Charges filed against a pimp and gang member last month for promoting prostitution reaffirm a point that’s been largely ignored in Mayor Mike McGinn and Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna’s war on Backpage.com: the site may be being used to exploit adults, as well as juveniles.
King County Prosecutors allege Lavelle Kenneth Johnson—who was just booked into the King County Jail last night—forced a 23-year-old woman into prostitution on Backpage.com, using routine beatings to intimidate her into working for him.
Court records say police began investigating Johnson on August 19th when King County Sheriff’s detectives saw him allegedly pick up the woman in a “high prostitution area” in Seatac.
Police say they saw the woman set up several “dates” with men at a motel room in Seatac, and later climb into a car in the motel’s parking lot with Johnson.
Detectives stopped the car and recovered several cellphones, one of which was open to the “Backpage…sign-in section,” court records say.
Police interviewed the woman, who “stated that she [would] post massage ads” on Backpage, and said she was in “extreme fear of Johnson.” In court records, police describe Backpage.com as “notorious for escort advertisements nationwide.”
The woman refused to give detectives an official statement, but said she had met Johnson two weeks earlier, when he recruited her to work him him and “immediately put her out to work in a high prostitution area.”
The woman went on several “dates,” and later tried to get away from Johnson and checked into a motel room in Des Moines.
Police say Johnson “came to her room and assaulted her by slapping her several times for not calling him and giving him the money” from her “dates.”
According to court documents, “due to her fear of Johnson, she started working for him from that day forward and started giving him all of her money.”
Records say Johnson allegedly attacked the woman several times over the next two weeks, punching and kicking her, and also having sex with her. Court documents note the woman was in “extreme fear” of Johnson.
Court documents say Johnson—reportedly a member of the Black Gangster Disciples and Down With the Crew Gang—has a pending case for attempting to elude police, and convictions for unlawful possession of a firearm, drug possession, auto theft, theft, and assault.
He is currently being held at the King County Jail awaiting a bail hearing.
Next year, Tim Burgess, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and state legislators may begin a push in Olympia for legislation which would allow victims of the sex trade—like the 23-year-old woman in this case—to clear their records of any prostitution charges and move on with their lives.