Renton, WA

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Renton is a city of approximately 97,000 residents, situated just southeast of Seattle in King County, Washington near SeaTac. Local law enforcement and residents have complained about prostitution activity, occurring both at street-level and within adult-oriented businesses, for several years. Child sex trafficking has also been reported; in 2000, a Renton man was convicted of transporting two local 15-year-old girls to Oakland, California and forcing them into prostitution.

In their efforts to curtail prostitution, the Renton Police Department had conducted reverse stings since at least 2014. In July 2014, RPD officers launched “Operation Cold Shower,” wherein officers “set up a sting reminiscent of the television show ‘To Catch a Predator'” with the support of the King County Sheriff’s Department. Eleven men were arrested as a result; each were charged with “felony commercial exploitation of a minor.” When asked about the operation, a RPD representative reported that law enforcement had recently attended a presentation on human trafficking and “the decision as made to try and address the problem by going after the ‘johns’ or customers.” In September 2014, police announced the arrest of four additional men at a Renton hotel. Although the men’s names were not disclosed, media outlets reported that the investigation spanned just over four hours and that each of the offenders had been charged with patronizing a prostitute.

In 2014 King County launched a 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

  • Renton Police Department

Key Sources

State Washington
Type City
Population 60331
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