The Seattle Police Department, along with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, say they arrested five people and “rescued 26 victims of sex trafficking” earlier this month during raids of nearly a dozen businesses in the Chinatown-International and Beacon Hill districts.

The Seattle Times broke the story last Friday, reporting that the owners of these so-called “massage parlors” were illegally selling sex acts and are suspected of recruiting women, mostly Chinese nationals, to come to the U.S. to work in them. Nearly 200 law enforcement officers and other personnel worked on this operation for over three years before the arrests were made, and the initial complaint came from a neighbor of one of the massage parlors in Beacon Hill, who reported that she saw men coming and going at odd hours. During the investigation, law enforcement worked to connect the local operations to what the Seattle Times called “a vast prostitution and money-laundering investigation, tying massage parlors and spas in Seattle to a sophisticated criminal network that brings Chinese women into the U.S. through hubs in California and New York and funnels millions of dollars back to China.” Police reportedly seized more than $120,000 in cash.

At a SPD press conference on Friday afternoon, Deputy Chief Marc Garthgreen said that the women were living in “squalid conditions” and that the business owners took a portion of their earnings for rent—which, according to the Seattle Times, was between $360 to $600 a month—as well food, travel, and other fees. Still, the women themselves seem to have made a bundle of money: The paper reported that “women working in the parlors can make $10,000 a month,” although they mentioned that one woman was
“forced” to repay her boss for a $1,200 cell phone that he bought for her.

In Florida, as in Seattle, no one has actually been charged with human trafficking, which could mean that these women weren’t actually trafficked against their will or their knowledge, they were just people trying to make a decent living.

There’s another parallel too: In Florida, police took six months to shut down these massage parlors, and this was after multiple undercover visits from detectives working the case (and, yes, they did enage in sex acts with the “victims” they later “rescued” themselves). In Seattle, the sting took three and a half years. The SPD says that their officers didn’t engage in sex acts during the investigation and made up an excuse to leave when it came time to drop their pants. This may well be true, but even the SPD didn’t employ these women’s services, if they actually were being held and forced to perform sex acts against their will, why in the world would the police wait three years to rescue them?

Writer Elizabeth Nolan Brown brought this up when reporting on the Florida bust for Reason, writing, “It’s hard to reconcile the cops’ timeline with their heroic rhetoric. If the women employed at these businesses were really the victims of ‘modern slavery,’ why did police take six months to get them out of that situation? Why did it require repeat intimate undercover visits and building misdemeanor prostitution charges against all sorts of random men before these ‘heroes’ decided to intervene?” These are legitimate questions.

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