Payette County, Idaho has a population of about 23,000, and its county seat and largest city is Payette. Payette County is part of the Ontario micropolitan area. Prostitution activity has been well-documented within the county, and in the greater Ontario area. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are sex trafficking and violence committed against people involved in these transactions. Prostitution has been documented in the County dating back to the early 1900s. In 1908, Payette (then in Canyon County; Payette County was formed in 1917), attempted to prohibit prostitution and liquor traffic. Similar efforts were occurring across the state. Payette was too small to have a “red-light” district but it had a brothel at the edge of town, and in 1908 the Payette Independent reported that two sheepherders had been severely beaten and robbed as they left the brothel. This aroused public opinion, and led to an investigation. The brothel owner and its madam were arrested by federal agents for selling liquor without a license, and warrants had been issued for their arrest for the sheepherder robbery. The madam moved her Payette prostitutes to Ontario immediately after the robbery, and sent her Ontario girls to Payette. Regular moving of the women was a common practice in the trade to prevent their arrest, and identification by witnesses if they were.
In contemporary times, child sex trafficking has continued within the county. For example, in 2000, A Payette man was arrested for allegedly soliciting a woman and two minors to work for him as prostitutes. His arrest came after a tip from a 34-year-old Payette woman, who told police she was allegedly approached and asked if she, her 13-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old female relative, would act as prostitutes for him. The investigation continued and police tried to identify his possible clients and determine the extent of the man’s alleged business. The man had been an interpreter for the Payette County Court system, was arraigned on two counts of felony attempting to induce persons under 18 into prostitution and one count of felony attempting to induce an adult into prostitution. The case went to a grand jury. In another case in March 2012, an Idaho State Police trooper stopped a man from Washington state at a rest stop in Payette County, and arrested him for driving without privileges. At the Payette County Jail, his passenger, a 15-year-old girl, was found to be a ward of the state of Washington and a runaway who was being trafficked for sexual exploitation. The man was prosecuted and sentenced to 57 months in federal prison for his role in sex trafficking.
In committee hearings for a human trafficking bill in 2018, a state representative brought a number of former child sex trafficking victims to testify. They testified johns are as dangerous as traffickers and frequently abuse and rape their victims. One woman described that as a child she was choked, tied up, cut with knives and then penetrated with sharp objects by an abusive john. A 15-year-old Payette girl told the committee she had been forced into prostitution at age 13 by her mother’s pimp, and emphasized that she had been trafficked because there was a market for their bodies.
Consumer-level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies in their strategy for prevention and response. To combat the array of problems stemming from commercial sex, local law enforcement agencies have arrested sex buyers and publicly disclosed their identities. For example, in 2019, the principal of Fruitland High School was charged with three sex-related misdemeanors by the Payette County prosecutor’s office. The man had served as the school’s boys basketball coach for 19 years. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery and one charge of patronizing a prostitute. He was placed on leave amid a criminal investigation by the Idaho State Police. Misdemeanor sexual battery is punishable by up to a year in county jail. Patronizing a prostitute, by Idaho statute, is when someone, “pays or offers or agrees to pay another person a fee for the purpose of engaging in an act of sexual conduct or sexual contact” or “enters or remains in a house of prostitution for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct or sexual contact.”
Law enforcement agencies within Payette County have also helped to conduct web-based reverse stings in the region. For example, in 2016, the Payette Police Department participated in an undercover anti-sex trafficking operation in Malheur County that led to 15 arrests. The operation was led by the High Desert Drug Taskforce, and also included the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Ontario and Nyssa, Idaho. Investigators posted online ads on known sex-trafficking websites. People who contacted undercover officers and arranged payment for sexual acts were arrested at a hotel in the Ontario area, and booked into the Malheur County Jail.
- Payette Police Department
- Payette County Sheriff’s Office
- Payette County Prosecutor’s Office
- Idaho State Police
- High Desert Drug Taskforce
- Malheur County Sheriff’s Office
Arrest and Shaming of Sex Buyers:
- https://www.ktvb.com/article/15-arrested-in-ontario-area-sex-trafficking-investigation (2016)
- https://www.idahostatesman.com/local/crime/article (2019)
- https://www.idahoednews.org/fruitland-principal-charged-with-sexual-battery-patronizing-a-prostitute/ (2019)
- https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/education/article2294 (2019)
- https://www.ktvb.com/article/news/crime/fruitland-high-school-principal-resigns-in-wake-of-sex-related-charges (2019)
- https://www.argusobserver.com/court-pushes-out-trial-for-former-high-school-principal (2019)
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- https://www.argusobserver.com/news/police-arrest-payette-man-on-charges-of-soliciting-prostitutiontracy-widner (2000)
- “Arrests Increase in Ontario during 2005,” Ontario Argus Observer, May 14 2006.
- https://www.boiseweekly.com/boise/human-trafficking-absence-of-choice/ (2014)
- https://www.eastidahonews.com/2018/03/look-sex-trade-east-idaho-women-work/ (2018)