Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, with approximately 725,000 residents. The city has struggled with persistent and visible prostitution and sex trafficking problems for decades, including the activity of serial killers targeting sex sellers, and cases of male sex buyers torturing individuals offering prostitution. Seattle’s reputation as an international seaport, as well its proximity to the Canadian border, are often cited by law enforcement as major factors driving the city’s prostitution and sex trafficking networks. The city is also noted by federal and local law enforcement to be a prominent stop on domestic pimping and human trafficking circuits, facilitated by the city’s geographic placement and the major interstate highways I-5 and I-90.
Reverse Stings, Vehicle Seizure, SOAP Orders, and Shaming
The Seattle Police Department (with occasional support from the King County Sheriff’s Office) employs several tactics to identify and apprehend local sex buyers. The SPD was among the first departments in the nation to use street-level reverse stings, beginning in 1974. Operations are now conducted on a routine basis, using one or more female undercover officers as decoys. Once arrested, sex buyers may be served with SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, barring them from reentering areas of the city known for commercial sex activity. Depending upon the circumstances of the arrest, sex buyers may also have their vehicles impounded and be charged an additional $1,000 retrieval fee. Police may also release the names of arrestees to the local media, although the publication of their identities remains at the discretion of news outlets.
As an increasing number of the city’s sex sales now begin online, SPD vice detectives also utilize web-based stings to intercept sex buyers attempting to solicit sex online. One such operation, conducted in 2006, placed decoy advertisements with photos of undercover female officers selling sex to Craigslist. As men responded to the listings and arranged to meet the officer at a local hotel, they were arrested by police. The department also collaborates with and provides technical assistance and training to peers in nearby communities; in fall 2014, for example, the SPD assisted officers in nearby Des Moines with a web-based reversal that resulted in the arrest of nine sex buyers.
In October 2014, media reported that the SPD planned to ramp up demand-reduction efforts as part of the countywide Buyer Beware initiative, launched by the King County Prosecutor’s Office. The initiative will prioritize the arrest of sex buyers over sellers, while offering and redirecting sellers to social service programs in lieu of arrest. At the county level, it will include additional public awareness efforts (e.g., online pop-up ads to deter would-be sex buyers) and an expanded john school program for convicted offenders. To read more about Buyer Beware, see King County. When asked about the program, a representative with the SPD commented:
In September, 2019, a Seattle Police Department captain was arrested by his fellow officers in a reverse sting. The veteran officer offered $40 to an undercover officer who was posing as a prostituting woman. He was was one of five men arrested in the Aurora sting, and according to jail records, he was booked and released in less than 30 minutes. The processing of this sex buyer was later investigated to determine if the Captain had received preferential treatment. Reportedly, a body cam video showed a sergeant telling the Captain that he would make the arrest as “painless as possible,” before turning off the camera, and that the man was in contact with high-ranking officers almost immediately and taken downtown instead of the north precinct. He also was given an expedited booking and release. The man was placed on administration leave after his arrest on suspicion of sexual exploitation, a charge for patronizing a prostitute. There are no public reports indicating that the Captain was fired or resigned in response to his arrest.
John School Programs
In February 2009, Mayor Nickels and city council members, in conjunction with the City of Seattle Human Services Department and the city’s municipal court system, established a mandatory education program for those charged with prostitution-related offenses. The john school, modeled after San Francisco’s First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP), offers men without prior convictions the opportunity to expunge the charge from their record. To do so, sex buyers must pay a $150 enrollment fee and complete the seven-hour seminar. The course, which includes lectures from health professionals and former prostituted women, also addresses the growing presence of trafficking networks in the region. By discussing the long-term impacts of sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation on victims and their families, the program hopes to educate sex buyers about the potential consequences of purchasing commercial sex.
In 2015, a second program was launched in Seattle that is intended to address the belief systems motivating sex buyers. “Stopping Sexual Exploitation: a Program for Men” was developed and impolemented by Peter Qualliotine, the co-founder of the Seattle-based “Organization for Prostitution Survivors” (OPS). The program a ten-week “transformative justice” intervention for court and self-referred sex buyers. The program includes 10 weekly sessions: Two individual 60-minute sessions before participation in the group, and then eight weekly group sessions of 2.5 hours each. The feel of $90 per session is paid by the buyers, and the proceeds support survivor services. Exercises and group discussions engage participants in a process of-self reflection and critical analysis. The program consists of the following topics or components:
- Sexuality and Gender Socialization
- Harm to Victim/Survivors
- The Sexual Violence Continuum
- Pimping, Trafficking and Domestic Violence
- Power and Violence
- Mutuality in Relationships
- The Will to Change
Public Education, Neighborhood Action
As of the end of 2012, an NGO, the Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking (BEST) alliance, was engaged in launching a program designed to engage businesses in addressing demand for commercial sex as a means of combating sex trafficking. Their “Inhospitable to Trafficking Project” is designed to raise awareness about the harms of prostitution. As of the end of 2012, the same person who will be leading part of BEST’s training of hotel employees leads the Seattle john school classes. He’s been working with survivors and buyers for over 20 years and for the BEST program will be using some of the same training material he uses in the john school, aimed at convincing men not to buy sex or to condone or facilitate commercial sex. The Project will raise awareness about the penalties for buying sex in Washington–which have increased substantially. The Project is also intended to clearly communicate that facilitating prostitution is a crime–and they will urge hotel managers who participate in the training to create and implement “in-house” penalties for employees who are caught facilitating prostitution. An assumption of the program is that most of the hotel-based facilitation of prostitution involves hotel employees helping buyers find individuals offering commercial sex acts. The training will address an audience in which a large majority may have spent their careers seeing and overlooking prostitution, and may view prostitution as a victimless crime. It is also intended to impact employees in hotels who themselves are buyers.
In May 2014, a new community group – Greenwood Aurora Involved Neighbors — mobilized to combat prostitution, handing out new brochures to individuals selling sex on the street with information on how they can get help, and urging them to help apprehend sex buyers.
Loss of Employment, Shaming
In October, 2017, a longtime morning show host at Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle, confirmed he was no longer employed with the station. The announcement came less than two months after the man was reportedly caught in a prostitution sting in Bellevue, WA. The man made the announcement of his departure on Twitter, but without making specific reference to the allegations against him. He was employed by the station for 23 years. Bellevue Police had announced in the previous month that it had arrested 110 men in an undercover operation aimed at online prostitution called “Operation On Demand.” The buyers were arrested after arriving at a condo and agreeing to exchange money for sex. The Seattle Times, citing a police report, wrote that the man arrived at the condo and put $160 on a bedside table in exchange for one half-hour of sex.
Also in 2017, a tenured professor at the University of Washington was fired after two investigations found he sexually harassed employees and misused university money. His termination came more than 18 months after the investigations ended. In 2016, a university investigation determined that the man had violated the school’s sexual harassment policies with two employees. A second investigation, conducted by the UW School of Medicine concluded that he had misused university funds by asking an employee to do chores for him and soliciting a prostituted person.
Buyer Beware Program
In 2014 King County launched a new initiative designed to reduce the demand for prostitution, change the attitudes and behaviors of men arrested for patronization, 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.
- Seattle Police Department
- Seattle City Attorney’s Office
- Seattle Municipal Court
- City of Seattle Human Services Department
- Seattle & King County Department of Public Health
- King County Sheriff’s Office
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- BEST Alliance
- Organization for Prostitution Survivors
- KJR/iHeart Media
- University of Washington
National Assessment Survey and Interviews
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.
- Seattle John School Training Agenda
- “‘Johns’ May Encounter New City Fee”, Seattle Times, August 6 2002.
- HSD Sex Industry Counciling Ordinance, Seattle Municipal Code SMC 12A.10.110, Ordinance 122939, February 9 2009.
- “Council Approves Not-A-Saint John School: Who Gets the Credit?”, Seattle Weekly, March 23 2009.
- “John School Hits Roadblock”, Seattle Weekly, May 21 2009.
- “New ‘John School’ Lands a Teacher: Now If Only it Could Get More Johns”, Seattle Weekly, September 2 2009.
- “Seattle Enrolls Prostitute Patrons in ‘John School'”, ABC/KOMO-TV 4, October 2 2009.
- “Seattle ‘John School’ Educates Men Who Pay for Sex”, NPR/KUOW-FM 94.9, January 15 2013.
- “Curing ‘Johns’: Ten-week course aims to change sex buyers’ lives.” King 5 News, January 22, 2018.
Reverse Stings (Mode Not Specified):
- “Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Sting Nets over 500 Sex Buyers, 30 Pimps,” Press Release, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, February 9 2016.
- “Seattle Police Unit at Work Clamping down on Sex Trade,” Seattle Times, March 26 2016.
- https://crosscut.com/alternatives-stretched-and-neighbors-angry-seattle-police-return-arresting-sex-workers (2019)
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Prostitute Decoy Trap Nets Richland Man”, Tri-City Herald, December 13 1974.
- “8 Arrested in Aurora Prostitution Sting”, Seattle Times, March 3 1990.
- “More Than 40 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Seattle Times, August 28 1992.
- “Central Area Sting Nets 15”, Seattle Times, May 28 1994.
- “Police Track Prostitution from Streets to Internet”, Seattle Times, December 11 2003.
- “Prostitution Sweep Targets Aurora”, Seattle Times, September 11 2006.
- “Another Aurora Prostitution Sting; Stabbing on Alki”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 27 2006.
- “32 Arrested in Seattle Prostitution Sting”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 11 2008.
- “Police Make Five Prostitution Related Arrests in One Night Along Rainier Corridor”, Rainier Valley Post, June 3 2009.
- “Police Nab 7 in Prostitution Sting”, ABC/KOMO-TV 4, November 30 2011.
- “‘Buyer Beware’: King County Taking Aim at Those who Pay for Sex”, Seattle Times, October 15 2014.
- https://mynorthwest.com/1600797/seattle-police-captain-arrested-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://www.newsweek.com/seattle-police-captain-arrested-prostitution-department-randal-woolery (2019)
- https://www.dailymail.co.uk/Seattle-police-captain-arrested-offering-40-undercover-cop-posing-prostitute (2019)
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- “Prostitution Sting Leads to 104 Arrests”, Seattle Times, November 16 2006.
- “King County Flips the Script on Prostitution, Targeting Buyers Instead of Sex Workers”, KPLU-FM 88.5, October 15 2014.
- “Man who Tried to Buy Sex from Teen Sentenced to 16 Months,” Seattle Times, October 24 2014.
- “More Arrests Made of Men Seeking Underage Girls for Sex,” Seattle Times, July 21 2015.
- Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution (SOAP), Title 15.290, Seattle Police Manual, November 21 2007.
- “Move Against Prostitution Near Seattle Center”, Seattle Times, May 27 2011.
- “Prostitution is Dropping on Capitol Hill, But It’s Rising Near Seattle Center”, The Stranger, June 8 2011.
- “Does Police ‘Teamwork’ Work? 2-Year-Old Seattle Program Tries to Avoid Using Force”, Seattle Times, May 20 1992.
- “Aurora: North Seattle’s Street of Schemes – Merchants, Police Work to Clean Up Avenue Where Boy Scout Was Killed”, Seattle Times, January 5 1996.
- “Overnight Guest Restrictions Sought”, Seattle Times, November 17 1997.
- “Seattle Council Passes ‘Nuisance’ Law”, Seattle Times, December 1 2009.
- “Homeowner Busts Prostitution Deal with Citizen’s Arrest”, CBS/KIRO-TV 7, February 5 2013.
- “North Seattle Residents Fed Up with ‘Hidden Underbelly of Our City'”, FOX/KCPQ-TV 13, May 21 2014.
- “Council Votes to Name Prostitutes’ ‘Johns'”, Seattle Times, January 24 1995.
- “Humiliation is Latest in Crime Fight– But Some Cities Have Found People Have No Shame”, Seattle Times, January 27 1995.
Loss of Employment, Shaming:
- https://www.king5.com/seattle-sports-radio-host-announces-departure-after-reported-prostitution-bust (2017)
- https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/azeenghorayshi/uw-fired-michael-katze (2017)
- Impoundment of Vehicle Used in Patronizing a Prostitute, Seattle Municipal Code SMC 12A.10.115, Ordinance 123191, § 5, 2009.
- “Impound Bill Targets ‘Johns'”, Seattle Times, February 19 2008.
- “Looking for a Prostitute? Bill Would Allow Police to Seize Your Car”, Seattle Times, February 23 2009.
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Two Girls Sold to Man, Forced into Prostitution,” Ottawa Citizen, May 1 1978.
- “Prostitution Probe: 5 Asian Women Freed – Seattle Police Say Operation is Nationwide”, Seattle Times, January 31 1995.
- “Man Sought in Girl-Prostitution Case”, Seattle Times, August 19 1999.
- “8 Arrested in Investigation of Alleged Prostitution Ring”, Seattle Times, September 19 2002.
- “Authorities Close in on Human-Smuggling Operation”, Seattle Times, October 6 2004.
- “Feds Bust International Prostitution and Human-Trafficking Ring in Seattle and L.A.”, Seattle Times, August 10 2006.
- “Three Sentenced for Smuggling Prostitutes”, Seattle Times, February 23 2007.
- “2 Seattle Men Convicted Under New State Juvenile Prostitution Law”, Seattle Times, June 5 2008.
- “Federal Way Man, 19, Arrested for Kidnapping and Promoting Prostitution”, Seattle Times, October 10 2008.
- “6 Charged in First King County Case Using Human-Trafficking Law”, Seattle Times, March 26 2009.
- “Seattle Man Convicted of Forcing Girl, 12, Into Prostitution”, Seattle Times, April 9 2009.
- “Woman Gets 4-Year Sentence in Prostitution Case”, Seattle Times, July 31 2009.
- “Renton Man Charged in Teen Prostitution Case”, Seattle Times, March 31 2010.
- “Arrest Made in Prostitution, Child-Pornography Case”, Seattle Times, April 26 2010.
- “Washington Gets Serious About Role of ‘Johns’ in Juvenile Prostitution”, Seattle Times, June 4 2010.
- “Child-Prostitution Crackdown”, Seattle Times, June 9 2010.
- “Two Men, Woman Arrested for Forcing 16-Year-Old Girl into Prostitution”, Seattle Times, August 4 2010.
- “Seattle-Area Leads in Child Prostitution”, Seattle Times, November 8 2010.
- “Prostitution of Children in Seattle Mushrooms, While Portland’s Reputation Suffers”, Investigate West, January 14 2011.
- “Grants to Help Agencies Fight Child Prostitution”, Seattle Times, September 9 2011.
- “Human Trafficking: Washington Works to Stop Demand”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 4 2011.
- “Ending Commercial Sexual Exploitation: A Local Coordinated Response Assessment and Strategic Framework Addressing Sex Trafficking of Minors in Seattle-King County”, Draft Report, City of Seattle Human Services Department, June 2012.
- “Washington Juveniles Recovered in Operation Cross Country VI”, Press Release. FBI Seattle. June 25 2012.
- “Washington’s Online Sex-Trafficking Law Struck Down in Federal Court”, Seattle Times, December 7 2012.
- “Six Indicted in Seattle for Multi-State Online Prostitution Ring”, Northwest Cable News, (NWCN), March 4 2013.
- “Local Group Strives to Help Those Trapped in Prostitution”, ABC/KOMO-TV 4, April 13 2013.
- “Man Pleads Guilty to Forcing Kennewick Teen into Prostitution”, Bellingham Herald, February 10 2014.
- “Teen Was Victim of Sex Trafficking along West Coast before Beaverton Police Intervened, Documents Say”, Oregonian, August 12 2014.
- “Charges: Seattle Woman, Boyfriend Forced Teen into Prostitution,” Seattle Times, November 3 2015.
- “Police: Woman Says She ‘Helped’ Runaway Girl by Pimping Her,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, November 6 2015.
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Seattle’s Vice Arouses Army,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, May 20 1943.
- “Seattle Streetwalkers’ Territory Is Expanding,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, July 23 1978.
- “Prostitution, Drugs Leave Aurora for Side Streets”, Seattle Times, October 31 1990.
- “Charges Filed Over ‘Escort’ Ring– Man Is Accused in 50-Count Indictment”, Seattle Times, October 27 1994.
- “Sentence in Prostitution Case”, Seattle Times, April 1 1995.
- “Ex-Beauty Queen Arrested”, Seattle Times, December 19 1998.
- “Love for Sale”, Seattle Weekly, February 13 2002.
- “Prostitution Sting Targets Online Advertisers”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 2 2007.
- “Charges Filed in Prostitution Scheme at Three ‘Spas'”, Seattle Times, November 19 2008.
- “Police Raid 3 ‘Temples’ in Prostitution Sting”, Seattle Times, May 23 2009.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 2 Arrests”, Seattle Times, July 29 2009.
- “2 Plead Guilty to Flying in Prostitutes to Work in Seattle-Area ‘Tanning Salons'”, Seattle Times, July 30 2009.
- “A Red Light History of Seattle”, Seattle Met, January 29 2010.
- “Seattle Prostitution Sting Nets Convicted Rapist”, MyNorthwest.com, August 30 2012.
- “Former Prostitute Creates Memorial for Green River Killer’s Victims”, FOX/KCPQ-TV 13, December 26 2012.
- “Ending the Demand: Ex-Prostitute Escapes Pimp and Reclaims Her Life”, Federal Way Mirror, January 17 2013.
- “Sex Trade Study Finds Something Unique in Seattle”, Seattle Times, March 13 2014.
- “Meet the Police Officer Who’s Offering Prostitutes an Alternative to Jail”, Huffington Post, July 14 2014.
- “Tougher Tactics Sting Sex Buyers,” Seattle Times, October 15 2014.
- “Tougher Police Tactics Stinging Sex Buyers,” Seattle Times, October 15 2014.
- “It’s ‘Sexual Exploitation,’ Not ‘Patronizing a Prostitute,’ in Seattle,” Seattle Times, January 12 2015.
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- Gary Ridgway, Wikipedia.
- “Man Held for Questioning in Slayings of Five Women”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, August 21 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.
- “Two Women Added to Death-Victim List”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, November 16 1983.
- “Green River Toll Rises”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 23 1984.
- “TV Tips Lead to Arrests for Killing”, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, December 12 1988.
- “Facing the Violence — Remembering the Children: 22 Killed in King County in ’93”, Seattle Times, January 30 1994.
- “Ridgway Pleads Guilty to Long List of Victims”, Seattle Times, November 5 2003.
- “Man Charged with Beating, Intimidating Witness in Pimp Trial”, Seattle Times, February 16 2012.
- “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.
- “Man Admits to Torturing Seattle Prostitute”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 25 2013.
- “Seattle Lawyer Gets 25 Years Behind Bars for Raping 5 Asian Masseuses”, Christian Post, May 21 2014.