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Bellevue prostitution sting shines a light on sex trafficking

BELLEVUE, WASH. — Police say the arrests of more than 100 men, including a local sports radio host, in a fake Bellevue brothel, were part of an ongoing crackdown on human trafficking in the area.

There were 110 arrests in all. Morning sports radio host, Mitch Levy was one of them.

Levy has been charged with a misdemeanor, along with other local business and tech professionals from Bellevue and Seattle and as far as Tacoma.

Moments after “Operation on Demand” ended on Friday, Captain Harnden told Q13 in an exclusive interview that people would be shocked at the demand of sex for sale on the Eastside.

“I think there’s a lot of people who think ‘oh this is Bellevue, or this is Kirkland, this is Seattle…or whatever. I didn’t think this was this bad,’” said Captain Marcia Harnden, of Bellevue Police Departments Special Task Force.

“I think it’s important to dispel the idea that is just women walking up and down Aroura,” said Harnden, explaining their week long sting focused on taking down the johns.

“That is not really the totality of what prostitution and human trafficking looks like.”

According to former escort and now a mom of two, Christina Sabourin, it looks like blackmail.

“These women don’t want to be out here,” Sabourin explained.

“A lot of these johns out here—think that [prostitutes] want to be out here. They think that these women are happy and excited to see them when they come to the door. That’s not the case. They’re just putting on a facade,” said Sabourin.

She says many times that’s because many prostitutes are held hostage, threatened and forced into the business after being preyed on by pimps.

“It’s not like she woke up one day and was like ‘You know what—this is what I want to do. This is my dream. This is how I want to live my life,’” described Sabourin. “She was forced into it or something happened in her past. A lot of women are brought into it because they have a past of not having a father around or even they were sexually abused--but many of these women do not want to be out there.”

Sabourin says most of the time johns don’t think about or don’t realize the escort is a victim or trafficked when they come to the door.

“Most of the time you’re thinking about yourself ‘What is my wife going to think? Now I’ve gotten arrested. What’s going to happen to me? My wife? How do I explain this to my wife?” said Sabourin of the johns. “You should be more worried about the woman that you’re sexually exploiting because you are participating in sex trafficking whether you think it or not.”

Captain Harnden says of the 110 men arrested in the sting this past week – very few were remorseful.

In fact, many of those arrested were repeat offenders. Harnden says probably 20-25% of those arrested had previous prostitution arrested.

City prosecutor Steve Penner has already filed most of the cases with the court.

The Bellevue Police Department told Q13 Friday the court set aside two separate dates just for these arraignments.

Sabourin credits police involved in her bust for recommending local non-profit “The Genesis Project” for helping her change her life around.

She said without resources like shelter and safety it would’ve been almost impossible for her to get back on track.