federal Way man admitted to having sex with a 51-year old woman whose handicap left her unable to recite the alphabet or tell time. He pimped her and a second woman out of a Federal Way home the three of them shared. Although she was barely able to speak, the 51-year old woman managed to tell the police that the defendant had sex with her without consent. Police later discovered that the defendant used children’s books and toys to endear himself to the woman and paid his rent with her disability payments. The defendant was charged with second-degree rape and two counts of promoting prostitution. Several cases of homicide of prostituted women have also been documented locally. For example, in 2001, a prostituted woman was lured to an area and raped by two teenage boys, who then stabbed her at least 90 times and left her to die.

The Federal Way Police Department (FWPD) uses several tactics to fight the commercial sex industry. These include reverse stings, web-based reverse stings, identity disclosure, and surveillance cameras. Street-level reverse stings began in 1993 and have occurred about twice a year since then. For example, on a Friday night in June of 1997, three female officers in street clothes took turns standing in the 33000 block of Pacific Highway South while backup officers watched from a nearby motel. Three minutes after the operation began, officers made their first arrest. A man attempted to solicit sex from an undercover officer in exchange for money and hidden officers moved in and arrested the sex buyer. Eight arrests were made in the five hour operation.

Web stings have been used in the city since 2005. In one such operation in 2008, 14 men responding to a Craigslist ad posted by police and were arrested in a two-hour time period. In December 2015, the FWPD arrested eight men during a web-based reverse sting.  Police created an advertisement on backpage.com and an undercover detective posing as a prostitute communicated with the male sex buyers via text and cell phone. Police arrested one sex buyer from Federal Way, one from Kent, two from Tacoma, three from Seattle, and a man from Sacramento, California. Police interviewed the suspects at the jail and released them. They all faced charges for soliciting prostitution.

While the identities of arrested sex buyers are not generally listed in public reports in Federal Way, they have been included. In October 2006, the FWPD arrested 13 individuals for “soliciting a prostitute“. Members of the Special Investigations Unit, Pro-Act Team, and Federal Way Police Patrol Officers teamed up for the undercover operation. Female officers posed as prostituted women along Pacific Highway South in Federal Way. The operation lasted for approximately four hours. Special Agents from the Immigration Customs Enforcement Service (I.C.E.) also participated in this operation and were able to determine that five of the 13 persons arrested were illegally residing in the United States. The names of all those arrested were listed in news reports.

Another tactic Federal Way police have used is security cameras. These cameras are set up around the city to monitor criminal activity, discourage male sex buyers from breaking the law, and assist police in surveying for prostitution and sex trafficking activity.

John School Programs

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, a similar john school was launched in Seattle in 2015. 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 and Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

SOAP Orders:

  • “City Eyes Law to Let Police Clean Up with SOAP”, Tacoma News Tribune, October 3 2000.


Public Education, John School:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Washington
Type City
Population 99037
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