Do Police Prostitution Stings Promote Prostitution?


Most if not all of my prostitution defense clients come to me after responding to online ads on a website called Backpage.

On April 13, 2016, an ad appeared in the “escorts” section advertising the services of a 19-year-old woman with photographs of a scantily clad young woman in erotic poses.

The ad looks very real, but the contact link is to a Portland Policewoman who set up this sting operation with the Prostitution Unit. This ad is just one example of a tactic police frequently use to fight prostitution.

In today’s post, I’ll explain some of the most important prostitution laws in Portland, including one called Promoting Prostitution, so that you can judge the fairness of the police ad for yourself.

What Constitutes Prostitution in Oregon?

Prostitution is a “contract crime,” which means that a crime has been committed as soon as the agreement has been reached.

You can commit a crime without even meeting the other person. Prostitutes and customers can both be charged with crimes based on conversations that happen over the phone, online, or over text message. For example, one person responded to the Backpage ad and unknowingly made plans with undercover police via instant messaging. That alone is a crime.

Personally, both as a prosecutor and now as a defense attorney, I believe that sex-trafficking is a serious and deplorable crime. However, posting an ad like the one police posted on Backpage amounts to baiting a trap. The officer isn’t standing at a street corner waiting to be approached; this is an advertisement specifically soliciting a response.


What if Police Used this Tactic to Fight Other Crimes?

Take a step back and imagine that police used this same method to fight crimes other than prostitution. For example...

  • Although under-age drinking is a problem, should the Portland Police Bureau be advertising “Free Beer!” at little league games?
  • There’s no doubt the city’s drug problem is a scourge on society, but should the police be offering “Free Meth Samples”?

I believe many people would view that as encouraging people to commit crimes, which is in opposition to the Police Department’s core objectives.

Are These Ads Promoting Prostitution?

Promoting Prostitution (basically, pimping) is a Class C felony in Oregon (§ 167.012). There are several activities that constitute Promoting Prostitution in this state, including:

  • Inducing or causing a person to engage in prostitution
  • Engaging in any conduct that institutes, aids, or facilitates an act of prostitution

The question is, are these decoy ads placed by Portland Police promoting prostitution?

Prostitution Laws in Oregon

So that you know, here are the main prostitution-related charges in Oregon:



ProstitutionEngaging in -- or offering or agreeing to engage in, sexual conduct or sexual contact in return for a fee
Patronizing a ProstitutePaying -- or offering or agreeing to pay -- a fee to engage in sexual conduct or sexual contact.
Promoting Prostitution
  • Owning, managing, or supervising a brothel or other place of prostitution; or
  • Inducing someone to engage in prostitution; or
  • Benefiting from prostitution activity; or
  • Engaging in any conduct that institutes, aids or facilitates prostitution
Compelling Prostitution
  • Using force or intimidation to compel someone to engage in prostitution;
  • Inducing (or aiding) someone under 18 to engage in prostitution

There is also a Portland-specific law prohibiting unlawful prostitution procurement activities -- doing something that could lead to prostitution. This includes contacting another person with the intent to engage in prostitution.

What Happens if You Get Caught in a Prostitution Sting?

If you get caught in a prostitution sting, you are most likely to be arrested for Patronizing a Prostitute. This is a Class A misdemeanor (which is less serious than a felony) with a maximum potential jail term of one year and a fine of $6,250 or less.

If it’s your first offense, a good defense attorney may be able to get your case dismissed so it won’t go on your record. If it’s not your first offense, things get trickier. If prostitution conviction goes on your record, it will not be expungeable for at least three years.


Either way, a good defense attorney who specializes in prostitution cases can help. 

I will work with you through every step of the complex legal process and fight for the best possible outcome for you.

Call my office today at (503) 498-6985 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.