Tukwila, WA

Tactics Used

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

Tukwila is city located in Washington state of approximately 20,000 residents. It is a Seattle suburb and is located in King County, WA. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified as a significant issues in the city. According to local police reports, the majority of calls for service are regarding prostitution and drug-related crimes that are occurring at local motels/hotels.

In effort to reduce demand for commercial sex in the city and surrounding areas, the Tukwila Police Department has been conducting street-level reverse stings since 1993, if not earlier. For example, in the 1993 street-level reverse sting operation, 12 male sex buyers were arrested after they had attempted to solicit sex from undercover female officers. During the 1990’s, the TPD conducted street-level reverse stings about two to three times annually.

The Tukwila Police Department has also conducted web-based reverse sting operations, often conducted in collaboration with other local law enforcement agencies. For example, in 2016, the TPD collaborated with the Seattle Police Department to conduct a web-based reverse sting operation, targeting individuals seeking to solicit sex and/or sexually exploit minors in exchange for money online. During that operation, an undercover Tukwila female officer posted decoy ads on websites known for prostitution and sex trafficking, posing as a 15-year-old girl. A 38-year-old man responded to the ad and began communicating with the undercover officers. Through a serious of text exchanges with the undercover officer, the offender had reportedly agreed to engage in commercial sex with the “teenager,” even though he was aware the person was 15-years-old. He also agreed to sex without a condom, in exchange for the $300 he offered. Upon his arrival to the hotel, he was arrested by officers and charged with attempted commercial sexual abuse of a minor. The offender’s identity was publicly disclosed by local media outlets. In addition, the offender’s previous employer, Oculus, stated that the sex buyer was no longer employed with the company as a result of his arrest.

John School Programs

Additionally, there have been at least four known john school programs in King County. The first known john school in the county operated from 2006 to 2007, whereby sex buyers could avoid significant criminal charges if they paid a substantial enrollment fee, attended educational classes, and avoided re-arrest. The course, which included lectures from health professionals and formerly prostituted women, also addressed 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 hoped to educate sex buyers about the potential consequences of purchasing commercial sex. The program was a one-day classroom experience modeled after the San Francisco First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP). Although the program was not renewed beyond its pilot period, in 2015, a similar john school was launched in Seattle. In 2019, the program was transferred from the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS) to the Lantern Project, and modified. Its description may be found here.

Buyer Beware Program

In 2014, the King County Prosecutor’s Office launched a new initiative designed to reduce the demand for prostitution, change the attitudes and behaviors of men arrested for patronization, and eliminate cultural acceptance of 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 sex buyers. 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, community service organizations, and survivors to implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce demand for commercial sex and facilitate exit from prostitution. The Buyer Beware program model emphasizes prosecuting sex buyers and connecting prostituted people to services. The original goal in 2014 was to reduce demand for commercial sex by 20% in two years.

The program’s approach is essentially the “Nordic Model” or “Equality Model” which decriminalizes selling sex and criminalizes the actions of pimps and buyers, rather than the actions of prostituted persons. This model can be accomplished without changing prostitution law by making discretionary decisions not to arrest and prosecute prostituted or trafficked persons, even if selling sex remains illegal in state law and local ordinances. Additionally, the Buyer Beware program includes John Schools, neighborhood action, and public education. The key elements of the program 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.
  • Educating high school and college students on the harms of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Conducting social media campaigns to educate young men on the harms of sex buying.
  • Changing cultural norms surrounding the purchase of sex by involving a variety of community sectors, such as public health, education, business, media, and criminal justice.

The program planned to launch an online public education tool where advertisements “pop up” when sex buyers input certain terms into search engines. Although the mechanism for deploying these advertisements was not disclosed, when implemented the advertisements would “link to information about prostitution-related penalties and services for men who need help to stop buying sex.”

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:

SOAP Orders:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:

State Washington
Type City
Population 20196
Location
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