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Kitsap County is a county of approximately 275,000 residents in eastern Washington state, located on a peninsula across Puget Sound from Seattle, WA. Its largest city is Bremerton, WA and its county seat is Port Orchard, WA. The city of Bremerton is home to the Puget Sound Naval Base, a major U.S. Navy base. Additionally, in the 1950s through 1980s there were several ballistic missile bases (e.g., located in Kingston), and more recently there has continued to be a Coast Guard lighthouse and communications station (in Hansville), and a major Navy submarine base (in Keyport) located within the county. The area’s population grew throughout the 1900s due to the fishing and logging industries. This resulted in a large, disproportionately male population in the area and a large demand for commercial sex in the county. Reports of prostitution and sex trafficking in the county date back to the late 1930s. These activities and the ancillary crimes of violence and drug possession have generated complaints to local law enforcement from residents and businesses. For example, in May 2018, a man was sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison for robbing men who showed up at a Bremerton motel expecting to meet a prostituted woman. The man was convicted by a Kitsap County Superior Court jury of first-degree robbery and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. In 2022, a local organization (Scarlet Road) received a grant to house victims of sex trafficking and their dependents in Kitsap County, and provide case management services that foster long-term stability.
Among the tactics used to combat sexual exploitation are those targeting consumer level demand for prostitution and sex trafficking. In an effort to identify and apprehend local sex buyers, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and municipal police departments have implemented various demand reduction tactics such as street-level and web-based reverse sting operations. In 2015, the KCSO conducted their fist reverse sting operation. The operation resulted in the arrest of seven male sex buyers, three of which were members of the military. According to reports, the KCSO, along with officers from the Bremerton Police Department (BPD), the Bainbridge Island Police Department, and the Poulsbo Police Department posted ads on Backpage.com and Craigslist.com the day before the operation and arranged the dates through text messages. According to detectives, men began replying to the ads within three minutes of the posts. The operation was conducted at a motel in Port Orchard and suspects were arrested upon arriving to motel rooms and knocking on the doors. In addition to arrests, detectives seized cash, phones, and car keys as evidence. During one arrest, they also confiscated a knife a sex buyer was carrying in his pocket. All seven male sex buyers were arrested and transported to the Kitsap County Jail. They were booked for investigation of patronizing a prostitute, each being held on a $10,000 bail. The 2015 sting was one of many within the statewide “Operation Net Nanny” initiative. The identities of the arrestees were publicized in local media outlets.
In early February 2016, KSCO deputies conducted a second web-based sting. The KCSO partnered with the Port Orchard Police Department to target sex buyers and prostituted persons using online advertisements. This operation resulted in the arrest of six male sex buyers on charges of patronizing a prostitute. Three women were also intercepted and charged with prostitution during the sting. The arrestees’ ages and hometowns — but not names — were included in the KCSO press release and publicized in local media outlets.
In August 2019, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and several partner agencies announced the arrest of nineteen sex buyers who attempted to sexually abuse minors in exchange for money in Kitsap County. These individuals were discovered during a multi-day “Operation Net Nanny” event. This was the 16th operation spearheaded by the WSP’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force (MECTF), an Internet Crimes Against Children affiliate. Undercover law enforcement officers used various websites and phone applications to communicate with individuals interested in sexually exploiting children in exchange for money in Kitsap County. The operation generated hundreds of responses. The perpetrators who were arrested during the operation traveled to meet with undercover detectives posing as underage girls and boys with the intent to engage in commercial sexual activity with children as young as six years old. One of the men charged with second-degree rape of a child and communication with a minor for immoral purposes had previously served six months in prison for child molestation in 2014. The names of the individuals arrested during the operation were included in a news release by the WSP. Offender’s charges included:
- RCW 9A.44.073 – Rape of a child in the first degree – attempt
- RCW 9A.44.076 – Rape of a child in the second degree – attempt
- RCW 9.68A.100 – Commercial sexual abuse of a minor
- RCW 9.68A.090 – Communication with a minor for immoral purposes
Since the original operation in August 2015, 271 individuals have been arrested and 31 children have been rescued from sexual exploitation.
Sex buyers and sex traffickers have also been apprehended through investigations of alleged offenses against real victims. For example, in 2013, following the arrest of several individuals for allegedly sex trafficking one woman and two underage girls, BPD investigators reviewed the “text messages, phones, and internet records” of the suspects and uncovered the names of two men who had contacted them to purchase commercial sex. Both men were charged with “hiring a juvenile prostitute for sex,” and had their names released the public. When asked about the operation, a police representative stated that “this kind of activity will not be tolerated in our community, and [the BPD] will aggressively investigate anyone involved in exploiting kids… the young girls are victims, and the pimps, their adult employees, and the johns are nothing but predatory criminals’.”
‘Dear John’ letters have also been reported as a tactic used by county officials to deter sex buyers from engaging in commercial sex. For example, in 1997, it was reported that the Bremerton Police Department sent messages to the registered owners of vehicles seen cruising the “track” where street prostitution was concentrated in the city. In 1998, East Sprague
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- Operation Cross Country VII (2014)
- Kitsap prostitution bust: 7 men arrested, one in Navy uniform (2015)
- Officers Arrest 7 in Human Trafficking Crackdown (2015)
- Operation Cross Country IX (2015)
- Operation Cross Country X (2016)
- Operation Human Freight Identifies Multiple Victims of Prostitution (2018)
- http://www.wsp.wa.gov/2019/08/01/kitsap-county-net-nanny-operation-leads-to-19-arrests/ (2019)
- Kitsap County ‘Net Nanny’ Operation Leads to 19 Arrests (2019)
- WSP: Arrests in child sex sting shows extent of problem (2019)
Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:
- Charge: Man pimped disabled woman while collecting her benefits (2012)
- Bremerton police investigation into sex trafficking nets more suspects (2013)
- Man faces charge of human trafficking (2013)
- SeaTac man jailed, linked to prostitution (2013)
- Multiple arrests in prostitution sting (2014)
Dear John Letters, Neighborhood Action:
- “A Different ‘Dear John’ Letter”, Seattle Times, September 14 1997.
- “Police Battle Prostitution with Letter”, Eugene Register-Guard, September 17 1997.
- “East Sprague: Prostitutes Harass Passerby, Business Owner Says”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, May 16 1998.
- East Sprague neighbors fight prostitution, drugs (1998)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Two Girls Sold to Man, Forced into Prostitution,” Ottawa Citizen, May 1 1978.
- “Bremerton Man Charged with Trying to Solicit Sex with 11-Year-Old”, Bremerton Kitsap Sun, July 7 2009.
- “Bremerton Man Who Tried to Solicit Child Sex from Prostitute Sentenced”, Bremerton Kitsap Sun, December 11 2009.
- “Feds Take Rare Kitsap Sex Trafficking Case”, Bremerton Kitsap Sun, April 16 2012.
- “Man Caught in Bremerton Prostitution Bust Sentenced to Nine Years”, Bremerton Kitsap Sun, November 30 2012.
- “Bremerton Man Sentenced for Sex Trafficking”, Bremerton Patriot, December 2 2012.
- “Poulsbo Man Charged with Human Trafficking”, Bremerton Kitsap Sun, January 18 2013.
- “Bremerton Man Faces Prostitution, Trafficking Charges”, Bremerton Kitsap Sun, January 24 2013.
- “Bremerton Police Break Up Commercial Sex Ring Involving Minor Victims”, Bremerton Patriot, April 8 2013.
- ‘Significant military/US Navy nexus’ found in Kitsap human trafficking bust (2019)
- Investigation of massage parlors leads to four prostitution arrests in Kitsap County (2019)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Vice Rampant Near Camps, Boom Towns”, St. Petersburg Times, February 8 1942.
- “What American Cities Are Doing; Anti-Venereal Disease Ordinance”, St. Petersburg Times, December 15 1944.
- “Coast Police Conduct Raid”, Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 4 1961.
- Appeal right in prostitution case (1986)
- “New Sailors Shun Legacy of Rowdiness”, Seattle Times, January 9 1997.
- Bremerton, Navy Police make prostitution bust (2006)
- County should clean up park site for sore eyes (2008)
- Police conduct prostitution sting at casino (2013)
- Task Force Officers Arrest 8 for Drugs and Prostitution (2013)
- Woman, 67, being charged in sting (2014)
- A profile of prostitution in Kitsap County (2017)
- Major prostitution bust in several massage parlors across Kitsap county (2019)
- https://www.peninsuladailynews.com/first-fed-foundation-awards-400000-in-fall-grants/ (2022)