Law enforcement and community leaders from across King County, including BEST, have joined together to launch a major initiative to reduce the demand for prostitution where the majority of sex buying now takes place – online.
“Prostitution is a harmful and violent practice, and has exploded on the Internet — going from the street corner to the corner office,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “In King County, each day an estimated 27,000 men are actively soliciting sex online at one of over 100 websites. We need to take action and we need a new approach.”
Historically law enforcement has focused on arresting prostituted people. This approach has been unsuccessful at reducing exploitation and doesn’t address the demand that drives sex trafficking. The “Buyer Beware” initiative is a partnership with eight different police departments and city attorney’s offices across King County who are shifting their emphasis to go after sex buyers. The initiative is led by the Organization for Prostitution Survivors and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. BEST participates on the core leadership team.
Prostitution is not a victimless crime. The typical age of entry into prostitution is between 13 to 15 years old and 85% have histories of childhood sexual and physical abuse. As adults in prostitution, over 80% experience physical and sexual assaults, homelessness, and PTSD. Eighty-eight percent report wanting to leave prostitution if they had an alternative. “My recent study found there were 300 – 500 prostituted adolescents in the Seattle area,” reported Dr. Debra Boyer.
A key focus for the effort will be an online campaign that targets websites where sex buying takes place. The campaign will deliver impactful advertising highlighting the harmful effects of sex buying and the penalties for getting caught directly to potential buyers online. Online testing by researchers at Arizona State University recently determined that in the City of Seattle alone there were an estimated 8,806 men soliciting sex on one website in a 24 hour period.
Another important element of the project is an innovative sex buyer’s intervention program that will be a condition of sentencing for convicted sex buyers. The new model, “Stopping Sexual Exploitation: a Program for Men” is based on the best and most promising practices for preventing gender-based violence. The program is open to men who are self-referred as well as those who are referred by the courts.
BEST has also received a grant for an employer-facing initiative aimed at sex trafficking prevention and demand reduction. Details of the initiative will be released in 2015.
Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg confirms: “Our message for buyers is simple: We are working together to hold you accountable for the harms of prostitution.”
Participating community organizations include: The Organization for Prostitution Survivors, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), Stolen Youth, and Seattle Against Slavery.
Participating law enforcement agencies include: King County Sheriff’s Office, Seattle Police Department, Des Moines Police Department, Kent Police Department, Federal Way Police Department, Bellevue Police Department, and Renton Police Department.