Illicit massage parlors are a growing issue in the realm of human trafficking and are easily disguisable in society, making this type of crime difficult to notice. Educating oneself on the signs, how to report an incident safely, and how to take measures through policy and legislation are the first steps in tackling this widespread issue.
Recently, O.U.R. teamed up with Agape International Missions (AIM) and local law enforcement to help with an investigation in Siem Reap. l. On October 19th, 2021, AIM SWAT assisted local police with shutting down a brothel disguised as a massage parlor. Two minor girls and one adult female survivors were were freed during this operation..
The girls are currently receiving care at a partnered aftercare shelter providing any holistic services they may need, and the adult female has been transferred to a social affairs office to receive care. The suspect has been arrested and will await trial while in prison. O.U.R. and AIM will continue to offer services and any additional needs for the survivors involved in the case. For more details on the entire story, click here.
These massage businesses attempt to hide their commercial sex operations by posing as legitimate massage businesses. According to “Fake Massage Business At a Glance,” published by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), fake or illicit massage businesses claim to offer legitimate services while operating as a brothel behind closed doors. These illicit parlors provide commercial sex to customers through massage and other services.
While “happy ending massage” is a phrase often heard in jest, its true meaning has much darker undertones; it refers to the instances of sexual exploitation and human trafficking occurring at illicit massage parlors. The use of these massage parlors for sexual exploitation and human trafficking is growing in both size and scale, due to the disguisable nature of the crime. While not all illicit massage parlors are conducting human trafficking practices, according to the 2019 Data Report of the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, illicit massage parlors were the second most common identified type of sex trafficking (Polaris, 2019). According to Polaris’s research, there were more than 9,000 illicit massage parlors open for business in 2018 in America, and they were reported in every state.
Not all massage parlors are conducting illegal activity, which is why being aware of the key characteristics of fraudulent business is imperative. The varying differences between a normal massage parlor and one that is offering sexual services is as follows, according to the NHTRC:
Characteristics of an illicit massage parlor:
Reporting a massage parlor in question is a delicate matter, and should never be handled by the individual alone. It is not recommended to enter the massage parlor in question under any circumstances, nor to attempt to question those in the facility or draw attention by posting about it online or protesting outside. These acts can endanger those being held hostage at the establishment, and will not have the intended results. Rushing to call the police to alert the authorities can have unintended consequences, due to the fact that most of these massage parlors are a part of an organized crime network. Calling to report on one location could have unforeseen consequences, as the trafficker will most likely move the individuals to another location. In some instances, local authorities may not be well trained in human trafficking cases and will arrest the individuals under charges of prostitution instead.
Instead, it’s recommended that you should call the National Human Trafficking Hotline if you suspect a location may be an illicit parlor (1-888-373-7888). In addition, Polaris suggests that to have more of an impact on this widespread issue, it would be beneficial for the public to ask local legislators to pass stronger business regulations that would benefit those being trafficked. One such regulation would be to ask legislators to have customers enter the business through an unlocked door as opposed to a high-security entrance. This type of regulation enforced in massage parlors would be an extreme detriment to those conducting illegal activity, as they prefer to do business in private. It is also encouraged to contact your city or county council members to voice your concerns on the issue of human trafficking in massage parlors, and to attend a council meeting. (Polaris, 2018).