Skagit County is located in northern Washington state, and has a population of over 120,000 residents. It is situated directly north of Seattle, and the county’s northern border is Whatcom County. The county seat and largest city is Mt. Vernon(35,600). The city of Mt. Vernon has had street prostitution and indoor prostitution occurring in hotels and storefront brothels (such as nail salons), as well as documented cases of sex trafficking of juvenile victims. Complaints from the community play a large role in police conducting anti-prostitution operations. The rise of internet advertising has encouraged the spread of prostitution outside of “stroll” or brothels, to virtually anywhere in the county. For example, in August, 2017 a man was arrested and held in the Skagit County Jail in Mount Vernon on suspicion of forcing two women into prostitution. In March of 2017 Mount Vernon Officers worked a case where a local woman had been identified as a possible victim of Human Trafficking. The suspect and the woman were contacted in Williston, North Dakota. Detectives interviewed the woman who stated she was being held against her will by the suspect and he was forcing her to commit prostitution. An arrest warrant was issued in North Dakota for Facilitating Prostitution and an additional warrant was issued for Felonious Restraint with a nationwide extradition. The suspect and the woman had already left the area before he could be taken into custody. Soon afterward, Mount Vernon officers responded to reports that the suspect was back in Skagit County and was possibly holding a woman against her will and forcing her into prostitution. Officers were able to locate and arrest the man and recover the victim. The offender had offered women high paying jobs, then when they arrived he informed them they “will do different work,’ then allegedly set up online advertisements for massages as a pretext for prostitution and arranged for the woman to meet men, who wanted to pay for sex. The offender told the women what to do, including that they were to perform sex acts and then forced them to surrender a portion of their fees. Two victims had attempted to escape and were assaulted, and forced to continue in prostitution – which is sex trafficking.
Some of the prostitution-related effort of county and city law enforcement is directed toward attempting to deter consumer-level demand. Both street-level and web-based reverse stings have been conducted, and the identities of arrested sex buyers released to local media outlets. For example,In February, 2012, a 51-year-old Mount Vernon man was arrested after attempting to contact a 16-year-old prostitute, that was actually an undercover detective. The Skagit County Sheriff’s Office engaged the man through Internet communication with an officer posing as a teenaged girl, and the undercover detective arranged to meet the man. He was arrested at a gas station on Memorial Highway, and was booked into Skagit County for investigation of patronizing a juvenile prostitute.The Sheriff’s Office made two similar arrests in April 2011 using the same type of sting operation.
In 2013 police posted an ad with a photo of a 13-year-old girl on Backpage.com. More than 100 responses were received overnight from Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Burlington and Oak Harbor. Nearly all of them were overtly sexual messages from adult males. The photo was an old picture of an adult who grew up to be a law enforcement officer, and the ad was part of a sting set up by the Anacortes Police Department. Three people were arrested in the investigation. In 2014, eight more were arrested in a larger countywide online sex sting by the Skagit Multi Agency Response Team, known as SMART, that also focused on men seeking to buy sex with children.
In December, 2017 at least 19 men in Whatcom and Skagit counties were caught in a sting operation that targeted internet predators attempting to solicit sexual contact with minors. Operation “Net Nanny” was led by the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force. Most of the men were arrested on suspicion of attempted child rape and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. During the operation, undercover agents posted Craigslist ads online advertising for meet ups of a sexual nature, according to Whatcom County Superior Court records. Once the men responded, the agents would either pose as young teenage children, or as parents offering up their young children for sexual contact – some as young as 6 years old. Charges included second-degree child rape, communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, and prostituting/patronizing a minor.
- Skagit County Sheriff’s Office
- Skagit Multi Agency Response Team (SMART)
- Anacortes Police Department
- Burlington Police Department
- Mount Vernon Police Department
- Sedro-Woolley Police Department
- Washington State Patrol
- Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office
- Mount Vernon Police Department
- Skagit Against Slavery
- Skagit Coalition Against Trafficking
Web-Based Reverse Sting, Shaming:
- https://www.goskagit.com/news/local_news/man-arrested-in-prostitution-sting/ (2012)
- http://www.columbian.com/news/2017/dec/18/at-least-19-men-arrested-in-child-sex-sting-in-whatcom-county/ (2017)
Background on Local a Sex Trafficking and Prostitution:
- https://www.goskagit.com/news/crime/six-arrested-in-online-child-sex-sting (2014)
- https://www.goskagit.com/all_access/human-trafficking-skagit-faces-a-fast-growing-online-threat (2015)
- http://www.skagitbreaking.com/man-held-skagit-county-jail-human-trafficking/ (2017)
- https://www.skagitbreaking.com/2017/08/14/man-held-skagit-county-jail-human-trafficking/ (2017)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Operation Cross Country VIII Recovers Four Juveniles Being Victimized through Prostitution in Washington State,” States News Service, June 23 2014.