What You Need to Know About Prostitution Sting Operations

Prostitution sting operations are a key strategy employed by law enforcement to address the issue of prostitution. These operations typically involve undercover officers posing as prostitutes or clients to engage with individuals looking to participate in commercial sex acts. Such operations often culminate in arrests, with details sometimes shared publicly by the police as a deterrent to others.

The police are required to follow specific guidelines when performing sting operations. If they do not, they run the risk of “entrapping” people into committing crimes, which gives the accused a valid defense. If you have been arrested on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute, it’s wise to discuss your situation with an experienced Washington sex crimes defense attorney to determine your rights. 

In the meantime, here’s an overview of what you need to know about Washington prostitution sting operations.

What Is Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation (Patronizing or Soliciting a Prostitute)?

Let’s start by understanding what precisely is prostitution and sexual exploitation. 

Prostitution is defined as engaging or agreeing to engage in sexual activities for compensation. 

Solicitation—also known as sexual exploitation or patronizing a prostitute—entails paying or agreeing to pay another individual in exchange for performing a sexual act. These terms are used interchangeably across various jurisdictions within Washington, highlighting the act of exchanging money for sexual services.

What are the Penalties for Soliciting a Prostitute in Washington?

The penalties for a conviction for soliciting a prostitute are substantial, and may include:

  • fines starting at $1,500 
  • up to 90 days in jail, or both
  • probation
  • community service
  • mandatory educational classes 

Washington State takes soliciting a prostitute seriously. A conviction for this offense can have long-lasting consequences in your life.

Does a Sexual Act Need to Occur for Prostitution Charges to Apply?

Statutory language clarifies that neither prostitution nor solicitation charges require a completed sexual act. Washington’s RCW 9A.88.030 defines prostitution as simply agreeing to engage in sexual activity for money. Similarly, RCW 9A.88.110 establishes patronizing a prostitute as agreeing to pay a fee or soliciting someone for sex in exchange for money. Therefore, the absence of a physical act holds no weight as a defense for these charges.

What Does a Prostitution Sting Look Like?

Law enforcement agencies employ sting operations as a strategic approach to apprehend individuals involved in prostitution. These operations often involve undercover officers posing as prostitutes or clients to solicit or accept offers for sexual services. A notable tactic includes renting premises to simulate environments suggestive of prostitution, such as unlicensed massage parlors, to ensnare unsuspecting individuals.

How Do The Police Investigate Prostitution?

Prostitution investigations extend beyond on-the-spot arrests. Law enforcement utilizes meticulously planned undercover operations, often involving collaboration between agencies. These operations aim to disrupt the sex industry by targeting potential clients through deception. The rationale is that by suppressing demand, the market for prostitution will shrink. However, the effectiveness of this approach lacks conclusive data.

For instance, in September 2017, the Bellevue Police and King County Sheriff’s Office set up a decoy brothel in a condo. Over a week, undercover online ads attracted unsuspecting individuals, resulting in over one hundred arrests. Upon arrival, patrons were met by undercover officers who made arrests upon any verbal agreement or implication of exchanging money for sex.

What are Defenses to the Solicitation of a Prostitute in Washington?

If you find yourself caught in a police sting targeting prostitution, you may have a few defenses available to you. These defenses may include:

  • Lack of Prior Understanding: A key defense is arguing there was no prior agreement that sexual conduct would occur. Misunderstanding or not understanding terms like “escort” or “full service” can support this defense.
  • Incomplete Transaction: Arrests often occur before an agreement is finalized, crucial for the prosecution to prove. Simply communicating without agreeing to exchange money for sexual services may not constitute a complete transaction.
  • Entrapment: This defense applies if the initiative for the criminal activity originated with law enforcement, and the individual was persuaded to commit a crime they wouldn’t otherwise have considered. However, it’s not enough to argue that law enforcement provided the opportunity for the crime; there must be evidence of inducement.

How Can I Prove Entrapment?

To prove entrapment, you’ll need to show that the police encouraged you to do something illegal that you weren’t already planning to do. For example, if an officer pretending to be a massage therapist offers illegal services without you asking, and then arrests you for agreeing, that might be entrapment. There is a fine line that law enforcement walks, so having a lawyer help gather evidence and present your case is crucial.

Have You Been Arrested in a Prostitution Sting Operation? 

If you’ve been arrested for patronizing a prostitute in Seattle or other areas of Washington State, you need to hire an attorney right away. Criminal defense attorney Jennifer Horwitz has extensive experience defending sex crime accusations, with a strong track record of obtaining dismissals and not-guilty verdicts. To learn more, contact Jennifer today for a consult.


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.