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 human trafficking, the association of massage therapy with prostitution or “happy endings” subjects therapists to assault, threats, harassment, and more subtle forms of intimidation;
- The cost of doing business rises due to increased exposure to safety risks and security 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 archive.org https://web.archive.org/web/20180118005525/https://polarisproject.org/massage-parlor-trafficking-report 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 with a total annual revenue of $2.5 Billion a year. The women recruited into these businesses 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 which really is damaging to the massage profession in that it keeps us tangled up with the many sex workers using massage as a front for their business. They coined the term “Illicit Massage Business” which implies that these are indeed massage therapists and not sexually oriented businesses diguised as massage. This makes massage therapists and the massage profession part of the problem which we are not (except for the very few bad massage therapists who do sexually assault their clients.)
The fight against human trafficking is not the massage professions problem as ABMP and AMTA have said. What we do need to do is make sure that the many state and local task forces on human trafficking are informed of our work, licensing procedures, background checks and other things to help untangle massage from prostitution/human trafficking.
- Human trafficking and prostitution are two different things yet there is no data on the number of these businesses that are involved in human trafficking or just prostitution. We need to make sure the authorities get that data to help us be more informed.
- We need to be working with the authorities like Homeland Security, FBI and State/Local task forces on human trafficking to be informed of their work and to work on untangling massage from these crimes to preserve our name.
- Law enforcement is not doing their job of investigating and prosecuting those who are unlicensed and going under the guise of massage. There seems to be some disconnect in this process that needs to be corrected. Many state laws make it a civil issue and many also have laws that state that it is a misdemeanor of some level. See Penalties for Unlicensed Massage.
- Ordinances are being made in cities/towns/counties that make us once again the bad guys requiring inspections, putting sanctions on working hours and other factors that limit massage businesses. Reading some of the ordinances make it sound like it is massage therapists that are the prostitutes and they are NOT.
- Establishment licensing is being implemented which also limits massage businesses and makes massage therapist out to be the bad guys. These licenses have not been researched to find out if they are working or not.
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.
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.
Hands OFF Our Name – Massage is Therapy. Massage is NOT Sex Work