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Trafficking and Illicit Massage Parlors

Scope of Trafficking

This site will provide parental control apps and advice to mothers and fathers worried about the explosion of dangerous apps that kids can access online. However, the team felt it was also important to use an introductory post to answer the many, many questions we receive about the illicit massage parlors and what exactly goes on there. Trafficking is taking place. This post will address this issue and the posts that follow will concentrate on the dangerous apps and how parents can protect their young ones.

The number of illicit U.S. massage parlors (an estimated 9,000) is 50 percent higher than the number of Starbucks. In south Florida, these spas are so plentiful that some open across the street from each other, and others are even in the same strip center. Their $2.5 Billion in estimated U.S. profits exceeds that of “LYFT” the drive-sharing business. This is not surprising since these parlors benefit from free labor. BOTH LABOR AND SEX TRAFFICKING INVOLVE COERCION, FORCE OR FRAUD.

As one reads and watches these videos it becomes obvious that the female “prostitutes” are in fact, sex slaves. In most cases, they are trapped within the parlors and forced to perform sexual services involuntarily. Many worker’s families are threatened with harm if the masseuse fails to comply with demands. The seedy start to this business runs through the “port” of Flushing NY (Queens).

The services are clandestine and sexual. Sadly, they even involve more money in exchange for sexual acts performed without a condom. Law enforcement is becoming more progressive in its views of trafficking. Yet there are still too many arrests of sex slaves who the law sees as prostitutes. The victims are re-victimized. The following video depicts the entrenched corruption at parlors as the Florida spa manager attempts to bribe her way out of trouble.

illicit massage parlors - human trafficking

The Operational Model

The Seller:

The sellers are the pimps and traffickers. They are the parlor managers and the tier bosses within the organized crime racket. The sellers exert control over the workers (trafficking victims/sex slaves) and the retail parlors are typically connected in groupings of 5 – 10. All tiers of the massage parlor trade are conspiratorial and organized in such a way as to make racketeering an operative charge. In some instances, tourist visas and fake massage licenses (cost = $40k) are secured for workers.

However, in most cases, passports are stripped and the trafficked women are moved around in the dark underworld of the illicit massage business. Few workers speak even a hundred words of English and they are moved around to cause disorientation. The workers typically work with great shame given how this line of work is perceived in many of their homelands. “Flushing is the center of this network,” said Lori Cohen, the director of Sanctuary for Families’ Anti-Trafficking Initiative, which has interviewed around 1,000 massage workers over the past five-six years.

Highlights gleaned from NY Times article below:

  • The sellers (pimps/traffickers) abscond with the money. Money has little to no value for the workers given their slave status. They have nowhere to spend money since they lack free will. Some spas also use surveillance cameras within the rooms to document the activities and collect money based on exchanges.
  • The vulnerability of the workers is indicative of the huge power imbalances leading to exploitation. No one is specifically looking for anyone worker.
  • Nearly all experts agree that legalizing the sale of sexual activity would only unburden the traffickers (and the johns are who rarely targeted). The imbalances of power would continue and the workers would still suffer. An apt comparison can be made using the legal strip club industry where women are routinely exploited. This continues to limit them and the industry they work in, oppressing them on all levels.
  • Have these women elevated themselves? Perhaps a better question to ask is “Have you ever met an older lady living in a beach-view condo who made her wealth through stripping?”

The Buyer:

The buyers are the johns. The demand from these men is seemingly never-ending. U.S. demand is bolstered by the fact that, for the first time ever, there are more single adults than married adults. Social scientists have observed that we are in the throes of a loneliness crisis spurred largely through social media (and of course the pandemic). We experience less face-to-face interaction. Fewer hugs. Less touch. Diminished intimacy. Skin hunger.

Patronage of massage parlors has also been fueled by ignorance. Very few buyers understand the parlors’ operational model nor do they recognize the extent to which workers are exploited. A common perception among johns is that they are engaging in a victimless crime and their tips for “services” help monetize the masseuses who stand to make less money working in their countries of origin.

The story dramatically shifts when the truth is understood. Awareness comes when the buyers learn that they are promoting sex slavery. Few buyers know how the pieces are connected. It stands to reason that patronage would decrease as men understand that sex trafficking (sex slavery) exists within these parlors. Simple economics demonstrates that supply exists to fulfill demand. No demand = No supply. In a perfect world, demand would be extinguished and the industry would close.

Part of the awareness process is recognition of the stakes for the johns. Arrests may include loss of one’s reputation, standing within a church, job loss, and even divorce. Given that the workers (trafficked victims) are servicing customers involuntarily – the arc of justice will at some point charge the johns with rape. The exchanges are not consensual.

Trafficking in Illicit Massage Parlors

The Product:

The commodities being sold are the sex services provided by masseuses (the trafficking victims) ranging from a $40 hands-on “happy ending” to whatever the client wishes to pay for. Cash is the driver. The workers, prior to arriving in the U.S., are most often lied to as to what to expect. Minimally, they expect to keep their tips if they understand they will be working as masseuses. Yet this is not the reality and it is important to note that fraud is one of the elements of trafficking.

The victims’ ages can range from 25-50. Many come to America with the hope to earn money for their families back home. Yet, it is these families that are threatened if they fail to carry out assigned duties. They face a cruel reality. Most women (90 %) come from China as well as Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines, Thailand, and Taiwan. Female workers face many obstacles to obtain freedom on their own. They generally speak only a few words of English. There is no community for them. They are terrified of the police. And they carry shame as they see themselves as prostitutes (despite being coerced and forced).

Informative Footnotes:

  • “Giveaway” signs of an illicit parlor can be found by extremely low door prices (to entice the johns), unpredictable and long hours, workers dressed in lingerie, and even the font (all caps) used on so many parlor signs.
  • The illicit massage parlors are not open, free, and inviting like legitimate spas. The opaque windows and old doorbells are not indicators of a genuine business. A front door cam is used to screen customers. Potential (innocent-minded) women customers are ignored.
  • Hot plates, stuffed refrigerators, and bed and blankets are hidden from the public. The cash is also stuffed in strange places (such as baby powder bottles).
  • The slaves/workers are terrified of law enforcement even though such authorities (if progressive) could lead to a ticket to freedom.
  • Victims are exploited via debt bondage from their traffickers and nefarious loan sharks.
  • The belief that these workers will ever be able to pay off debt is a canard. Phony asylum papers, work visas, and fake massage licenses come with a price.
  • Perpetrators of underage (18) victims are easier to arrest because sex with a minor represents a felony. The authorities only need to prove an event. The same is true of child porn because possession is a crime (among other aspects). However, prosecuting adult sex trafficking is far more difficult because a process must be proven and not just an act.

Be the YOU in WE and let’s make it “US”

Please join us… We ask for your continued help and support as we begin this vital journey to make “Trafficked Kids Matter.” The time to make a difference is now, especially during these unprecedented times. Let’s work together to stop these heinous crimes from ever happening to our children again.

As you may have seen on our homepage, our vision is to raise awareness and bring attention to the scourge of child sex trafficking by educating the community, providing vital resources, and advocating for the prevention of this horrific and unspoken travesty. We ask that you kindly consider partnering with us to make this all possible. Additionally, we are very committed and dedicated to providing you with valuable information and resources on our website, through our upcoming blogs and articles.

Thank you for visiting our new site and taking the time to read our initial informative blog. We will consistently be posting new materials and updating current information, such as special events and virtual forums, etc.

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