Washington officials unveiled a perfect storm of horrors: Women lured from South Korea under false pretenses and "held against their will" at local brothels. A website where deviant men promoted and reviewed these enslaved women. "Because they had money," said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg at a televised press conference, these men "gained access to sexually abuse these vulnerable young women, then put their energies toward a campaign to encourage many more men to do the same."But, writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown, in Reason,
"The systematic importation of vulnerable young women for sexual abuse, exploitation, and criminal profiteering has been going on for years and it came to a stop this week," Satterberg added. "This is what human trafficking looks like."
It was shocking, scandalous, horrifying. Yet almost none of it is true.In Brown's version, which is based mainly on documents collected and made public by the police, these Korean women flew to Seattle at their own expense to make money, since on a good day they could clear $1000. The men prosecuted for "enslaving" them provided apartments for them to stay in and use in exchange for $100 of the $300 standard charge, never forced anybody to do anything, and set up a two web sites: one for the prostitutes to meet customers and one for the working girls to ask for references for new customers and warn each other about men who seemed dangerous or creepy.
I invite you to read Brown's whole long piece if you want to form your own opinion of these events. She is a pro-prostitution crusader of sorts, in her way as biased as the prosecutors. The people involved seem skeevier to me than she tries to portray them. But she certainly blows open the whole assertion of an international human trafficking ring, and proves to my satisfaction that the police made crazy exaggerations in their accusations.
Many people have a deep need to see the world in black and white moral terms. They want criminals to be horrible monsters who do truly terrible things to poor, weak innocents. They want prostitutes to be the slaves of wicked pimps, used only by deeply depraved men; this fits their worldview much better than women looking to make money and "hobbyists" (as they call themselves these days) who are just your neighbors or people you work with. That sort of grayness offends true moralists.
These cops and prosecutors come across as very much on the moralistic side. And I wonder if their extreme reaction to these people had something to do with how involved with it they became during the course of the investigation. One of the detectives hung out on a web site called The Review Board for years:
Off and on for two years, Detective Hillman would post lengthy and detailed descriptions of alleged sexual encounters with sex workers to TRB. These included the same sorts of statements defendants have been arrested for posting, such as pleas for others to visit a particular woman so she would stick around, info about the screening process for new clients, updates on when a new K-Girl arrived in town, and links to their ads on other websites, like Backpage. (Sample Hillman post: Yoco "is the freight train of sexual energy. ... Her last day is August 23rd, RUN, don't walk, to see her.")The moralistic preacher who tries to convert the prostitutes he hires (and uses) is a stereotype, but I guess they really exist.
There is profound evil the world, from serial killers to the trainers of suicide bombers. But most crime is just people trying to make an easy buck or get a cheap thrill, and it fits badly with a God vs. Satan view of the world.