Buyer Beware: Undercover Sex Stings


One hears about this all too often:  an “interested party” sets up a meeting through social media, such as “Craigslist,” with another person indicating willingness to provide sexual services.  Both are consenting adults.  Or, even worse, the meeting is between a sex solicitor and an under-aged, albeit willing, participant.  Low and behold, what occurs is that the eager consumer is met at a “no-tell motel” by four male police officers, promptly arresting the individual, who never gets the benefit of his evil scheme.  The consumer fell for a trap.  The Seattle Police Department has increased its enforcement activity with these kinds of under cover sex stings.


Sex stings usually come in two basic varieties:

  • In a “motel op”, word has gotten out that an adult prostitute will sell sex at a known location. Increasingly, the word for this particular hook-up is disseminated through social media.  The consumer arrives, transacts a specific sexual act with the (usually undercover officer who is) female, and money is confirmed.  Then, an officer jumps out of a closet:  Busted!
  • The second sting is only set up through the internet, often in “chat rooms” wherein guys (99% are male) for some reason feel safe to share that they like to “do it” with 13 year olds.  They suddenly “meet” parents or guardians willing to offer up their 13 year old for a meet ‘n greet, or they encounter the actual 13 year old desiring to “chat” with salacious men.

In a classic example of how foolish people are in pursuit of their sexual gratification/addiction, these individuals really do go to the “no-tell motel” expecting this phantom parent or phantom 13 year old to show up for a sexual encounter.  Unlike the “motel op”, there is no “offer and acceptance” or business transaction inside this motel room; just a police officer who arrests and jails the seeker for “Attempted Child Rape in the Second Degree”.

What is Attempted Child Rape in the Second Degree?

After arrest, many perpetrators say that “nothing happened”.  There was no “attempt”.  There was “no victim”.  How can there be a crime when the seeker (as I have heard many times) “didn’t do anything, and there was no 13 year old”!?!

Our Washington Supreme Court, in State v. Patel, held that the seeker in the above scenario can be convicted of attempted child rape for the electronic communications (i.e. the set-up) and the related actions (i.e. going to the motel with money and condoms, etc.), even though the under-aged person was purely fictional and the entire scenario set up by an undercover law enforcement officer!  It’s important to realize that, even though no one was actually victimized, such arguments have no persuasive legal weight.  Such agreements fail dismally in a modern society having a “take no prisoners” approach with child molesters.  Attempted Child Rape in the Second Degree is a prison offense, requiring sex offender registrationState v. Patel, 170 Wn.2d 476 (2010).

Law Enforcement Goes After the John

Regarding the “motel-op sting” involving a consenting sex worker who is actually an undercover female police officer, currently there is increased emphasis to “go after the john”, i.e. the sex buyer, rather than the sex seller.  Public humiliation of the male buyer is the new enforcement strategy, with the hope that the humiliation of being publicly prosecuted for “solicitation of prostitution” will chill demand for such activity.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg recently stated that he views solicitation of prostitution as a serious “crime because it involves the exploitation of vulnerable victims.”  Since most prostitutes are in the trade due to substance addiction or a long history of abuse, society is no longer looking at prostitution as a “victimless crime”.  The trend is to view the prostitute as the victim; therefore, the customers are the “victimizers”.

There are defenses to these accusations, and often prosecutors agree that treatment is a better result for certain offenders, as opposed to long term incarceration.

If you or a loved one has been busted in an undercover sex sting, Jan Olson at Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC can help.  Exercise your right to be represented by legal counsel who will fight aggressively on your behalf.  Call (206) 224-6691.