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Women Suing Seattle Hip-Hop Artist In Sex Trafficking Case Face Ticking Clock

Seattle Times
Rebecca Moss and Ashley Hiruko
December 16, 2022

Do you know what happened to you? Do you know you were the victim of a crime?

Survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking may only be able to answer these questions years or decades after the abuse occurred, experts say. But the clock is running. In Washington state, trafficking victims have just three years to seek civil compensation for the crimes and damage suffered. And then the door closes.

The time frame is among the shortest in the nation. Other states have lengthened the civil statutes of limitation for these crimes, but Washington hasn’t addressed them in two decades.

On Friday, a King County judge will determine whether Washington’s law should stand or if the limit should be suspended for three women who say they were sexually assaulted, beaten, confined and trafficked by Solomon “Raz” Simone, a Seattle hip-hop artist.

Simone’s motion is the latest attempt to dismiss the civil suit brought by the women, and two others who joined the case, after efforts to pursue criminal charges against him in Seattle were unsuccessful.

The women say he exploited them for years for profit, demanding $1,000 daily quotas from forced sex work in Seattle, Las Vegas, Portland and other cities. The alleged abuse spans a decade.

The motion raises the question of whether sexual assault victims have enough time to seek justice. And, if cases are dismissed, what recourse individuals have when both the criminal and civil systems fail to provide a remedy.

Simone denies the allegations against him and argues three of the four women who accused him of trafficking in the August 2021 suit filed the claim between six months and three years too late to be considered by a Washington court. The defense defined the start of the statute of limitations as when each woman’s relationship with Simone ended.

“Those claims were already dead when filed. … They cannot be saved,” Paul Beattie, Simone’s lawyer, wrote in his motion. Beattie argued that “​​Simone simply dated a series of attractive women, several of whom were already engaged in the sharing of nude pictures or exotic dancing.”

Some of the women had previously worked in strip clubs, according to court documents and interviews, but others had not worked in the sex industry before meeting Simone.

Simone, they said, paid for them to move to Seattle or Las Vegas, drove them to apply for exotic dancing licenses and forced them to enter sex work. Their relationships with Simone were not merely “dating,” all the women and their attorneys contend, but grounded in coercion and extreme control under the threat of violence, for Simone’s profit.

The women’s attorneys, Ellery Johannessen and Michelle Dellino, argue that the trauma inflicted by Simone was so significant, it prevented them from taking immediate legal action against him. Many of the women believed they had been in an abusive relationship with Simone but didn’t recognize the crimes and patterns of trafficking for months or years.

The crimes alleged in the lawsuit were also reported to the Seattle Police Department, according to public records, emails, text messages and hours of interviews with The Seattle Times and KUOW. In September, the lawsuit was amended to include the city of Seattle and the police department for their alleged negligent handling of their claims.

The city declined to comment on pending litigation.

Their day in court

Simone’s filing is one of four attempts so far to have defendants dismissed from the civil lawsuit.

In November, King County Superior Court Judge Melinda J. Young denied a motion brought by the city of Seattle to remove it and the Seattle Police Department as defendants. The city argued it could not be sued for negligent investigation. Young disagreed, saying that the city and police could be held liable, in part because police conduct may have caused “an escalation in vicious behavior” by Simone.

Motions to dismiss the lawsuit have also been filed by the owner of a strip club where one of the women worked, and by a business associate of Simone’s. None has been successful.

Even if Simone’s motion to dismiss is accepted, the case against the city, the SPD and the claims brought by one of the plaintiffs, which is within the statute of limitations, will move forward.

Johannessen and Dellino said that in courtrooms across the country, in cases involving high-profile abusers, some judges are allowing cases to move forward even after the statute of limitations has passed.

Nationally, the #MeToo movement and cases involving Catholic clergy, Boy Scouts and convicted abusers such as film producer Harvey Weinstein and financier Jeffrey Epstein have spurred new legislation and legal opinion on statutes of limitations laws.

King County court has the discretion to temporarily suspend the statute of limitations, the women’s attorneys wrote, “in light of the extreme trauma visited upon Plaintiffs, which prevented them from fully understanding what happened to them and advocating for themselves.”

The clock for the statute of limitations can also begin to run after criminal proceedings end. As The Seattle Times and KUOW reported in October, while King County prosecutors declined to file charges against Simone for trafficking in early 2022, the FBI had an open investigation into Simone, though no charges have been filed federally, either.

The plaintiff’s attorneys noted in court documents they have evidence that Simone purchased his Airport Way recording studio using money he collected from work done by at least one of the women named in the suit.

Beattie, Simone’s attorney, countered that the plaintiffs have no evidence and the argument is merely sensational and “politically charged,” claiming the women’s movement was intended to “free [women] to engage in the sexual relationships they choose.”

“Each had the willpower and presence of mind to end her consensual relationship with Solomon whenever she chose to do so, despite his allegedly Rasputin-like magical powers,” Beattie said in a reply to the plaintiffs.

“They do not get to have their day in court when they cannot be bothered to file their lawsuits on time,” he wrote.

The question of consent

Beattie’s arguments fail to account for the nature and nuance of trafficking crimes, according to experts for the plaintiffs in court documents.

Megan Lundstrom, a survivor of sex trafficking and co-founder of The Avery Center, a research and resource organization focused on helping those who have been trafficked, wrote in court records that it commonly takes three to five years after someone has left a trafficker to identify themselves as a victim of sex trafficking.

“Most attribute their ordeal to nothing more than a bad relationship and are faced with shame, guilt, isolation, and self-doubt,” Lundstrom wrote.

Lundstrom says sex-trafficking shares similarities with cults. In both cases, there is devotion to the group’s leader, a drive to make money and punishment for dissent. She said trauma bonds, the attachment of the victim to the abuser created through repeated patterns of psychological and emotional abuse, can delay a victim’s ability to escape the relationship.

Anita Teekah, senior director of the anti-trafficking program for Safe Horizon, a New York-based nonprofit, said in an interview with The Seattle Times and KUOW that many of the nonprofit’s clients often initially deny they experienced trafficking or are unable to acknowledge they have been trafficked for years after they have escaped.

“For individuals who have a lot of trauma, if they can’t talk about what they’ve experienced, that means they can’t meaningfully get help”, she said.

Some courts and states have begun to acknowledge these factors in sexual abuse and trafficking cases.

In New York, following a federal criminal indictment for sex trafficking, more than 80 plaintiffs filed a civil suit in 2020 against Keith Raniere, the former leader of the so-called self-help group NXIVM.

Much of the federal case for both prosecutors and the defense hinged on the question of choice: Did the adults recruited into NXIVM participate with informed consent or were they coerced in a way that robbed them of that choice?

In October, Raniere was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 120 years in federal prison.

Numerous civil cases have been filed against Jeffrey Epstein and his estate by women who say they were sexually abused and trafficked, many as minors, some allegations dating to 1985. More than 100 claims were filed and tens of millions paid out by a compensation fund set up to help his victims.

The Women’s Bar Association for the State of New York said these cases reshaped the public’s understanding of coercion and illuminated the crimes surrounding human trafficking. It was one of a number of groups to support legislation introduced by New York state Sen. James Sanders Jr. to extend the statute of limitations for civil trafficking claims from 10 to 15 years and allow for financial recovery for plaintiffs.

The law passed in 2021.

Read the full article here.