The Seattle Police Department’s Vice & High Risk Victims Unit launched a first-of-its-kind sting on July 11, arresting 204 would-be sex buyers in just 10 days. And that’s just those frequenting one location, advertised on a single website. When you apply those numbers to all of Seattle—population 652,000, and home to approximately 130 sex-selling websites—you get a better idea of just how high the local demand for paid sex is.
Officials from King County (which includes Seattle) estimate there are 20,000 sex buyers in the area, a portion of whom buy sex roughly 50 to 200 times a year. Recognizing that going after buyers, especially high-frequency ones, is the surest way to end this harmful, illegal trade, Seattle police are turning their attention to those who’s choices and discretionary income directly support pimps and traffickers.
Those arrested come from all walks of life—they’re architects, bus drivers, tech employees, surgeons, attorneys, construction workers, and executives. The one thing they have in common is they’ve been arrested for sexual exploitation, the name Seattle’s City Council has assigned to the crime formerly known as “patronizing a prostitute.” (“Words matter,” King County District Attorney Pete Holmes said in 2015, when the crime was officially renamed. “We patronize Starbucks stores. You engage in a crime of sexual exploitation.”)
Seattle’s Sergeant Tom Umporowicz said his team was amazed at their own success, given the tight time frame:
“We never anticipated this volume,” he told the Seattle Times. He estimated that court fines from the operation—$2,733 for a first-time offender, with repeat offenders paying more—will total at least $550,000. And, as a result of an ordinance passed in Seattle, half of that money will be used to support local people victimized by commercial sexual exploitation.
In addition to paying thousands in fines, many of the men arrested spent hours in jail, getting photographed, fingerprinted, and processed into the system. Sgt. Umporowicz hopes the experience will keep many of them from attempting to buy sex again.
Demand Abolition applauds the innovative and progressive steps Seattle is taking to rid its neighborhoods of these crimes and hope others around the country will follow suit. This buyer-focused action is exactly the kind of policing that will reduce the demand for paid sex, shrinking the illegal sex trade and the harm it inflicts on so many vulnerable women, children, and men all over the country.
Do you want to see similar stings conducted in your town? Email your state representative with news stories about the Seattle PD’s successful efforts to curb demand and ask: When are we going to get serious about ending commercial sexual exploitation in our communities and neighborhoods?