BenCo Prostitution Sting: Entrapment-Style Law Enforcement?

The Corvallis Advocate calls to question methods used by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office last week, after detectives arrested 10 of 70 respondents to a fake online post, advertising sexual services for pay, from a fictitious woman created by local law enforcement. 

While the Advocate respects and appreciates our community’s officers, it is of our opinion that the post was biased in nature, using a specified gender to lure a targeted demographic. We question the county’s use of resources and expenditure in conducting these entrapment-style operations, and generally view them as a matter of poor policy, for reasons we will explain.

Those arrested were men between 20 and 70 years of age, traveling from Corvallis, Albany, Lincoln City, Junction City, and Camas, Washington, last Wednesday through Thursday to a Corvallis hotel. There they were arrested, booked, and released on charges of commercial sexual solicitation, punishable by up to one year in jail. Each awaits a Benton County Circuit Court hearing on March 8, which will decide their future freedoms. 

While standard news and media paint a black and white portrait of sex-related crimes, it’s important to explore tactical ethics and circumstantial complexities. Sting operations are rampant in the U.S., and have been criticized for possible misuse of power, by task forces using methods of persuasion to trick pools of typically middle-aged men into paid prostitution, or in other cases, underage sex.

A lack of transparency – as to the content of any replies to the advertisement, or shared conversations between police and the accused – make it impossible for the public to know of any blatant misuse of power. But more complicated are the circumstances that may have led these men to agree to paid sex. 

Some argue that prostitution stings target individuals with certain socioeconomic backgrounds, with increased vulnerability factors. Perhaps these men aren’t skilled at hiding or appropriately navigating their sexual needs, desires, and impulses. 

We can loosely compare the sting scenario to speed traps used by law enforcement, which are met with general annoyance from the public, and call to question matters of trust and fear-provoking practices. 

We wonder, how are prostitution stings really solving the problem, outside of placing a handful of men on the red-dot radar, and compromising perhaps the best chance at early intervention?

Naturally, debate arises over systems of criminalization, decriminalization, and legalization – tied to issues of consent, trafficking, black marketing, sexual health, risk populations, and allocations of power within the sex industry. But those are hairy topics, beyond the scope of this editorial. 

Point being, we believe police and media need to employ more trauma-informed methods of intervention. We need to wipe away the black and white branding of ‘criminal’ and ‘victim’, to unveil the complexities at hand. What if conversation-style or therapeutic intervention methods were standardized, before the record was set, or the cuffs were slapped on.

Benton County detectives have determined prostitution as an official problem following last week’s sting, plus two previous advertisements posted by detectives at the beginning of the year – which generated the interest of over 200 men and women. Sting operations targeting johns are backed by the hypothesis that there would be less supply without demand. But creating a false demand doesn’t seem like a logical way to solve that issue.