SeaTac, WA

Tactics Used

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

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.

Key Partners


Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interview

Reverse Stings:

Web Stings:

SOAP Orders:

Neighborhood Action:

Auto Seizure:

Buyer Beware Program:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Washington
Type City
Population 25710
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