In a recent report, Polaris, an organization and national leader in combating human trafficking, detailed how this extremely widespread and lucrative industry operates on the edges of legality, while hiding massive criminal human trafficking enterprises behind its doors.
• There are more than 9,000 illicit massage businesses currently open for business in America, hiding in plain sight in strip malls, dotting the sides of highways, and on busy commercial strips in every state. These are very specific types of establishments that have unique identifying features.
• The Polaris analysis suggests that total annual revenue of illicit massage businesses in the United States hovers around $2.5 billion annually.
Commonly called massage parlors, illicit massage businesses (IMBs) that front for commercial sex operations have been ubiquitous in the American landscape for decades. While some keep a low profile, many others blatantly advertise “Asian gals,” or bear sexualized names like “Good Girl Spa.”
In 2017, Polaris analyzed more than 32,000 cases of human trafficking from the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) and developed a classification system that identifies 25 distinct types of human trafficking in the United States. For more click here.
Trafficking related to massage parlors accounted for 2,949 cases. However, the data from the NHTH almost certainly does not represent anything close to the scope of the problem. By its very nature, human trafficking is a difficult, if not impossible, crime to quantify with precision. Traffickers operate in the shadows, and the tools they use to exploit victims are such that the victims themselves often do not know that what is happening to them is against the law.
There may be women who choose to sell sex either along with or under the guise of massage therapy, but evidence suggests that many of the thousands of women engaging in commercial sex in massage parlors are victims of human trafficking.
Indicators that a massage parlor is engaging in commercial sex and potential human (sex or labor) trafficking include:
• Prices significantly below market-level (e.g. $40 for a one hour massage in a city where $80 is the norm)
• Locked front door, customers can only enter if buzzed in, or enter through back or side
• Windows are covered so passersby cannot see into the establishment
• Women appear to be living in the establishment
Read the Polaris Report