Whenever the topic of brothel’s disguised as massage businesses (aka illicit massage businesses/IMB’s) comes up, it is said that they are usually connected to issues of Human Trafficking.
In 2017, The Federation of Massage State Boards also created a report on human trafficking in the massage profession. (PDF)
It says that the impact of the problem on the massage profession is serious and extensive:
- It endangers therapists. In addition to all of the dangers inherent in humantrafficking, the association of massage therapy with prostitution or “happy endings” subjects therapists to assault, threats, harassment, and more subtleforms of intimidation;
- The cost of doing business rises due to increased exposure to safety risks andsecurity hazards;
Compromised reputations:Regulatory board responses may be viewed as inadequate or ineffective due to public perceptions of the nature and scope of the problem; Smaller massage establishments may suffer disproportionately. Larger massage franchise brands may be perceived as less likely to be involved in illicit activity; The presumption of illicit activity is prevalent and negatively affects bona fide professionals, schools and establishments;
- It encourages racial and ethnic profiling, as well as discrimination against certain groups; A substantial amount of fraud directed at massage therapy educational institutions, testing authorities, and state licensing boards is a problem that casts uncertainty on their ability to limit entry to qualified candidates;
- The necessity (and burden) of additional regulation and safety protections, such as: Increased application fees funding interventions to detect and prevent fraud and to support investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking; The high cost of ensuring that adequate security measures are in place for examinations to prevent cheating and item harvesting and to support legal action;
Multiple and overlapping regulatory requirements (local and state, professional and establishment);
- Establishment licensing requirements.
The Massage Profession Responds to the Federation of Massage State Boards Report
The following are our (ABMP and AMTA’s) basic objections to the report and its recommendations (from this post on the ABMP website):
- The opening sentence and paragraph of the Executive Summary imply that the massage therapy profession is infested with human trafficking, rather than reporting that human traffickers and prostitutes use the word ‘massage’ to bypass unenforced laws to conduct their illegal activities. Prostitutes and human traffickers are outside the massage therapy profession, not a part of it. They are using the good name of massage therapy to give a false appearance to their illegal activities. The implication of the report is that massage and the massage therapy profession are the problems, not human traffickers and prostitutes co-opting our profession.
- Human trafficking and prostitution are very different activities. This report does not adequately differentiate between them or how they each use the name of massage to hide their behavior.
- The report is filled with information that ignores FBI and Homeland Security data and lacks credible citations.
- In January 2013, the national UCR Program began collecting offense and arrest data regarding human trafficking as authorized by the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. The act requires the FBI to collect human trafficking offense data and to make distinctions between prostitution, assisting or promoting prostitution, and purchasing prostitution. The FSMTB report surprisingly does not address this data.
- Human trafficking is an issue to be primarily addressed by law enforcement. The FBI has stated: “Human trafficking, believed to be the third-largest criminal activity in the world, is a form of human slavery which must be addressed at the interagency level. The FBI works human trafficking cases under both its Civil Rights program and its Violent Crimes Against Children program. The majority of human trafficking victims in our cases are U.S. citizens, and we take a victim- centered approach in investigating such cases, which means that ensuring the needs of the victims take precedence over all other considerations.”
The Polaris Project: Human Trafficking in the Massage Profession
In 2017, the Polaris Project created a report on the issues of Human Trafficking in the Massage Profession. It was posted on their website for a long time, but has now been taken off but you can still read it on archihttps://web.archive.org/web/20180118005525/https://polarisproject.org/massage-parlor-trafficking-reportve.org In their executive summary they found that there were more than 9,000 of what they are calling illicit massage businesses open in the US witha total annual revenue of $2.5 Billion a year. The women recruited into these businessess that Polaris refers to as “massage parlors “(which are mostly brothel’s disguised as massage parlors) have recently arrived from China or South Korea and have debts and extreme financial pressures and are also mothers who are trying to care for their child/children. Most do not speak english meaning it complicates matters even more. They are threatened with deportation and crimes against their families.
The Polaris Project has created Model Legislation Resources
We also have a Critical Review of the Polaris Report by Deborah Kimmet of LMTBodyPolitic.com who provides this in depth look at the Polaris Report. (Haven’t seen any from our professional associations)
“The Polaris Report puts forward a narrative that is extremely damaging to the massage therapy profession in its quest to help the victims of human trafficking. Starting with how Polaris names this criminal enterprise (illicit massage businesses), Polaris’ implicit bias against the profession associates the legal practice of massage therapy with the sex trade rather than separating the profession from the sex trade. The false narrative continues by treating themassage therapy profession as part of the problem,rather than as a healthcare profession that is a victim of the problem. This is evidenced by their explanation supporting an unfeasible and ineffective regulatory scheme.”
- Ask the Federation of Massage State Boards to create a task force to investigate the problem and find the real number of brothels disguised as massage businesses that are involved in trafficking.
- Ask ABMP, AMTA, NCBTMB, AFMTE to get involved.
- Create task forces in each State, City, County to investigate the problem and find solutions.
- Human Trafficking is a law enforcement issue. Let the law enforcement officials handle things.
- Create an advocacy program to promote massage. Massage is Therapy.
- Reclaim our Name Initiative.
Human Trafficking and Massage Therapy Resources
Scoping Document – Untangling Massage, Human Trafficking and Prostituion. Deborah Kimmet
Part 3: A Critical Review of the Polaris Report “Human Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses” Deborah Kimmet,M.S., LMT, CETMB, BCTMB
ABMP – Where do we go from here? Les Sweeney. ABMP’s article written after the murders in Atlanta.
For Massage Schools – Sex Trafficking in State-Authorized Massage Schools (PDF): A Case Study. Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation
A Toolkit for Identifying Human Trafficking and Fraud in Higher Education Lorna Candler, J.D. and Debra Persinger, Ph.D. Summer 2022
Un-Licensed: Asian Migrant Massage Licensure and the Racialized Policing of Poverty Report from RedCannarySong.com This is a prime example of how the words massage are being used when in fact it is a sex worker business. We need to Reclaim our Name.
Is This Human Trafficking? We can never really know just from looking at a business whether it is involved in human trafficking or not. There are some tell-tale signs that there might be illegal activity going on. Human Trafficking issues are also different than the issue of Sexually Oriented Businesses disguised as massage businesses.