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October 15, 2014 at 12:39 PM

‘Buyer Beware:’ King County taking aim at those who pay for sex

With as many as 27,000 men in King County going online to solicit sex each day, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg vowed at a Wednesday news conference that men who pay for sex with prostituted women and girls will be increasingly targeted for arrest and prosecution.

In announcing the county’s participation in a national program aimed at attacking the demand side of prostitution, Satterberg said law-enforcement and social-service agencies are working together to “bury the notion, once and for all, that prostitution is a victimless crime.” Educating the public is a big step toward attacking men’s sense of sexual entitlement and the public’s indifference to a harmful, violent crime, he said.

The local program, called “Buyer Beware,” aims to reduce demand for prostitution by 20 percent in two years. King County Sheriff John Urquhart, Deputy Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Des Moines Police Chief George Delgado also attended the news conference, along with Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, City Councilmember Tim Burgess and other local officials.

While police and prosecutors are still going after violent pimps who profit from prostitution, sex buyers represent “a much larger group that faced virtually no risk” in being caught, Satterberg said. “We’ve just increased the risk.”

Noel Gomez, a sex-trafficking survivor and co-founder of the Seattle-based Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS), recalled being arrested while the cop who pulled her over joked with the man who had paid her for sex.

“He handcuffed me and me only. Then he went through my purse and took out my money,” returning the money she was paid to the customer, who was sent on his way, Gomez said. “Nobody cared that when I went home, I’d be beat by my pimp because I had no money” and then sent back out on the street to make some more.

She called for additional services to help women and girls reintegrate back into society — services that weren’t available to her when she was trying to get out of the life.

Alisa Bernard, another survivor of the sex trade, noted that women involved in prostitution are 40 times more likely to be victims of homicide than the rest of the population.

“I speak for both the living and the dead,” said Bernard, adding she is lucky to be alive and to have survived “the rapes to my body and the violence to my soul.”

“There are many women still trapped” in prostitution, and focusing on the demand side of the commercial sex trade will help the community get to “the root cause of prostitution,” she said.

Though prostitution has long been termed a “women’s issue,” Peter Qualliotine, who co-founded OPS with Gomez, said like domestic violence and sexual assault, prostitution is really a men’s issue because “it’s primarily a system of men’s violence” against women and girls.

He was involved in the creation of a new, intensive 10-week program called “Stopping Sexual Exploitation: A Program for Men,” which defendants convicted of prostitution-related crimes will be required to attend as a condition of their sentences.

 

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, King County Sheriff's Office, prostitution

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