The many businesses that disguise themselves as sex workers (Brothel’s, Prostitutes) can also be hiding a more hideous crime – human trafficking. Sexually oriented businesses disguised as massage business can be also just that – sex businesses. They hide behind the terms Asian Masssage/Spa, Asian Thai Massage, Foot Massage Spas, Nuru Massage (not real massage), Prostrate Massage and are inaccurately referred to as illicit massage businesses and massage parlors. That is actually part of the problem. The media and even legislators keep referring to these places using the word massage when in fact they are NOT licensed massage professionals. In most states, massage therapists attend massage school, pass a state licensing exam and background check before being allowed to call themselves a massage business or massage therapist.
Is This A Human Trafficking Situation?
There is no way to tell if a business is involved in human trafficking without a complete investigation by law enforcement officials. These are some of the things that we have found to be associated with the brothels that are disguising themselves as massage businesses which may or may not be involved in human trafficking.
Loopholes in the Laws Allow Brothels to Continue to Disguise Their Business as Massage.
Law enforcement officials around the country have noticed an increase in businesses like “reflexology spas”, offering services such as a “full body reflexology massage”. Businesses that offer this type of service are questionable from our professional standpoint. There is no such thing as a full body reflexology massage, as Reflexology treatments occur on hands, feet, and ears only.
Unfortunately, because of a loophole in the laws, Reflexology and Energy Work does not fall under the rules governing massage therapy. Because of this, sadly, many of these venues opening up are questionable as to both the quality of service as well as the source of the labor. Any massage should only be provided by a Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist. While we recognize there are legitimate Reflexology practitioners throughout the state, we can’t help but wonder why we also are noticing a rapid increase of these businesses throughout North Carolina.
Are you wondering about the typical signs to look for when trying to decide if a reflexology or foot spa is legitimate or not?
Asian Massage Spas are also usually disguises for Sexually Oriented Businesses. True Asian Massage Therapists will use specific terminology that describes their type of massage. You can learn more about the various types of Asian Massage Therapy on www.massagechangeslives.com
Recognize the Signs (example from North Carolina
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1. Did You Know?
Trafficking In Touch Services Is Big Business and Big $. We can show you why it won’t stop with NC Massage & Bodywork
Therapy Establishment Licensure (EL).
Traffickers are transforming…
2. Things Change, and Things Remain the Same
Before Oct 2017
Massage and Bodywork protected wording such as Deep Tissue, Swedish, Tui Na
After March 2018
Wording for services not regulated by LMBT but still body related such as Reflexology, Thai, Spa Bath, Restructuring,
Closed curtains, flashing open sign, dark corner, frequently visited shopping center, front and back entrance, tinted van parked with license plate away and facing a field, location closed multiple times, “closed permanently” on Google Maps but remains open at location and advertising online elsewhere such as rubmaps. Sign on building never taken down by building owner. Activities reported repeatedly to the board and to antitrafficking sites like National Human Trafficking Hotline.
3. Trafficking is Closer To You Than You Think
In shopping centers across the US, touch trafficking’s continued effects on public safety:
- Luxury day spas catering to the feet and hands
- Foot spas and Foot Rub Centers
- Reflexology centers
- Mall “Reflexology” in a chair (formerly known as Chair Massage)
- Nail and foot pedicure places
- Customers unaware that they are serviced by trafficked individuals
- Questionable or untraceable ownership
- Children and women vulnerable to being taken by traffickers who may be lurking and looking for unaware and vulnerable people
- Keeps traffickers in business even when sex trafficking were to become more difficult
- Hidden in plain sight
- Curtained off store fronts next to grocery stores
- Advertise foot relaxation techniques
- Advertise full body reflexology
- Attractive to seedy types who may put a child or young woman’s life at risk who might be walking around the shopping center
- Owners of buildings typically involved with long standing locations
4. Signs of Potential Labor Trafficking
What Labor Trafficking* Touch Services Looks Like:
- All types of neighborhood shopping centers (not seedy)
- Blend in with public’s perception of normal business
- Upper end atmosphere
- No mention of licensees on the site
- Pick up and move or change “management”
- No assumed name paperwork with county or secretary of state
- Managers change and owner never around
- Professional websites, (massage keywords likely to be removed soon but Reflexology will stay)
- More emboldened on sub sites such as Facebook. Here they are giving the impression that they are a massage service.
*Labor Trafficking: Only police and investigative authorities can determine if a place is involved in labor trafficking. Don’t assume, but definitely report all instances where touch services are not given by Licensed Massage & Bodywork Therapists or Cosmetologists.
5. More Signs of Potential Labor Trafficking
What Labor Trafficking* Touch Services Looks Like:
* Let the authorities decide: Only authorities can determine if a place is involved in labor trafficking. Don’t assume, but definitely report all instances where touch services are not given by Licensed Massage & Bodywork Therapists or Cosmetologists.
6. Common Signs of Sex Trafficking
What Sex Trafficking* Will Continue To Look Like:
- Same old look, different service name. Massage will be removed from direct advertising.
- Services will imply touch but will be more subtle. Any unregulated word that implies touch will be used.
- Advertise via any social media site or sex site. Use coded words. Will continue despite some sites being shut down. Many businesses have pages on Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter, and other social media sites.
- Posters with energy work (Chinese medicine, Reflexology). These are unregulated touch services.
*Sex Trafficking: Only authorities can determine if a location is involved in trafficking. Report all instances where touch services are disguised in any manner. Do not approach or assume, but definitely report.
7. More Common Signs of Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking cont…
- Continued use of symbols depicting massage such as bamboo, spa, hot stones, head massage, spa arrangement
- Unwelcoming to general public but not so run down to call attention.
8. Show Me The Money
$ In Trafficking Businesses:
- Untraceable Owners
- Frequently change management but will not tell you who the owner is
- Vague about who provides the services
- No DBA or assumed name certificate or assumed name certificate is different than what is advertised or different than building signage
- Credit card receipts have different business name or no business name at all
- No LLC or INC paperwork or if they do the business has dissolved, owner has moved, or phone number no longer works
- Contract labor or forced labor
Massage Therapist Note To Regulators:
Establishment Licensure requires us to report suspicious places to the board (if the board finds out we knew and did not report, we lose our license). The problem with this is the board puts our safety as a citizen at risk because it does not give us the option to report anonymously or assurance that our name will remain out of the hands of traffickers or other bad actors. This policy puts us in danger of retribution by the traffickers or other bad actors.
Human Trafficking is different than Sex Work/Prostitution
While human trafficking is a very big problem around the world and in the US, the massage profession also has the problem of being confused for sex work/prostitution. These are two separate problems that often are entwined. Human trafficking is an issue for law enforcement and legislation to deal with. Hiding a brothel in a massage business has caused many issues for the massage profession. We are faced with daily requests for sex work, when massage is therapy. Massage is NOT Sex Work. We have had to make many changes in the way we practice in order to stay safe while practicing massage therapy. Laws have been made that require massage therapists to have to have criminal background checks, have photo licenses hanging on office walls, limit the use of the words massage, massage therapy and other words to only licensed massage therapists, yet the problem persists.
The media, legislators and law enforcement often refer to these places as massage parlors or illicit massage businesses. The are NOT Massage anything! They are brothels disguised as massage businesses. Call them what they are.
The Polaris Project reported that there were over 9,000 illicit massage businesses (IMBs) across the United States, victims are forced into human trafficking. According to Polaris research, these businesses are often organized into criminal networks with revenues of around $2.5 billion a year. This data has not been confirmed and it is thought to be inaccurate. A more thorough study needs to be done on the number of brothels doing business as massage therapists and how many are actually involved in human trafficking. Here is a critical review of the Polaris Project’s work to start the process.
Indicators that a place might be suspected as a brothel :
- Prices significantly below market-level (e.g. $40 for a one hour massage in a city where $80 is the norm)
- Windows are covered so passersby cannot see into the establishment
- Regular rotation of women; new women coming in every several weeks
- Advertising on commercial sex websites like Rubmaps.com, Backpage.com, or aampmaps.com
- Licensing and regulation of these businesses is an easily exploitable patchwork of state and local laws and ordinances that allows this blatantly illegal industry to survive and thrive in such a public way. This is in part due to the variation of these regulations across locations.
Reclaim Our Name Initiative
Untangling Massage Therapy from Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOB’s), aka massage parlors, illicit massage businesses begins with correcting the language being used. If people in local neighborhoods understood that these places had nothing to do with massage, it would be a different story.
Untangling Massage from Sex Workers and Human trafficking will take some time. It has been going on for a very long time.
See also: Human Trafficking and the Massage Profession for ideas and a plan on how to stop this confusion.