Kent, WA

Tactics Used

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

Kent is a city with approximately 121,000 residents, located in northwestern Washington state.  Like neighboring Seattle, Kent has struggled with a prostitution and sex trafficking problem for decades. For example, the King County Superior Court imposed a 35-year sentence against a sex trafficker after a jury convicted him of two counts of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor; two counts of second-degree promoting prostitution; one count of leading organized crime; two counts of first-degree theft; and one count of second-degree theft.  Police used an undercover prostitution sting at a Kent hotel to catch the trafficker. Kent Police seized $18,000 in cash and two vehicles. With the prosecution completed, Kent Police and the city began a process of criminal forfeiture, which is an option because of the organized crime part of the sentencing. In 2015, King County prosecutors filed child pimping charges against a Kent couple accused of pimping a 13-year-old girl to dozens of Seattle and Portland-area men in little more than a week. Having taken in the girl when she needed a place to stay, the couple “rented out” the braces-wearing girl on Backpage.com. The child was raped by 10 men in one day. In November 2018, an investigation led to the closure of 18 massage parlors that were fronts for prostitution and other illegal activity, and the the City of Kent will also charge any customers of each business who were patrons of prostitution. Kent Police Department Commander cited an increase in businesses acting as fronts for prostitution in south King County, and that each of the businesses also employed unlicensed employees and failed to adhere to health and privacy regulations.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. In an effort to deter sex buyers, the Kent Police Department has implemented several strategies that target johns in addition to the city’s prostituted women and aim to rescue child sex trafficking victims. Reverse stings (conducted at street level) and web stings (typically utilizing a decoy ad placed on sites like Craigslist and Backpage.com) are routinely utilized to apprehend potential buyers. Once arrested, johns may be served SOAP (or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, placing them on geographic probation and restricting them from entering areas within the city known for commercial sex. They may also have their car impounded upon arrest, if they were soliciting from a vehicle registered in their name. In

In May, 2015, the south King County cities of Kent, Auburn, Renton, SeaTac, and Tukwila launched a program of arrests and prosecutions intended to get tougher on those who hire prostituted persons.  The Kent Municipal Court went on the record in a Seattle Times interview and expressed her belief that cases like these should no longer be eligible for “diversion” and that those who are convicted should be sentenced to attend a 10-week intervention program (the OPS program for sex buyers, held in Seattle) as a condition of their sentences. Up to 2015, the City of Kent had made three arrests “buyers” of sexual services for every arrest of a prostituted person.

In July 2017, Kent Police arrested 11 men for patronizing a prostitute during an undercover sting at a local motel.  Ten officers were assigned various roles during the operation set up at the Howard Johnson motel, 1233 Central Ave. N., to combat demand for the commercial sex industry by arresting men who solicit women for sex in exchange for money.  Police placed an advertisement in the dating section of backpage. com, which featured photos of a woman posing in lingerie with a phone number and a “Sunday Funday Special.” An undercover female officer answered text messages or calls to the phone number in the ad. In one case, a man reportedly texted the number and agreed to pay $80 for a sex act. The woman told him to let her know when he was at the motel and she would give out her room number. When the man showed up at the room, officers arrested him.  Police impounded the man’s Ford F-250 pickup and put a prostitution hold on it, so the man would have to pay fees to get the truck back.  Police conducted several similar prostitution stings earlier in 2017.

In January 2017, a reverse sting operation to address the demand of both prostitution and sex trafficking. In discussion sanctions for arrested sex buyers, a spokesman for the Kent Police Department said that Kent offers “educational courses in conjunction with enforcement” (i.e., a “john school” program). Anyone convicted of patronizing a prostitute in Kent can be assigned to attend a 10-week intervention program. That program began in 2015, and while based in Seattle serves all of King County. The program is intended to address the belief systems motivating sex buyers. “Stopping Sexual Exploitation: a Program for Men” was developed and implemented by Peter Qualliotine, the co-founder of the Seattle-based “Organization for Prostitution Survivors” (OPS). The program a ten-week “transformative justice” intervention for court and self-referred sex buyers. The program includes 10 weekly sessions: Two individual 60-minute sessions before participation in the group, and then eight weekly group sessions of 2.5 hours each. The feel of $90 per session is paid by the buyers, and the proceeds support survivor services. Exercises and group discussions engage participants in a process of-self reflection and critical analysis. The program consists of the following topics or components:

  • Sexuality and Gender Socialization
  • Harm to Victim/Survivors
  • The Sexual Violence Continuum
  • Pimping, Trafficking and Domestic Violence
  • Power and Violence
  • Vulnerability
  • Mutuality in Relationships
  • The Will to Change

In addition to the “john school” type of requirement, arrested sex buyers can be sentenced up to one year in jail, required to pay a $1,500 fine, and those convicted must pay fees to get their vehicles back. First-time offenders can pay up to $2,500 in fees and fines, according to police.

Many of the tactics described above that had been is use previously in Kent were integrated into its local implementation of the Buyer Beware program.  In 2014 King County launched the 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

Key Sources

State Washington
Type City
Population 84474
Location
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