Issaquah, 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

Issaquah is a city in Washington state, located in the greater Seattle metro area in King County. It has a population of roughly 40,000 resident. The Issaquah Police Department has received complaints from residents about prostitution in the city, including reports of massage parlors serving as fronts for brothels. For example, in June 2013, the Issaquah Police Department arrested a 44-year-old woman for prostitution at a massage parlor on Newport Way Northwest. Citizens had raised concerns about the suggestive advertisements of the business and police investigated. The arrest came after the Issaquah Police Department, in conjunction with the Bellevue Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office, conducted surveillance and undercover operations at the business. Officers served a warrant to search the business for investigation of prostitution, promoting prostitution, and money laundering.

In efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex in the city, the Issaquah Police Department (IPD) has employed various demand reduction tactics. For example, in 2015, the IPD participated in the FBI’s annual child sex trafficking investigation, Operation Cross Country IX. This was the first year that the city was chosen as a site for targeted street-level and web-based reverse sting operations and the first year that the IPD participated in the investigation. The investigation resulted in the recovery of three juveniles and the contact of 119 adults being victimized through the commercial sex industry. Additionally, officials arrested 11 individuals suspected of commercially exploiting children and/or adults and interviewed 15 individuals suspected of being involved in facilitating prostitution. The Child Exploitation Task Forces recovered cash, drugs, a gun, and several vehicles during the operations.

Sex buyers and sex traffickers have also been apprehended through alternative investigations and residential reports to local law enforcement. For example, in October 2008, a Medina police officer allegedly coerced a woman to engage in sex acts with him in exchange for dropping charges of driving with a suspended license and possession of a small amount of marijuana. According to reports, the Medina officer stopped the woman after running her license plate and discovering she was driving with a suspended license and a small amount of marijuana in her car. He told the woman that “she was sexy and he could make the charges go away.” A week later the individuals met at a pub in Issaquah and  returned to the officers home where the woman reportedly told the officer she did not want to engage in sex acts with him. According to reports, the officer responded by pushing her down on the bed despite her protests. She told investigators she complied because she had “a lot to lose.” The woman reported the incident to Issaquah police in February 2009, and the Medina officer was arrested for extortion 2nd degree and official misconduct. As a result of the investigation, the officer officially resigned from his position in October of 2009.

In November 2013, Issaquah police detectives worked to identify and locate dozens of men who had allegedly sexually exploited a 15-year-old girl. The investigation started in September 2013 when an Issaquah mother found images of her teenage daughter in the shower along with sexually explicit text messages on the girl’s cellphone. The mother also found that her daughter had been selling her used underwear on Craigslist through two Google Gmail accounts, and that she often met with the male sex buyers to exchange the underwear for money. Police documents indicate the girl was in contact with at least 35 adult men and had sent nude photographs of herself to many of them. Detectives believe the girl may have also “engaged in prostitution” with the men, which is why investigators hoped to uncover the buyers’ identities. If identified, they could be charged with multiple felonies, including rape of a child, dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, communication with a minor for immoral purposes, human trafficking, and other offenses.

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.”

State Washington
Type City
Population 40349
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