Spokane County, WA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Spokane County is a county located in the Northeastern corner of Washington state, near the Idaho border, and has a population of approximately 546,000 residents. Spokane, WA, is the largest city and county seat of Spokane County, WA, it is also is the second largest city in the state. Prostitution has been a persistent and visible problem in the county for decades. Among the more serious negative outcomes of the local commercial sex market are targeted assaults and homicides against prostituted people. At least one serial offender who focused exclusively on killing local women offering prostitution has operated in the city. In 1990 alone, three local women involved in prostitution were found dead from gunshot wounds. Law enforcement have also documented cases of rape, robbery, and physical assaults committed against women and girls exploited in the local commercial sex market. Attacks on male sex buyers have also been reported. More recently, sex trafficking became a growing concern. For example, in May 2012, an investigation by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office led to the discovery of a young woman kidnapped and sex trafficked her, and four alleged sex traffickers were apprehended. In April 2020, the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office charged a 30-year-old man for sex trafficking a woman to make money for his bail from jail.

In their range of efforts to address the numerous negative consequences of the local commercial sex market, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has adopted demand-focused tactics aimed to identify and apprehend sex buyers. For example, in 1976, Spokane Police Department law enforcement were among the first in the nation to incorporate the use of street-level reverse stings. Operations, which typically employ the use of one or more undercover female officers as decoys, are now routinely conducted in the downtown and East Spokane area. As sex buyers attempt to solicit sex from the undercover officer, they are arrested by police. Officers have also been known to use audio/visual surveillance to record interactions between suspected sex buyers and undercover officers. In addition, some investigations have resulted in the towing of sex buyers’ cars and the public disclosure of their identities and photos. For example, in 2018, a street level reverse sting conducted with the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the Spokane Police Department resulted in the arrest of 14 male sex buyers and towed their vehicles. According to reports, on three different nights, members of the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force used decoys or surveillance to apprehend male sex buyers on charges of patronizing prostitution.

Historically, most of the reverse sting operations occurring in Spokane were been street-level operations – often repeated in the same handful of areas of the city in which commercial sex was most visible and  persistent. However, more recently, web-based reverse stings have been conducted. For example, in 2016, Spokane Police detectives arrested 13 people in connection to a child sex trafficking operation. All of those arrested faced charges related to child rape. According to reports decoy ads were posted on Craigslist, by an undercover officer, posing as a mother offering to sexually exploit her three children, ages 6, 11 and 12, in exchange for money. When the advertisement was posted on Craigslist, detectives were inundated with responses: in just five days, they received more than 1,000 replies. Court documents showed that the web-based reverse sting in Spokane was part of a five day effort called “Operation Net Nanny” that involved several state and federal law enforcement agencies in multiple communities, and resulted in the arrest of 40 predators. In addition, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has also participated in the FBI’s annual child sex trafficking investigation, Operation Cross Country, on numerous occasions. These operations focus on disrupting the demand for child sex trafficking by arresting sex buyers and sex traffickers and additionally seek to identify victims of child sex trafficking across the United States. During these operations, both street-level and web-based reverse sting operations are conducted.

Employment loss is another consequence of buying sex in the county. For example, in April 2020, the secretary of health immediately suspended the license of Spokane County certified medical assistant after she was arrested for engaging in a prostitution scheme with another individual. As part of this scheme, the former medical assistant allegedly created a posting on an adult oriented website offering commercial sex services from a victim. The charges say the offender supplied the victim with heroin and injected the heroin without the victim’s consent. The victim was allegedly forced to perform commercial sex acts at the offender’s direction. The former medical assistant was charged in Spokane County Superior Court with first-degree promoting prostitution, a class B felony.

A local law enforcement respondent to the 2022 National Assessment Survey reported that Spokane County has arrested sex buyers by means other than reverse stings, and has imposed SOAP orders on arrested sex buyers. The respondent also said that the county has used males as decoy prostituted persons and arrested female sex buyers at least once.

Key Partners

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, 2022

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Public Education:

Auto Seizure, Cameras:

Web-Based Reverse Sting:

Employment Loss:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Washington
Type County
Population 546050
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