The prosecution had issues proving whether or not the men knew what they were agreeing to, especially when language barriers were an issue. There were also problems with a lack of witnesses. One SPD employee involved was Det. Salvatore Ditusa, who was placed on leave after using a racial epithet while working off-duty and then left the department shortly thereafter. That struck him from its list of witnesses, although Harris downplayed his importance. Other cases were thaifriendly dismissed because of nuances around the transactions – that the undercover officer was posing as a middle-person and not the actual sex worker made prosecution more difficult.
But Harris said that for the Barbie’s Dollhouse operation, they expected to have more success, in part because they were more discriminating in which cases they filed. They also had tightened up the operation, adding a private livestream of the interactions to include more firsthand witnesses.
And that, say proponents, is creating a big problem for sex workers
Public defender Thomas-Kennedy isn’t so sure. She already doubts the effectiveness of the stings in deterring prostitution and doesn’t feel they’re worth the time she and the system spend on each case. On one occasion, she was in trial for four days.
“To me it seemed like, ‘Okay are we done with this now?” she said of resolving the Euro Spa cases. “Because you can’t secure a conviction and it just seemed pretty pointless at this point.” When the Barbie’s Dollhouse cases started arriving, “I was surprised, because if they can’t get a conviction on Euro Spa and it’s all the same players, what is different about this one? And to me it doesn’t seem like it is different.”
Other critics say the approach fails to target actual human traffickers and instead serves to move the industry further underground, where it’s less safe.
By chilling the demand for sex buying, we chill the economic incentives for sex trafficking
She writes frequently on her own blog and for outlets like the Huffington Post and the Establishment and founded the Safe Night Access Project in Seattle to protect sex workers. In New York, she said, she was exploited under a pimp in a way “that was not empowering.” But in Washington State, she works for herself.
Backpage has since been shut down by the FBI and there’s been some evidence the move has put more people on the street. LeMoon said she felt completely in control when it was functioning. When she placed an ad, “I’d get 100 to 200 calls a day. I could be picky. I could screen people in a really thorough way.”
By seeding undercover operations in this way, the city will make the work more dangerous, she argues. “The end result of stings is they drive it further underground and make it more difficult for people to screen clients or have any kind of open discussion about what’s going to happen during the session,” she said. “You remove bargaining power in terms of the sex worker.”
This view is echoed by several high-profile health and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the World Health Organization. In 2016, Amnesty International called for an “immediate cessation” of the Nordic, end-demand approach. “Amnesty International has found evidence of human rights abuses against people who sell sex in Norway that are compounded by and, in some cases, directly caused by the legal framework,” concluded its 2016 report.
In a 2015 Seattle Times op-ed, City Attorney Pete Holmes pushed back on Amnesty International’s conclusion. “Decriminalization supports the very root of sex trafficking, which exists for one reason only: to supply the demand for commercial sex. ”