Pierce County, 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

Pierce County, located in the southern Puget Sound region of Washington state, has a population of roughly 921,000 residents. The unincorporated areas of the county as well as the cities within it (such as Tacoma, the county’s major population center) have identified prostitution as a persistent problem, and there have been numerous local cases of sex trafficking of girls and women over the decades, as well as other violent crimes, drug offenses, and related child sex abuse material (CSAM). For example, in 2010, a violent sex trafficker/pimp was sentenced in federal court to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking, witness tampering, and interstate transportation of a minor for prostitution in Pierce County and elsewhere. The man had used threats and violence to coerce the 17-year-old girl into the sex trafficking operation. In 2011, an undercover Tacoma Police Special Investigations Unit arrested a Lakewood man for suspicion of prostitution solicitation. The man had been charged previously with four counts of first degree child pornography and other previous sex crimes, and for assaulting his wife. In 2013, A 65-year-old man was shot in the ear by a woman he allegedly enlisted to “help him find prostitutes.” Two men had been smoking outside of a Lakewood motel and loudly talking about their intention to go to a strip club when they were approached by 26-year-old woman, a self-described “hustler,” and allegedly told the men they should save money and allow her to introduce them to prostituted women. The men allegedly agreed, and the three left the motel to meet another woman. However, the woman and one of the men argued about price, and she allegedly grew upset and pulled out a gun and shot at the man three times, hitting the victim once in his right ear. She was arrested by police and was charged in Pierce County Superior Court with first-degree attempted murder, second-degree assault and other charges. She had five previous felony convictions on her record at the time. In July, 2021, the Washington State Patrol said a male suspect went to a location where he arranged to meet and allegedly attempted to sexually abuse two children ages 10 and 12 in exchange for money. The same man was also arrested in January 2021, for allegedly trying to sexually abuse a 13-year-old in exchange for money. From the more recent sting, he was charged with second-degree promoting prostitution. In July 2022, a man registered with the Sex Offender Registry to live in Pierce County, where he had a lengthy criminal history that included a 1990 conviction for sexual misconduct with a minor and promoting prostitution in Pierce County for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and luring her into sex trafficking.

To address consumer level demand – the primary cause of both prostitution and sex trafficking, as wells as associated violence and drug offenses – the county has engaged in efforts to combat consumer-level demand for commercial sex, including both street-level and web-based reverse stings. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office has conducted street-level reverse stings since at least 2008, if not earlier. Since 1992, police have been issuing “stay out of areas of prostitution” orders. The county started a “john school” program for arrested sex buyers in 2005, that is used by the cities of Lakewood, Tacoma, and Fife, and for the men arrested in unincorporated areas by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. The diversion program, established in 2005, offers first time offenders the opportunity to expunge the misdemeanor charge from their record pending their completion of a daylong seminar (and ability to avoid rearrest). To attend, sex buyers must submit to HIV and other STD tests, and complete “work restitution.” The course, which consists of a series of presentations from local law enforcement, public health officials, and formerly prostituted and trafficked women, requires a $600 enrollment fee, 80% of which “goes to social services aimed at getting prostituted women off the streets.”

Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the county. For example, in 2016, during a multi-agency law enforcement operation in Thurston County, targeting individuals intending to sexually exploit children, a 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was one of 22 individuals arrested. According to reports, the investigation resulted in the arrest of 21 males and one female, and the rescue of four children at risk of being sexually abused. During the operation, undercover agents communicated online with individuals interested in sexually abusing children through websites known for prostitution and sex trafficking. Undercover officials reportedly received hundreds of responses from potential sex buyers, agreeing to meet with undercover detectives posing as children in order to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money. In November 2017, the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was convicted of solicitation to rape a child and indecent language. He was sentenced to be reduced to private (E-1), to forfeit all pay and allowances, and to be confined for 14 months. In addition, the offender was discharged from the service with a bad-conduct discharge. He was arrested and charged by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). His identity and charges were included in reports by local media outlets.

Key Partners

Key Sources

National Assessment Interviews and Survey (2012)

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:

John School:

SOAP Orders:

  • “Pierce Courts Get Anti-Vice Option,” Tacoma News Tribune, March 28 2007.
  • “Two More No-Prostitute Zones,” Tacoma News Tribune, October 28 2007.
  • “What’s Next,” Tacoma News Tribune, October 28 2007.

Background on Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Legislation Focused on Sex Buyers:

State Washington
Type County
Population 921130
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