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Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said his office is trying to increase the number of men prosecuted for soliciting prostitution while giving prostitutes the opportunity to receive social services designed to help get them out of the business.

Speaking at a Human Trafficking Awareness Day news conference at Seattle City Hall today, Holmes said his office is working with the Seattle Police Department to reverse the usual 60-40 prosecution ratio of female prostitutes to male customers.

“Prostitutes are more often than not victims and, in most instances, Seattle Community Court will be an option for them, coupled with appropriate services,” Holmes said.

Seattle Community Court allows non-violent offenders to avoid criminal sentencing if they agree to participate in programs aimed at addressing the root causes of their crime, including chemical dependency, education, unemployment and homelessness. If the offender fails to complete the treatment plan, the criminal sentence is imposed.

Men prosecuted for soliciting a prostitute won’t have that option and even first-time offenders will face prosecution, Holmes said. Currently, first-time offenders qualify for pretrial diversion and can pay a fine and complete community service. Holmes said cases against johns are often harder to prove because the men often speak in code and can raise doubts about their intentions with a jury.

But, Holmes said, “As long as we have probable cause, we’ll prosecute the cases, even if there’s a risk we won’t win.”

The City Attorney’s criminal division prosecutes misdemeanor crimes punishable by up to one year in jail. Between January and Aug. 31, 2011, the office filed 187 prostitution cases in Seattle Municipal Court. In the same period, it filed 79 cases of patronizing a prostitute.