When a letter to the editor tipped off the Spokane Press to an underground human trafficking market, the newspaper took the accusation seriously. Employing East Coast newspaperwoman Sara Serl to go undercover, the paper confirmed that local employment agencies were indeed sending young (mostly impoverished and naive) women to prostitution in brothels, under the guise of legitimate work such as house cleaning.

The Spokane Press then ran attention-grabbing exposés with headlines like "Clutching for the Almighty Dollar, Human Monsters Sell the Souls of Spokane Girls," which recounted Serl's investigation. In some instances, she would pretend to want to procure girls for a fake brothel owner; other times she'd play a young woman looking for employment. With few exceptions, most employment agency owners agreed to her requests.

In plain-spoken and harsh language, Serl wrote her opinion of the men supposedly engaged in reputable business: "It's GREED, GREED, GREED, with never a thought for the blighted lives of the girls, whose souls they are offering as a sacrifice on the altar of avarice."

Owners of the local employment agencies, however, said that if they didn't cash in on this opportunity, someone else would. There was no other choice, they said.

In the days and weeks that followed, the Spokesman-Review continued to run ads from many of the employment agencies cited, the mayor refused to do anything, and the Spokane Press was eventually sued by one of the agencies, which claimed the whole investigation was libelous (a suit the paper later won).

But Serl's reporting eventually took its toll over the next year, causing multiple employment agents to be sent to prison and the scandalized employment offices to close their doors.

My Fake Friend's Wedding @ Firebrand Cocolalla

Thu., June 1, 5:45-8:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Laura Johnson

Laura moved to the great Inland Pacific Northwest this summer. She is the Inlander's new music editor.