In May, the Seattle Police Department’s Vice & High Risk Victims Unit shut down a massage parlor that allegedly offered sexual services. Then they thought, “Hey, why not open our own sex spa in the same spot? Is there any better use of police time and resources than staging an elaborate sting designed to catch men willing to pay for a hand job from an adult woman?”
And so they opened the Euro Spa, offering the ministrations of a “Western European Masseuse” (an odd bit of racial typing which may have backfired—several potential customers apparently left because there were no Asian women).
Female officers were tarted up in tight clothes and high heels and offered men sexual acts for cash. One officer particularly excelled at the important and difficult police work of tempting men into blow jobs. From the Seattle Times:
“She’s three times better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said one of [Squad Sergeant] Umporowicz’s vice detectives, praising his colleague’s “silver tongue” in making men comfortable to agree to pay for sex.
“When I’m talking to them up front, I’m also doing this,” the UC said, using her hand to mime a sex act, “so it’s very obvious.”
“Umps says they (customers) think they’re God’s gift to women, and I try to make them feel that,” said the UC, referring to Umporowicz by his unit nickname. “I don’t get freaked out by the words and the language and what they want to do. I’m not shocked by anything.”
The sting caught 204 so-called “johns” and netted the department $22,000 in cash. But that’s only the beginning of the city’s profiteering. The Sergeant told the Seattle Times that he expected that all the court fines extracted from the offenders could total $550,000.
And who were these monsters? They ranged from surgeons to a nurse to bus drivers to a journalist. One guy in his 20s apparently cried that his life was over and tried to run, according to the Times. In earlier stings, the men were let go and received summonses. Now, the department wants men arrested for “sexual exploitation” to be booked: mug shot, fingerprints and at least a few hours in jail.
The operation, of course, is presented as a means to protect exploited women. “Working the Euro Spa sting has given her a new appreciation for how little respect is shown to “all these girls from these other countries” who often work 12- or 14-hour days in massage parlors and don’t keep any of the money they bring into a business,” writes the Times. Ok. But immigrant workers in all kinds of industries that don’t include sex work are horribly exploited (see: nail salons). Also, in this case, there wasn’t even the pretext of trying to catch johns who were looking to hook up with under-aged or trafficked women.
There’s a prevailing school of thought among some anti-trafficking activists that the most humane way to address sex work is to go after “johns” without arresting sex workers. By that standard, this is the perfect operation: No actual sex workers harmed in the making of this sting. But in what business on earth does it benefit workers to have their customers arrested? As many sex worker activists have pointed out, depleting the customer pool of men who have the most the lose if they get caught makes sex workers’ lives harder and more dangerous.
“As the global sex workers’ rights movement has noted for years, criminalizing clients drives sex work further underground, driving off some law-abiding clients and leaving us with a slightly more dangerous population of consumers,” Influence contributor and sex worker Caty Simon tells us.
“It makes clients jumpy and less likely to acquiesce to our safety measures because of their fear of arrest,” she continues. “Escorting clients refuse to offer us screening info, for example, while street workers’ clients are more likely to drive workers to out-of-the-way, isolated spots rather than the areas they want to work for car dates. Sex workers have discovered through painful experience that the End Demand model just creates further unsafe working conditions for us.”