Seattle, WA

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, with approximately 620,000 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 johns 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, johns 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, johns 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 johns 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 johns.

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 johns) and an expanded john school program for convicted offenders. When asked about the program, a representative with the SPD commented:

“We now recognize that to truly be effective, we need to target the demand, and shift from arresting survivors to arresting the sex buyers.”

To read more about Buyer Beware, see King County.

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, johns 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 johns 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
  • Vulnerability
  • 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.

 

Key Sources

 

State Washington
Type City
Population 594210
Location
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