Sex Work

FBI Helps Shut Down Seattle Sex-Work Review Board

Federal agents are more than happy to spend their time playing website whack-a-mole when there are assets to seize.

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The Review Board

On Wednesday, visitors to TheReviewBoard.net were greeted not by the site's usual array of forums but a series of law-enforcement badge photos displayed prominently above the following message: "This website has been seized pursuant to a Promoting Prostitution investigation conducted by the King County Sheriff's Office, the Bellevue Police Department, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation." 

The site, which The Stranger's Sydney Brownstone describes as "an online mainstay of the Seattle sex industry," previously provided a space for clients and sex workers to dish on one another in the interest of lust and safety, as well offered a free-advertising venue. But like so many tools that make life easier for those in the sex trade, this one runs afoul of our government's new mission to "end demand" for prostitution, which it has rechristened "modern slavery." 

"There's very little information to go on at the moment, but a spokesperson from the Bellevue Police Department told The Stranger that King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg will be holding a press conference related to the website [Thursday] morning," notes Brownstone. The conference will be held at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time. 

The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) offers a few more details, including the fact that several people have been arrested in conjunction with the site's shutdown. "Sex worker communities believe that the site may have been specifically targeted in connection with a raid on a massage parlor where non-native Asians worked or because non-Native Asian sex workers advertised through the website," SWOP-USA reports. 

"Migrant sex workers, especially Asian migrant workers, are often inaccurately labeled as trafficking victims," said SWOP-USA Board President Savannah Sly, who expects prosecutors to highlight the presence of migrant Korean sex workers on The Review Board as evidence of human trafficking. But "just because a women came to the U.S. and works as an escort does not mean she did so involuntarily," adds Sly. "These assumptions are blatantly racist and xenophobic. Many migrant workers in the sex trade, domestic work and agriculture emigrate and work voluntarily."

Across social media, Pacific Northwest sex workers and their clients aired frustrations yesterday. "Uh-oh. Seattle ladies and gentleman, looks like the end of an era. Not in a good way," tweeted Mistress Matisse, a Seattle-based dominatrix and leading sex-worker rights activist. 

"The persistent criminalizing of communication based on hypothetical sexual behavior should be disturbing to everyone," Matisse added. And "the use of police resources to raid and shutdown sexworker resources like TRB message board does not reduce trafficking or make anyone safer. Instead, it increases sex worker's reliance on (possibly coercive) third parties, and makes it harder for us to screen clients for safety." 

"Dumbest thing ever. TRB helped so many on both sides," read another response. "Gotta love the scare tactics," chimed in @sexylezcouple4u. "There will always be a venue. If not that one, there will be another. Wasted funds."

If the past few years are any indication, however, federal agents are more than happy to spend their time playing website whack-a-mole. First it was Craigslist's "adult" section. In 2014, it was MyRedbook.com. Then, last year, the Department of Homeland Security took down gay-escort site Rentboy. And everyone from U.S. senators to obsessed Illinois sheriffs have been trying to shut down the classified-ad site Backpage.

Backpage, however, has refused to just roll over for authorities. Following a string of legal victories (the most recent of which cited an amicus brief from Reason Foundation!), Backpage is now suing the federal government over its attempt to impose criminal liability on third-party publishers. "Given the enormous volume of third-party content [sites like Backpage] receive and disseminate every day," the suit states, "websites cannot possibly review every post to guarantee nothing is unlawful." However, Backpage does flag posted ads that seem suspect and cooperate with law enforcement when specific ads are in question; the site has actually been instrumental in countless cases involving missing teens.

The shutdown of The Review Board is just the government's latest attempt to go after consensual prostitution by stoking fears about forced sex trafficking, and it doesn't matter if they're actually putting everyone more at risk and making trafficking investigations harder. The goal has never been about sex worker safety or saving victims, it's about punishing people whom the government views as blatantly skirting its rules and then wringing from them all the assets that it can.  

So perhaps the only surprising thing about this Review Board situation is it produced a local TV news report (featuring Reason contributor Maggie McNeill) that doesn't merely parrot police talking points. Newscasters actually allow sex workers to speak for themselves about the site's shutdown and how it puts them at risk, while noting that Seattle recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Justice Department to help "eradicate human trafficking" and "end modern slavery."

NEXT: Court ordered a billionaire businessman not to speak online about a rival businessman, and to remove posts about him

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  1. Silly ENB! Women, especially ferners, don’t have the wherewithal to make decisions on with whom to have sex and for what purpose!

  2. The goal has never been about sex worker safety or saving victims, it’s about punishing people whom the government views as blatantly skirting its rules

    Plus another aspect of “security theatre”: “we’re doing something” about the moral panic which we generate over “sex trafficking”.

  3. It’s funny how the cops always arrest the women and charge them with prostitution, then, turn around and declare the entire effort “fighting the war on human slavery.”

    It’s like they’re all whores, and they’re all human trafficking victims, simultaneously.

    Are they guilty of selling themselves into slavery?

    1. Isn’t arresting someone for a victimless crime and then throwing them in a cage–even a holding cell–kidnapping? They’re fighting slavery with…a form of slavery. Makes sense, right?

      1. It’s kind of like cops and CPS agents who abduct unattended children to prevent them from being abducted.

        1. It’s like 10000 spoons when you need a knife…

          1. It’s like meeting the man of your dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife…

      2. If they really believed their own bullshit, they would at least call for the elimination of all prostitution laws that make the seller a guilty party, since they’re all human slaves.

        But they don’t.

        They just can’t even bring themselves to admit that it only makes sense to ban selling yourself for sex only if you assume a person is voluntarily deciding to do that in the first place, and should be punished.

        It’s like, “Hey: remember the reason we were arresting hookers 20 years ago? That’s not happening anymore,” while they turn around and brag about hooker arrests in the news, as if just calling it “fighting human slavery” magically changes everything.

      3. Slavery is ok now.

        Where my cake, bitch?

    2. Yes, they’re seen as guilty of selling themselves into slavery.

      There’s also the troll-logic that no mentally-competent woman could possibly choose voluntarily to enter the sex trade. So the women in the sex trade must therefore be mentally incompetent women who need to be locked up for their own good.

      1. I get it. They’re all modern and beyond sexism.

        So they go for the “crazy hysterical woman needs to be institutionalized” tack.

        It just makes sense.

  4. True modern slavery is beta male husbands being subjected to prolonged periods of forced abstinence from their wives, because the wives cut their testicles off.

    1. That’s not a beta male. That’s an omega male, aka metrosexual.

  5. I was thinking “is the server based in Bellevue and that’s why it was BPD and not SPD”, so I ran a whois lookup to find who registered the site. Well, guess who it’s registered to now?

    The King County Sheriff’s Office. Yeah, they completely took it over. And here’s a laugh riot: what’s their email? trafficking@kingcounty.com.

    1. Does that mean if I send an email to that address asking for sexy time, a woman in a sexy officer uniform will show up at my door?

      1. Yes.

        But there won’t be much sexytimes going on. Just her beating you over the head with her over-the-top moralizing.

  6. Doc FBI blithely ratchets its contaminated coat-hanger into the bloody vagina of sex work and slowly rips the unwanted flesh of immorality and slavery from its shivering suspect.

    1. I know there are ways to filter this board so that certain commenters never appear. Is there a way to filter it so that certain commenters are shown in bold, red, size 18 font?

      1. Is there a translator?

        1. If you don’t understand Agile Cyborg, there’s no way to explain it.
          Agile Cyborg just…is.

  7. … our government’s new mission to “end demand” for prostitution, …

    I think we have found the least achievable goal every set by any government anywhere.

    1. Government is largely an anti-humanity establishment. It seems perfectly plausible that the people working within the walls of governance exist to dehumanize anything colored as alternative or ideologically inconvenient to whims of bureaucracy.

  8. our government’s new mission to “end demand” for prostitution, which it has rechristened “modern slavery.”

    I’ve noticed that trend for the past year. Take for example this recent CNN article about Japan and enjo kosai. This phenomenon has been written about since at least the 80s, but this was the first time I’ve heard it called “trafficking” and “child rape”.

    1. Age of consent is 13?!? Somebody tell plopper…or don’t.

  9. The insidious red lights of government fucking hates ‘traffic’. These boundary-hawkers thrive on limitations and constrictions seeded from dubious swamps of bullshit philosophy.

  10. Unfortunately they took down Maggie’s news report.

  11. This is the real war on women.

  12. thanks to the king county sheriff’s department for their compassion for the 12 girls they set free. now the families of these girls have to pay their debts without their help.

    and the single highly paid programmers at microsoft will have to book their dates some other way.

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