Trafficking at Illicit Massage Parlors Hidden in Plain Sight

Posted by on January 31, 2018 in Research

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A new report from Polaris reveals an estimated 9,000 illicit massage businesses across the country, where vulnerable women are bought for sex in thinly veiled brothels. The report found that sex buyers pour around $2.5 billion in revenue into this industry annually, with the proceeds supporting organized criminal networks. It also states that women trafficked in massage parlors are usually immigrants from Asia who speak limited English, have little education, are under extreme financial pressure, and are victims of force, fraud or coercion.

Buyers who frequent illicit massage businesses generally reflect the demographics of their communities and come from all walks of life.The ease of patronizing these establishments—which provide protection and anonymity for buyers—allows demand for commercial sex to flourish.

Police are trying to prosecute operators of erotic massage parlors, but it’s difficult. The Boston Globe examined illicit massage businesses in Massachusetts, where a loophole permits illicit massage parlor owners to classify their industry as “bodyworks,” which is legal. Boston Police Department Lieutenant Donna Gavin said these brothels are part of a large organized crime network.

“It’s a big industry and a lot of people are making a lot of money,” she told WNYC.

While a multisector approach is needed to address the harm caused by these enterprises, one important solution is for police to conduct stings to go after sex buyers who drive the demand.

Read the Massage Parlor Trafficking report from Polaris »