Pacific Highway South used to be the central path for young women, many of whom are forced into prostitution.
But Kent Police say that traffic is now online, on websites like Backpage.com.
It was there on a weekday afternoon that detectives posted a note. Five minutes later, the phone of an undercover officer started buzzing.
“They are asking where I am and how much for an hour and my rates,” said one detective.
It is part of “Operation: Hasty Scallywag” – a monthly sting by Kent Police designed to pull sex customers out of the shadows and into a waiting motel where a team of officers are standing by.
On this afternoon, that one ad prompted a flood of text messages and calls. Police say once the john makes his offer and shows up at the door, they have enough to make an arrest.
One man after another took the bait. Most men only had cash and no identification. Police say that’s a sign they’ve done this kind of thing before.
Kent detectives say there were dozens of contacts which resulted in seven arrests in a few hours. All seven have since been charged by prosecutors.
That’s considered a great night for police. It’s also a great night for groups that help sex trafficking victims. That’s because the financial penalty for johns is now significant thanks to a recent state law that allows police to seize cars of sex customers and levy large fines if convicted. A majority of those fines goes to groups which help victims of trafficking.
“It’s over $7,000 that will go toward victim assistance groups just from one john sting that we conducted, said Cmdr. Eric Hemmen, Kent Police. “They will take it to provide shelter for the girl. They will get them education and they’ll get them lined up with employment.”
These detectives also believe that cutting the number of johns will help limit business for traffickers in the long run. Until then, the detectives will continue to keep an eye online, on Backpage.com, and on the men who frequent it.
Backpage.com did not return and emailed request for comment.