Police officer at a prostitution sting operation.

What You Need to Know About Prostitution Sting Operations

Prostitution stings are a common method used by the police to combat prostitution.  In a typical sting operation, undercover police officers pose as prostitutes and communicate with clients to set up appointments to engage in commercial sex acts.   Often, following a major prostitution sting, the police share information about the operation with the media in an effort to dissuade others from engaging in similar behavior. It is important to note that the police must follow specific guidelines when carrying out such operations. Otherwise, they run the risk of entrapping people to commit crimes, and this provides those accused of crimes with a valid defense. Below is an overview of what you need to know about prostitution sting operations in Washington. 

Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation (Patronizing or Soliciting a Prostitute)

Prostitution is the act of engaging or agreeing to engage in sexual conduct with an individual in exchange for a fee. Solicitation is a term that is used to describe several acts, including:

  • Paying or agreeing to pay a fee to someone in exchange for performing a sexual act, and
  • Requesting that someone engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a fee.

Soliciting a Prostitute is is also referred to as Sexual Exploitation in several jurisdictions in Washington.  It can also be called Patronizing a Prostitute. These terms are all interchangeable ways of describing the act of paying someone to engage in sexual conduct for a fee or making an agreement for payment in exchange for sexual conduct.

Sexual Exploitation Penalties

The act of patronizing a prostitute, often charged as sexual exploitation, is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine, 90 days in jail, or both. In addition, other costs and penalties may be involved, including probation, community service, and mandatory classes. 

Prostitution Sting Operations

The authorities sometimes catch prostitutes and their customers in the act of exchanging money for sexual acts, but this is not the primary way that they fight prostitution. Rather, more recently authorities have a new focus on using sting operations, where buildings are rented by law enforcement who pose as prostitutes.  Law enforcement will set up a storefront that apparently offers “massage,” but actually has no licenses posted and often has suggestive pictures on the sign or inside.


Entrapment is a possible defense to a sting operation that results in charges for patronizing a prostitute or sexual exploitation. Entrapment occurs when the authorities persuade an individual to commit a criminal act that the person would otherwise not commit. The police must walk a very fine line in sting operations.  They may go to far when they make initial contact with the target (encouraging a person walking by to enter into the storefront from the street) or when the person entering the storefront is seeking a conventional legal massage and police pressure that person to engage in sexual conduct during the massage.  However, police are allowed to offer sexual services as part of the massage and see how the target of the sting operation responds to that suggestion.

Have You Been Arrested in a Prostitution Sting Operation?  

If you are accused of patronizing a prostitute, also known as sexual exploitation,  in Seattle or elsewhere in Washington, you need to hire an attorney as soon as possible. At Jennifer Horwitz Law, attorney Jennifer Horwitz will deploy her considerable experience with these types of cases as well as her Harvard education to defend you against this charge. Jennifer has a strong track record of obtaining dismissals and not-guilty verdicts in Seattle criminal cases, and she will vigorously pursue a successful outcome in your criminal case in Seattle and Washington state. Please contact Jennifer Horwitz right away to begin strategizing about your defense.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights and some general information on various aspects of Washington criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.