Federal Way, WA

Tactics Used

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

Federal Way is a city with a population of 90,000 in the Puget Sound region of Washington, about mid-way between Seattle and Tacoma.  Prostitution and sex trafficking, and violence against prostituted persons, are well-documented problems in the city.  An enforcement action in 2010 resulted in the identification of seven teenage sex trafficking victims.  In another case investigated in early 2014, a defendant admitted to having sex with two disabled women and pimping them from a Federal Way home they shared. One 51 year-old woman’s disabilities rendered her almost non-verbal– unable to tell time or recite the alphabet, according to charging papers.  One of the woman went to police on February 18 with friends to report she had been raped for several years. Though she was barely able to speak, she managed to tell police about the sex without consent.  The man used children’s books and toys to endear himself to the most severely disabled woman, and allegedly took her disability payments to pay his rent.  The man knew she did not have the mental capacity of an adult, that she didn’t know her own age, that she could not read or write, tell time, and didn’t know the alphabet, the detective wrote in the charging papers.  The defendant was charged with second-degree rape as well as 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 three teenage boys, who then stabbed her at least 90 times and left her to die.

The Federal Way Police Department uses several tactics to fight prostitution and sex trafficking, such as reverse stings, web-based reverse stings, SOAP orders, and surveillance cameras.  Reverse stings began in 1993 and street-level operations occur about twice per year. For example, in June of 1997, between 6:00 and 11:00 p.m. on a Friday, 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, they made their first arrest. A man offered an officer money for sex, she agreed, and the hidden officers moved in.  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 were arrested in a two-hour time period. In December 2015, Federal Way police 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 johns via text and cell phone, according to a police spokeswoman.  Once the john arrived at a vacant apartment in the 2200 block of South Star Lake Road, the detective met with him outside the location and obtained and in-person offer and agreement for a sexual act.  Police arrested a Federal Way man, one from Kent, two men from Tacoma, three from Seattle and a man from Sacramento, California.  Police interviewed the suspects at the SCORE jail and released them. They all faces charges for soliciting prostitution.

While the identities of the arrested sex buyers are not generally listed in public reports, they were included in at least one instance.  In October, 2006, the Federal Way Police Department 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 prostitution operation. Female officers posed as prostitutes during the operation that occurred 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 police have used is security cameras which are set up around the city to monitor criminal activity.  These cameras are intended to make criminals, including johns, “think twice” about breaking the law and could assist police in surveying for prostitution and sex trafficking activity.

In October 2014, the FWPD announced it would participate in a countywide demand reduction initiative led by the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Dubbed “Buyer Beware,” the initiative involved increased use of reverse stings to apprehend sex buyers, referrals to services for prostituted women and girls, and online “pop ups” describing the dangers of purchasing sex. The new initiative was designed to reduce the demand for prostitution, change the attitudes and behaviors of men arrested for patronization, 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

  • Federal Way Police Department
  • King County Sheriff’s Department
  • Immigration Customs Enforcement Service
  • Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking (FWCAT)

Key Sources

State Washington
Type City
Population 84819
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