Urquhart: Bellevue prostitution sting was not ‘Pretty Woman’
The King County Sheriff’s Office busted one of the largest human sex-trafficking rings in the nation earlier this year. But an investigative report claims that almost none of the story given by the prosecutors about the Bellevue prostitution sting has been true.
Elizabeth Nolan-Brown wrote a three-part story for reason.com that dissects the Jan. 6 sex-sting where the KCSO, working with the FBI and the Bellevue Police Department, raided 12 upscale apartments in Bellevue. The narrative about the Bellevue prostitution sting from the King County Sheriff’s and Prosecutors offices’ were that 12 female victims from South Korea had been rescued, 12 brothels closed, and a major human-trafficking ring shut down, according to the article. They also seized three websites, including The Review Board, a web forum where Seattle sex workers and clients communicated.
King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg described the crimes at the time as “a situation of extreme coercion and criminality” and called the 12 Asian woman recovered in the operation “true victims of human trafficking.”
Nolan-Brown’s piece on the Bellevue prostitution sting breaks the situation down on multiple levels — including exploring how the government’s war on prostitution brands innocent men as sexual predators and looks at how the policies wind up threatening the women they’re supposed to save. She told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that one odd part of this case is that the individuals were, in essence, charged with felonies for talking about prostitution on message boards.
“They weren’t charged with solicitation or hiring a prostitute, they were charged with promoting prostitution, and that’s something that’s a felony and it’s something that was usually used to go after say, pimps, or people who use force and control to keep people in prostitution not anyone who just pays for sex,” she said. “Their rationale in this case was because they were online writing about it, they were actually promoting prostitution.”
Nolan-Brown said many of the women were paid $300 an hour and described them as “high-end escorts” who had voluntarily come to Seattle.
“People had painted them all as victims and they offered them human trafficking services and none of them wanted it, none of them said that they were victims of human trafficking and police just let them all go and nothing happened,” she said. “When they say that they rescued these women, they came and talked to them and sent them on their way.”
“There’s all sorts of independent sex workers and escorts and things still happening in Seattle, so I don’t think they have actually accomplished anything other than spending a year of undercover investigation and taxpayer money and police resources that could be actually helping victims. There are definitely people in the sex trade that want out and instead of actually focusing on these people, we’re diverting all of our resources to elaborate stings like this that don’t actually help anyone.”
Urquhart on the Bellevue prostitution sting
King County Sheriff John Urquhart said he read the piece about the Bellevue prostitution sting. He told Dori that, while it wasn’t unfair but “not particularly accurate or accurately reflects the situation that was going on.” He noted that the website is a Libertarian-leaning organization, which is slanted toward the legalization of prostitution, “which is certainly debatable.” Nonetheless, he said it’s the duty of the sheriff’s department to enforce felony laws.
He told Dori that some of the women from the Bellevue prostitution sting were trafficked from the standpoint that they were brought over to the country or came here illegally and forced to stay.
“I think from the standpoint of bondage, we have this view of some Simon Legree, that’s beating them up all the time, that they are chained to the wall. That clearly wasn’t occurring,” Urquhart said. “But these women, the ones we’re talking about here, they spoke little, if any, English. They knew nobody in this country, they had nobody to talk to except their other sex workers. They had faced the fear of deportation because they overstayed their visas, they were threatened with being turned out if they didn’t cooperate. If they weren’t good sex workers, if they didn’t please the men in more than one way, then they’d be turned out and they’d be in this foreign country, facing deportation, facing arrest. So that certainly is a type of bondage.”
Dori noted that many of the web forums seemed to be like a Yelp for prostitution and that Nolan Brown’s reporting made it sound like the “Johns” were respectful and somewhat self-policing. Urquhart called that a “wonderful, joyous, unicorn-ish view” of the customers.
“There was nothing, nothing that TRB set up. There was no mechanism to keep Gary Ridgway or Ted Bundy from signing on being a customer,” he said. “There was no way to control that we had numerous reports of rapes, and certainly several robberies that were occurring over in Bellevue, and one homicide of one of these Korean workers that occurred, where her body was left in a closet and set on fire. So this is not the idyllic view that the Reason article wants us to believe. This was not ‘Pretty Woman.’ That’s not how this type of prostitution was occurring.”
Dori said there isn’t a bar that vets from those serial killers. Listen to Urquhart’s response below.