Madam or misunderstood? Dominic Holden

For eight years, behind the doors of an ordinary-looking house on Eastlake Avenue East, an all-female staff provided "spiritual uplift"—a practice some of the women also called "a rub and a tug"—to dozens of men every day. Last week, however, Seattle police brought those services to a halt, raiding the alleged brothel (which operates under the name Sacred Temple) and detaining 18 women and two men.

State law is clear: "A person is guilty of promoting prostitution in the second degree if he knowingly... profits from prostitution." But what if "he" is not a he—the exploitative pimp caricature from cop shows—but a she? And what if she is not a plotting profiteer, but a cherubic, 43-year-old redhead who speaks in a peppy Scottish accent and insists that the occasional "release" is simply part of her method of spiritual healing? Seattle police and state law don't distinguish, of course, as it became clear to Rainbow Love—her legal name—in the late morning of Thursday, May 21, when police raided her businesses and arrested her at her home. Love agreed to give The Stranger an exclusive interview about her enterprise and arrest.

Love was inside her Marysville home with her three sons that Thursday morning when Seattle Police Department officers, serving a warrant related to the investigation, rushed her house with guns drawn. "One of them grabbed my neck and put a gun in my face," Love alleges.

Simultaneously, back in Seattle, the doors of a black van—which had been parked across the street from the Sacred Temple "healing center" for three days—opened, and police officers, dressed in black body armor, began pouring out. All of them carried guns and several of them wielded a black metal battering ram, multiple witnesses say.

As the men in black charged across the street toward the Sacred Temple—a large white house with a rainbow-painted fence, between a palm reader and a massage clinic—squad cars screeched to a halt, encircling the block.

Police flooded the Sacred Temple's hallways, ordering men and women—including one woman in the third trimester of her pregnancy, according to several Sacred Temple staff members who were present—to lie facedown and binding their wrists behind their backs.

"This is a nice little whorehouse they have going on here," one of the officers said, according to a Sacred Temple employee. Outside, witnesses say, police chased a fleeing woman, pulled her down from a fence, and slammed her to the ground.

Meanwhile, officers also stormed two other businesses operated by Love, the Moon Temples in Greenwood and Kirkland. An SPD spokesman said the department could not comment on the tactics SPD used during the raids.

Within hours, reporters from KOMO 4 News showed up at the Sacred Temple—and at Love's front door, where they questioned one of her teenage children. The news segment said neighbors had complained about the business, and the eleven o'clock news ran photos of the women allegedly involved in its operation.

An SPD spokesman said its investigation was based on neighborhood complaints, but two neighbors contacted by The Stranger following the raid said the Sacred Temple had never caused problems for them. Two days after the raid, the Sacred Temple's closest neighbor told The Stranger, "Nobody that I talked to was upset about it being illegal, per se, and I know a lot of people here." Carol, 60, who wanted to go by her first name only, said she has lived behind the Sacred Temple building for 20 years and she knew what was happening inside. She was livid—not about alleged prostitution, but that armed officers swarmed around her house. "It was really scary. These buildings are all occupied," she said, pointing to her home 10 feet from the Sacred Temple and apartments and condos across the alley. "Somebody could have walked out of their door, and a cop could have freaked out and shot them dead."

"If they thought people in the establishment were armed, I would understand," said Carol. According to an SPD spokesman, no weapons were found during the raid.

The massive show of force—approximately 100 officers involved in raids and arrests around the Seattle area—was the culmination of a nearly yearlong investigation by Seattle police. According to police records, on June 6, 2008, a former receptionist at the Sacred Temple contacted SPD's vice division about the business. Records say the woman told detectives that during a busy day at the Sacred Temple, her manager told her "she needed to help out by giving the clients handjobs." Instead, the woman apparently quit her job and contacted police. Love denies the woman's story.

Shortly after the former receptionist contacted SPD, an undercover female detective interviewed for a job at the Sacred Temple, where, according to police records, Love told her that clients, called "seekers," paid $150 for a session and expected a handjob. Detectives conducted surveillance of the business for the next 10 months, until police swarmed the Sacred Temple on May 21—along with the Moon Temples in Greenwood and Kirkland.

"Oh, look at this mess," Love said on May 23, walking into the Sacred Temple to survey the aftermath of the raid. The contents of suitcases and purses were dumped in the hallway, cups from the kitchen counter lay on the linoleum floor, and CDs were strewn across the laundry room. Each small room in the compound contained a pump bottle of hand sanitizer and a rack of small blue towels. In the middle of each room: a massage table, which Love called an "alter"—"because when you get up there, it alters your consciousness."

Three of the Sacred Temple's 60 or so employees agreed to speak to The Stranger about their experiences in the hope of revealing the heavy-handed nature of SPD's raid and countering what they see as misperceptions about their line of work.

Karen, Amanda, and Melissa—not their real names—have all worked at the Sacred Temple for the last six months. The three women refer to themselves as "priestesses," not prostitutes, and range in age from their early 20s to their 40s. As they chuckled about their interactions with officers at the scene, a siren went off somewhere down the block and all three froze up and nervously looked out the window. They were definitely still shell-shocked from the raid.

The women involved each face misdemeanor charges of prostitution, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Prosecutors may charge Love with promoting prostitution in the second degree, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Although several of the brothels and massage parlors recently shut down by Seattle police have reportedly been tied to human trafficking rings, Karen, Amanda, and Melissa said they weren't forced or coerced into their line of work. The women do not appear to be addicted to drugs, they're all New Agey hippies—one of them referred to the Temple as a co-op—and, while Amanda admitted she was once the victim of sexual abuse, she said it did not play a part in her decision to work at the Sacred Temple. All the women seem to have been happy at the Sacred Temple, apparently preferring to provide companionship and handjobs to their previous work in retail and office jobs.

"This is not at all the stereotype I expected. It's so much happier and kinder and friendlier," Melissa said. "I expected a really catty, competitive, angry place. I tried working at a strip club once, and it was really unhappy." Amanda added, "We're just normal people out here, just trying to get by like the rest of you." At the Sacred Temple, the women said they were not forced to do anything against their will and there were only loose guidelines set for sessions with clients. The "priestesses" said that they were not required to undress and were not forced to perform sexual acts.

Robyn Friedman, a criminal-defense attorney who sometimes works with women facing sex-crime charges, told The Stranger that fighting a case in court can cost as much as $5,000 and could still result in a criminal record, which in turn "could make it very difficult for them to get jobs in the future."

Friedman added that devoting police attention to prostitution drains resources that could be focused on serious crimes: "To do this roundup that took so much time, considering the level of the crime, and to use that many resources to do it, is just ridiculous." Love claims that police could have called her and arranged to have an officer come to her door to serve the arrest warrant, rather than conduct an armed raid.

The Seattle Police Department could not immediately provide a figure for how much the raid cost, but according to the department's pay scale, a four-hour raid conducted by 100 officers with three to four years of experience would have cost the department about $15,000 in man hours. And that's not including any overtime pay, hours for surveillance, undercover work, paperwork, or paid hours for trial testimony related to the yearlong investigation, which undoubtedly cost much more. In addition, pressing charges and court proceedings require paying prosecutors and judges.

Todd, 37, told The Stranger he's been going to the Temple and similar businesses on a weekly basis since 2003. "I first went for the usual reasons one might visit a prostitute—I was horny, had no partner and no success finding one the 'usual' ways," he said in an e-mail. "I myself am rather unattractive physically, socially awkward, and have dealt with depression and anxiety my whole life. I don't make friends easily, and I haven't had a lover in 20 years.

"I'll freely admit I wish I had more friends and a lover or lovers, and if I did, I probably wouldn't visit the Temple as often or at all," he said. "For some of us, for whatever reasons, those don't appear to be options, though."

Love, who is awaiting charges, hadn't yet retained legal counsel when she spoke to The Stranger in the ransacked house. Love said she believes she'll be vindicated in the eyes of the law. "I have nothing to hide." recommended

This story has been updated since its original publication.