SeaTac is a city of approximately 27,000 residents, located in the southern suburbs of Seattle in King County, Washington. Not formally incorporated as a city until February 1990, SeaTac comprises the areas in and around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Prostitution and sex trafficking continue to pose formidable problems for local law enforcement, with the majority of activities concentrated along International Boulevard and in the city’s many hotels and motels.
To address the issue, the SeaTac Police Department employs several tactics that target local demand for commercial sex. Officers routinely conduct street-level reverse stings and web stings to identify and intercept sex buyers. Operations typically utilize one or more undercover female officers, who pose as decoys. As johns attempt to solicit sex from the women, they are apprehended by police. Under city and county law, convicted johns may face up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Repeat offenders may be further penalized with additional fees and jail time, as per a 1990 SeaTac city ordinance. Officers also reserve the right to seize and impound a solicitor’s vehicle, depending upon the circumstances of the individual’s arrest.
In recent years, SeaTac has also been identified as a major transit point for sex traffickers in the Pacific Northwest. In 2009, local law enforcement reported that over 80 underaged girls were involved in sex trafficking arrests in the South Seattle area alone. As the majority of trafficking operations cross several jurisdictions, SeaTac police frequently collaborate with officers from the Seattle Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Office to investigate johns attempting to solicit sex from minors.
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, SeaTac, Tukwila, 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.
- SeaTac Police Department
- King County Sheriff’s Office
- The Genesis Project
- Organization for Prostitution Survivors
- King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
- Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST)
- Seattle Against Slavery
National Assessment Survey and Interview
- “Police Target Prostitution During Games”, Seattle Times, July 3 1990.
- “‘John Patrol’ Sweeps Aurora; 18 Arrested”, Seattle Times, July 12 1990.
- “Prostitution Sting Is Set”, Seattle Times, May 25 1999.
- “‘Johns’ Get Stung– A Dangerous Game of Lure and Snag”, Seattle Times, June 7 1999.
- “Police Prostitution Sting Nets 13”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1 2007.
- Ordinance 92-1016, City of SeaTac, April 11 1990.
- “SeaTac Gets Tougher on Prostitution– City Code Extends Further Than County’s”, Seattle Times, March 14 1990.
- Ordinance 00-1044, City of SeaTac, September 26 2000.
- City Manager’s Weekly Update, City of SeaTac, February 17 2012.
- “SeaTac Based Genesis Project Offers Hope to Young Girls Caught in Area Sex-Trafficking”, Des Moines News, April 27 2012.
- “SeaTac Police Honored for Cracking Down on Sex Trafficking”, Des Moines News, August 20 2012.
Buyer Beware Program:
- “Criminal Penalties and Fined Related to Prostitution and Commercial Sexual Abuse of Minors.” Report to the Washington State Legislature, Washington State Department of Commerce, December, 2015.
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Man Accused of Kidnapping 4-Year-Old, Trying to Force Girl’s Mother into Prostitution”, Seattle Times, July 19 2005.
- “Gang Member Admits Forcing Teen Girls into Prostitution”, Seattle Times, August 27 2009.
- “Charge: Convicted Pimp Kept Teens as ‘Slaves’, Kept Stripper Pole in Bedroom”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 26 2010.
- “Detectives Recover Three 15-Year-Olds in Backpage Prostitution Stings”, Seattle Metropolitan, September 28 2011.
- “‘Innocence Lost’ Sex Trafficking Task Force Rescues 3 Girls in SeaTac”, SeaTac Blog, September 29 2011.
- “KC Prosecutors: Using Backpage.com, Pimp Forced Woman into Prostitution”, Seattle Metropolitan, October 3 2011.
- “SeaTac Man Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking”, Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office – Western District of Washington, March 16 2012.
- “2 Men Plead Not Guilty to Backpage Prostitution Charges”, Tacoma News Tribune, October 9 2012.
- “2 Men Charged in Rape, Teen Pimping Cases”, Seattle Times, October 9 2012.
- “Woman Charged with Pimping Out 2 Teens”, Seattle Times, June 17 2013.
- https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/prosecutor-seatac-motel-6-used-for-sex-trafficking (2019)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- Gary Ridgway, Wikipedia.
- “Police Overwhelmed by Killings Coverage”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, August 26 1982.
- “Police Have No Clues So Far to Identity of Killer of 6”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, October 4 1982.
- “Prostitutes Haunted By Killer”, Palm Beach Post, October 5 1982.
- “Green River Toll Rises”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 23 1984.
- “Teen Prostitutes Enrage Sister of Killer’s Victim”, Spokane Chronicle, January 22 1985.
- “Hooker’s Story Figures in Green River Probe”, Spokane Chronicle, May 14 1987.
- “Skeleton of Green River Killer’s 41st Victim Found”, Eugene Register-Guard, October 12 1989.
- “Slaying Victim Sought New Start — Woman Came North to Get Off Drugs, Family Says”, Seattle Times, November 15 1992.
- “Man Charged with Raping Prostitutes”, Seattle Times, January 16 1993.
- “Man Who Attacked Prostitutes Gets 49 1/2 Years”, Seattle Times, January 29 2000.
- “Ridgway Pleads Guilty to Long List of Victims”, Seattle Times, November 5 2003.
- “Another Green River Victim Is Identified”, Seattle Times, June 18 2012.
- “‘Still a Huge Wound’; Remembering Green River Killer’s Victims”, Seattle Times, March 19 2013.
- https://komonews.com/news/local/seatac-sex-sting-unmasks-rest-area-dangers-trucker-says (2018)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Cleaning Up Sea-Tac Strip– Officials Target Prostitution, Dance Clubs”, Seattle Times, April 11 1990.
- “Prostitution is Down in SeaTac– Decrease Tied to Increased Vigilance, New Loitering Law, Green River Killer”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 8 1991.
- “Invitation: Make ‘Strip’ a Street of Dreams”, Seattle Times, June 25 1992.
- “Sea-Tac’s Turbulent History”, Seattle Times, December 11 1994.
- “Woman Charged with Bringing in Women to Work as Prostitutes”, Seattle Times, October 11 2008.
- Human Services Advisory Committee Minutes, City of SeaTac, June 21 2010.
- “Police: MySpace Job Offer Turned into Nightmare on Seattle, SeaTac Streets for Girl”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 13 2010.
- Public Safety and Justice Committee Minutes, City of SeaTac, February 8 2011.
- “Higher Fines On Johns, Pimps Would Benefit Anti-Prostitution Programs”, KUOW News & Information/NPR, February 15 2012.
- “Cops Launch Drop-In Shelter to Help Prostitutes in SeaTac”, Seattle Times, June 21 2012.
- “Meet the Police Officer Who’s Offering Prostitutes an Alternative to Jail”, Huffington Post, July 14 2014.
- https://komonews.com/news/local/seatac-sex-sting-unmasks-rest-area-dangers-trucker-says (2018)