Another harrowing escape puts attention on open prostitution market along Seattle’s Aurora Avenue

Aug 3, 2023, 10:32 PM

Cars pass by the Emerald Motel and Seattle Inn on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle, on Thursday, Aug....

Cars pass by the Emerald Motel and Seattle Inn on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle, on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Police recently declared the establishments to be chronic nuisances due to rampant prostitution and other criminal activity, a step that requires the owners to demonstrate how they will prevent their properties from being used for criminal behavior. The recent harrowing escape of a woman who was abducted after engaging in prostitution on Seattle has helped focus attention on the consequences of tolerating an open sex trade along the thoroughfare. (AP Photo/Gene Johnson)

(AP Photo/Gene Johnson)

SEATTLE (AP) — A vanload of church volunteers drove along a main street in north Seattle one night last month with sandwiches, water bottles and blankets for homeless people. They didn’t find any — but they did see dozens of barely clothed women walking along the road or leaning into traffic to advertise their services.

“Just woman after woman after woman,” recalled one of the volunteers, Stuart Jenner. “We prayed for them as we drove south.”

About two hours later, the FBI said, a man posing as an undercover police officer shackled and abducted a woman from the area after soliciting her to engage in prostitution. He then drove her hundreds of miles to his home in southern Oregon, where he locked her in a makeshift cell in his garage — a cinder block cage with a metal door, charging papers say. She escaped by punching the door, bloodying her knuckles, until it broke.

Authorities say they are looking for more possible victims after linking the man, Negasi Zuberi, to violent sexual assaults in at least four other states. His newly appointed public defender, Devin Huseby, declined to comment Thursday.

The July 15 abduction is one of at least three cases in the past year in which police say women engaged in prostitution along Aurora Avenue had to make harrowing escapes or otherwise be rescued after being held against their will, and it raised questions about the consequences of tolerating an open sex market along the busy thoroughfare.

“The Aurora Avenue North corridor has been a longstanding public safety challenge with human trafficking, street prostitution, drug dealing, and gun violence,” Jamie Housen, a spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, said in an email.

Seattle has been clamping down, Housen said. Police regularly make arrests in the area and issued nuisance notices last week to two budget motels on Aurora that authorities said were hotbeds of prostitution and other crime.

Aurora, an urban highway also known as State Route 99, is one of the city’s main north-south arterials. Especially known for prostitution is a stretch of about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) close to the city’s northern limit that is flanked by home-improvement stores, single-story businesses, strip malls and cheap motels.

Residents have noticed a dramatic increase in the activity since the pandemic struck in 2020, as the Seattle Police Department has contended with a severe shortage of officers.

That was also the year the City Council eliminated loitering crimes as they relate to drug trafficking and prostitution. Loitering charges were rarely filed anyway, but the council cited the racist history of such laws, which were preceded by Jim Crow-era vagrancy statutes designed to target formerly enslaved people, in eliminating them.

Last November, a 20-year-old woman who had been trafficked along Aurora tried to escape her pimp by jumping nearly naked out of the third-floor window of a home in south Seattle where she’d been kept. The escape failed, and after the pimp drove her back up to Aurora, she tried again, this time running from him and sitting topless in the roadway. A rideshare driver stopped and rescued her — and then engaged in a rolling gunfight with the pimp, who chased them in his car, police said.

The defendant in that case, Winston Burt, was arrested soon after and now faces federal sex trafficking and gun charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Last month, a 19-year-old man and 17-year-old boy were charged with trafficking two young women out of one of the motels on Aurora, after one of the women called her father to report she was being held against her will.

The city followed up by declaring the Emerald Motel and the Seattle Inn to be chronic nuisances. The declaration requires the owners to submit a plan explaining how they will prevent their properties from being used for criminal behavior, Housen said. Failure to comply can result in fines.

Calls to those establishments seeking comment did not go through Thursday, with an automated message saying the lines were busy.

“Human trafficking takes a tragic, significant, and unacceptable toll on victims and the entire community,” Housen said. “Mayor Harrell recognizes that addressing this issue requires more than just law enforcement, including a special emphasis on victim services, support, and advocacy.”

Cory Cocktail, the co-founder of the Seattle sex worker outreach organization Green Light Project, said sex work is inherently risky, but outdoor work is especially dangerous because of the difficulty in vetting clients. The closing of the motels to prostitution could make it even worse, he said, because workers might be more likely to resort to getting into clients’ cars instead.

And without a consolidated community based around the motels, it would be harder for sex workers to look out for each other, Cocktail said.

“I unfortunately have been expecting something like this to happen,” Cocktail said. “I hate saying that out loud, but the circumstances being what they are, predators are empowered to hurt people right now.”

For Jenner, who volunteered through his church, University Presbyterian, for a late-night shift with the Union Gospel Mission’s “Search and Rescue Program” on July 14, learning that an abduction had occurred just hours later reminded him of Gary Ridgway, the Green River serial killer, who terrorized the region in the 1980s. Ridgway picked up some of his victims, many of them sex workers, along the same stretch of Aurora.

One of Ridgway’s victims, Mary Bridgett Meehan, 19, was a classmate of Jenner.

“My fervent hope is that this story can help someone to do something about all the prostitution that is on northern Aurora Avenue in Seattle,” Jenner wrote in an email to elected officials Wednesday.


Manuel Valdes in Seattle contributed.

United States News

The University of Nevada’s basketball team could have a new home at an off-campus arena by 2026 u...

Associated Press

Reno casino expansion plan includes new arena that could be University of Nevada basketball home

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The University of Nevada’s basketball team could have a new off-campus home by 2026 under an ambitious 10-year expansion plan that Reno’s largest hotel-casino announced Wednesday. The nearly $1 billion private capital investment will be the biggest in the city’s history, according to officials of the Grand Sierra Resort. In addition […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

A murder suspect mistakenly released from an Indianapolis jail was captured in Minnesota, police say

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A murder suspect who was mistakenly released two weeks ago from jail in Indianapolis was captured Wednesday by the U.S. Marshals Service in Minnesota, where he faces charges in a 2021 killing, police said. Kevin Mason, 28, was apprehended in the afternoon in St. Paul, said Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal, who […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Florida school district orders removal of all books with gay characters before slightly backing off

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Top officials at a Florida school district ordered the removal of all books and material containing LBGTQ+ characters and themes from classrooms and campus libraries, saying that was needed to conform to a state law backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” Charlotte County Schools […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Man who was rescued after falling overboard from tanker has died

BOSTON (AP) — A man who was rescued by the crew of a commercial fishing boat after he fell overboard from a tanker has died, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office said Wednesday. The crew of America pulled the man from the water Tuesday morning, and Boston Fire Department and Coast Guard personnel came aboard […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Apple leverages idea of switching to Bing to pry more money out of Google, Microsoft exec says

WASHINGTON (AP) — Apple was never serious about replacing Google with Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine in Macs and iPhones, but kept the possibility open as a “bargaining chip” to extract bigger payments from Google, a Microsoft executive testified Wednesday in the biggest U.S. antitrust trial in a quarter century. “It is no […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Winner of $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot claims prize in Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The winner of the $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot in August has come forward to claim the prize, officials said Wednesday. Under a new Florida law, the winner’s name remains anonymous for 90 days from the date the prize was claimed, which was on Sept. 25, lottery officials said in […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.

Sanderson Ford...

Sanderson Ford

Sanderson Ford congratulates D-backs’ on drive to great first half of 2023

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a red-hot first half of the major league season, and Sanderson Ford wants to send its congratulations to the ballclub.



At Ability360, every day is Independence Day

With 100 different programs and services, more than 1,500 non-medically based home care staff, a world-renowned Sports & Fitness Center and over 15,000 people with disabilities served annually, across all ages and demographics, Ability360 is a nationwide leader in the disability community.

Another harrowing escape puts attention on open prostitution market along Seattle’s Aurora Avenue