January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month. I started reading my Google Alerts Newsfeeds I have set up for the words Massage, Illicit Massage Business and Massage Parlor. I have been reading websites like the Polaris Project, The Blue Campaign (DHSH) and found some very interesting organizations like the Safe House Project who are talking about things like whether or not prostitution should be decriminalized or not to help solve the problems of human trafficking.
I did some research trying to find the number of brothels disguised as massage businesses and how many of those businesses are actually involved in human trafficking. We really don’t know. The 2021 Report from the Polaris Project says: 7% of their calls were from ‘massage parlors/spas”. Are all brothels involved in human trafficking? We really don’t know.
The Human Trafficking Institute’s (HTI) annual Federal Human Trafficking Report (“The Report”) provide a review of human trafficking prosecutions in U.S. federal courts.
“Since the enactment of the TVPA in 2000, there have been 151 criminal forced labor cases filed. Within those cases, 136 had at least one known business model in a specified industry. The industries identified in these cases were domestic work (48%, 65), agriculture/farming (13%, 18), restaurant/food service (10%, 14), construction (4%, 5), bar/club/cantina (4%, 5), manufacturer/factory (3%, 4), hotel/hospitality (3%, 4), beauty services (3%, 4), medical/health services (1%, 2), retail (1%, 2), massage parlors (1%, 1), and other industries (9%, 12)”
As I learn more and more about human trafficking and see how the massage profession has gotten itself so entangled with prostitution, I come back to the fact that the human trafficking issue is so complicated and involves cartels and gangs owning the businesses. It involves sex workers who sometimes say that is what they want to be doing and that they should have rights too. This is a societal issue that needs to be addressed by society. The massage profession has tried to stop the entanglement in many ways. First it was creating massage associations to try to elevate the profession and try to separate massage therapists. That has never worked.
We tried State Licensing and now almost all states are licensed except for MN, KS, WY and CA is a mess with their voluntary certification method. Most states that have licensing have laws that say only a MT that is licensed (went to massage school for X amount of hours, passed the state licensing exam, passed a background check, is of good morale character) can call themeslves a massage therapist and that does nothing to stop brothels from calling what they do massage. The media does not help the issue by calling the brothels Massage Palors or Illicit Massage Businesses.
States are creating establishment licensing laws which allows law enforcement agencies to inspect massage businesses further making it the issue of the massage profession to fix. We have no studies or data to show if it is working or not. In some ways it doesn’t matter if it is working or not—Massage therapy is healthcare. It makes everyone treat us differently.
A city in my area created a nuisance law and that shut down a bunch of places but I just checked rubmaps . ch and they are back in high numbers.
What is the answer?
I really don’t know at this point. Right now the only thing we can do is start changing the narrative one news story at a time. That is what I am doing on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram Accounts.
I am hoping to get information from The Convening that happened in CA last month as to whether or not there is some sort of law that could be passed that would help make it so people cannot use the words Massage or Massage Therapy unless they are licensed or how to enforce the laws we do have regarding this. Most states massage laws say that it can’t be used by unlicensed people but the state boards are unable to investigate, prosectute and stop the many brothels using the terms. The laws we have are civil laws and not criminal laws.