Kent, 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

Kent is a city of approximately 145,000 residents in Washington state, just south of Seattle, WA, located in King County, WA. Similar to neighboring Seattle and other communities within King County, Kent has struggled with prostitution and sex trafficking problems for decades. Among the more serious issues related to the area’s commercial sex market are trafficking of minors, sex trafficking of individuals living with special needs, and violence against prostituted women. For example, in 2015, King County prosecutors filed child sex trafficking charges against a Kent couple accused of sex trafficking/pimping a 13-year-old girl to dozens of men in little more than a week. According to reports, the victim was being raped by 10 men in a single day. The girl was discovered by a Kent Police Department detective who was searching for “potential victims of sex trafficking.” Vice detectives were preparing to retrieve the girl when patrol officers were called to the apartment complex following a report of a fight there. The young girl was discovered and the Kent couple was arrested.

In November 2018, Kent Police led an investigation which resulted in the closure of 18 massage parlors that were fronts for prostitution and other illegal activity. The city of Kent charged individuals who were known to have frequented the business for purposes of prostitution with patronizing prostitution. In December 2021, a Kent man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sex trafficking of a minor. The man had allegedly lured the 17-year-old girl into the sex trafficking operation after meeting her online, and encouraged her to leave home. The 17-year-old girl had the developmental age of a 12-year-old and had, unbeknownst to her guardian, set up a Facebook account where the trafficker contacted her. In his plea agreement, the defendant admitted to previously recruiting another teenager runaway to engage in commercial sex when she was 15 years old, threatening to kill the girl if she did not engage in commercial sex for him, physically and sexually assaulting the victim. Additionally, he admitted to pushing a woman from a moving car when she told him she no longer wanted to engage in commercial sex for the man.

Among the tactics used to combat sexual exploitation are those targeting consumer level demand for prostitution and sex trafficking. The Kent Police Department has implemented street level and web-based reverse stings to apprehend potential buyers. Once arrested, male sex buyers 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. Additionally, if they were soliciting from a vehicle registered in their name, individuals may have their car impounded upon arrest.

In addition to street-level reverse stings, more recently, web-based reverse stings have been conducted in the city to combat the area’s growing online commercial sex market. For example, in July 2017, Kent Police arrested 11 male sex buyers for patronizing prostitution during an undercover sting at a local motel. Police placed an advertisement in the dating section of 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.

In December 2020, a 46-year-old Kent man was arrested and charged with attempted sexual exploitation of a minor and communication with a minor for immoral purposes after he agreed to meet with a 15-year-old girl for sex. While the suspect believed he was communicating with a young girl on Skout, a social networking and dating app, it was actually a Kent Police officer posing as a teenager. According to law enforcement agencies, Skout is known as a platform for prostitution activity and sexual exploitation of minors. Police created a decoy profile of an 18-year-old woman on the app with the goal of being contacted by suspects looking for commercial sex. The suspect reportedly began to chat with the teenage girl and sent her photos of his genitalia. The officer posing as the teenage girl told the offender that ‘her’ Skout app was not working and asked to exchange phone numbers to which the two began communicating via text message. The decoy officer told the suspected sex buyer that she was only 15-years-old. After this information was revealed, the sex buyer still agreed to meet the decoy officer for ex in exchange for $200. Police executed a search warrant and arrested the offender. Additionally, officers secured a warrant to seize the offender’s phone, which returned the text messages exchanged between the officer posing as a teenage girl and the sex buyer. Additionally, the warrant revealed over 150 other explicit messages and 148 photographs of his erect penis between October 2019 and December 2020. The man’s identity was publicly disclosed.

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 buying sex, and eliminate cultural acceptance of purchasing commercial 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 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 prostitution.
  • 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, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrest, SOAP Order, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

John School:

Buyer Beware Program:

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 145424
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