Human Trafficking in Massage Parlors

There are thousands of illicit massage parlors engaging in human trafficking across the country. We call these ‘Exploitation Parlors.’ The language might seem a bit over the top, but it is vital that we change the narrative and public perception from "innocent prostitution" to what is actually happening: the trafficking of unwilling and unknowing women.

What’s really happening

1. The Criminal Enterprise

  • This is a sophisticated yet loosely organized international criminal network importing thousands of women into the United States annually.
  • Individual Exploitation Parlors share victims across state lines.
  • A single courier services many Exploitation Parlors in a single city, moving victims as well as moving and depositing cash receipts (“structured” deposits).
  • There is no “kingpin” or mob boss in charge.
  • The legal risks fall primarily on the victims.

2. The Victims

  • The victims are afraid of the police and afraid of being arrested.
  • Victims typically only encounter law enforcement when they are arrested for prostitution.
  • Victims normally don’t speak English and cannot articulate the elements of coercion.
  • Victims are seldom willing to relay the details of their exploitation to an arresting officer.
  • Victims are afraid to shame themselves and their family by being deported or prosecuted.
  • Victims are quickly psychologically broken by habitual sexual exploitation and come to accept this work as their new reality.
  • Victims are moved from city to city on periodic basis, minimizing their chances to build relational networks or to make contacts in the community.

3. The Crime

  • Upon arriving in the US, victims are indebted to the traffickers, typically in amounts of $50,000 or more.
  • Victims pay $7,000 to the traffickers to facilitate the purchase of an entry visa to the US.
  • Victims continue to accrue debt through “advances” from Exploitation Parlor owners for casino visits, restaurant meals and expensive accessories (e.g. high-end handbags).

4. The Exploitation Parlors

  • Security. Front door is normally locked, with buzzer and exterior video cameras. A visitor normally can’t enter the facility unscreened or unchallenged.
  • Privacy. Front windows are almost always blacked out or covered in curtains.
  • Front Business. The Exploitation Parlor claims to be a legitimate massage studio, a health spa or a “lingerie modeling” studio. The Exploitation Parlor may even have some health-related equipment on the premises to lend a veneer of legitimacy.
  • Men only. Exploitation Parlors pretending to be massage studios rarely provide massages to women.
  • Living quarters. Unless clearly prohibited by local ordinance, victims work, eat, and sleep on site, rarely ever leaving the facility. When they do leave, they are monitored by a courier or manager of the Exploitation Parlor.