By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A group of Seattle area men has been charged with using adult websites to promote the sex-trafficking of women from South Korea held inside a network of brothels in upscale Seattle area apartments, in a case linked to more than a dozen U.S. states.
Thirteen men were charged this week in King County with promoting prostitution of trafficked sex workers using websites such as TheReviewBoard.net, which had featured explicit date reviews and low-cost advertisements.
Some of the men had also been recruited into a clandestine network calling itself "The League," whose members work in various U.S. states to promote sex with trafficked women.
"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," King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said on Thursday.
The arrests come roughly a year and a half after authorities in California shut down a similar adult website - myredbook.com - that prosecutors say linked prostitutes with clients under a thin disguise of offering strip club reviews, and arrested its operators.
The California and Seattle website clamp downs were criticized by the advocacy group Sex Workers Outreach Project. The group says closing carefully moderated adult websites can push vulnerable women to find business on the streets, and actually limits the ability of police to uncover trafficking.
"It's criminalization and stigma of sex work and immigration status that makes these workers so vulnerable, not the work itself," said Board President Savannah Sly.
In the Seattle case, 12 brothels were closed and police discovered 12 women brought to the United States from South Korea. The women, brought here illegally or on visas that have expired, have been offered health and consular services.
The sex workers were forced to work as much as 14 hours per day in brothels in high-end apartments in the Seattle suburb Bellevue, the department said.
They also were routinely shuttled to various cities beyond Seattle, including places in California and New York, the department said.
Authorities backed by the FBI obtained a court order this week to shut down TheReviewBoard.net. They said the League men used it and other online channels to encourage sex buyers to consistently book favorably reviewed women, which would keep them in the Seattle area longer.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)