Victims of massage parlor trafficking are described as “new immigrants with debts and no language skills,” according to Thomson Reuters Foundation. Recent Chinese or South Korean immigrant mothers who speak little or no English and are burdened by debt are targeted in the lucrative scheme.
The illegal massage parlor business has become the second largest U.S. human trafficking industry after escort services, according to the study, which was the first to publicly announce that the estimated value of this illicit industry is approximately $2.5 billion a year, according to Rochelle Keyhan, the report’s lead author.
Sex slaves can be found working in some 9,000 massage parlors located along highways and behind storefronts in strip malls throughout the country.
New York and California have been identified as the main ports of entry for recruits. They are often are lured by acquaintances promising a legitimate job, the report revealed. Once they arrive in the U.S., the women are threatened to keep quiet and moved from location to location.
According to the Reuters report:
Globally, human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, according to the International Labour Organization. That figure includes profits from sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Polaris said it reviewed some 3,000 cases and interviewed law enforcement and survivors.
Rooting out trafficking rings behind operations hiding in plain sight would require the public learning to decode signs of illicit setups, it said.
Those signs might include surveillance cameras, entrances equipped with door buzzers, covered windows or female staff serving customers at odd hours, Polaris said.
Also helping in the fight would be higher public awareness of the crime, Keyhan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Unfortunately the dominant narrative around this type of trafficking is that it’s all consensual,” she said.
Laws governing massage parlors are riddled with loopholes that allow for criminal operations, Polaris said.
The Washington-based group cited San Francisco, which regulates hours of operation of massage businesses, as taking a positive step. The move resulted in the closing of more than 100 massage parlors, it said.
Globally, more than 40 million people are victims of human trafficking, according to the ILO. An estimated 4 million of them are forced into sexual exploitation.