Seattle police say they've busted a human trafficking and prostitution ring run out of 11 different "massage parlors" in the city.
The raids were carried out on February 28 and led to charges against five different spa owners, and a warrant for a sixth person. Those arrested are alleged to have conspired to lure women to the U.S. with the promise of a legitimate job making large sums of money.
However, once the victims arrived in the U.S., they were forced into sexual acts at the massage spas, working as much as 20 hours a day.
"Squalor is a nice word for what they were encountering," said Seattle Police Department Captain Mike Edwards.
The department spent more than three years investigating and monitoring activity at the spas before serving the warrants. Investigators recovered cash, firearms, and rescued 26 women as part of the operation.
The women, who are all between 20 and 60 years old, are now at an undisclosed location receiving help. Police say the victims are being given counseling and services to help reintroduce themselves into society. However, there is a language barrier that has made those efforts more challenging.
Edwards said his department is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and has already begun reaching out to other departments across the country with similar cases, including in the state of Florida. A recent bust of massage parlors in Florida led to the arrest of New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft.
"It was very obvious, there were a lot of women in lingerie standing in doorways," said Sonny Nguyen, the public safety coordinator for Seattle’s Chinatown International District (CID).
Nguyen said neighbors called the massage parlors a security problem in a recent poll of more than 500 CID residents.
"More people said they were concerned about the number of massage parlors in the neighborhood than getting sexually assaulted in the neighborhood, which was very surprising," he said.
While he is happy for the enforcement, Nguyen says he is now concerned for the women who were victimized by the operation.