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Report: Human Trafficking Pervasive in Massage Parlors

By Sam Charles | Friday, December 7, 2012

According to a report published by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and Not In Our Name!, a group made up of massage therapists against sex trafficking, the culture of massage parlors is conducive to sex trafficking in the United States. A recent report by Center Square Journal identified several area massage parlors where sexual favors are allegedly offered by mainly East Asian immigrants.

Check a map of the reviewed massage parlors here.

“Human traffickers are using the massage industry as a cover and a way for sex trade customers to identify and connect with paid sex opportunities, often times with women who have no other choices,” the report stated.

The study, released earlier this year, concludes that one of the driving factors behind sex trafficking is the constant demand for it. “Johns,” those who pay for sexual favors, are driving the industry, the report said.

“This group constitutes the demand for sexual acts from women, men, transgendered individuals and children,” the report stated. “Purchasing sex is often an act of asserting power and control. Buying sex from another person dehumanizes the victim because it puts a price on a person’s self-worth.”

According to the report, In 2008, nearly 67 percent of prostitution-related arrests in Chicago were of prostituted people, 34 percent were of customers, and only 1 percent were of pimps.

“This approach fails to address the root cause of prostitution: the demand,” the report said.

Most of the massage parlors in Brown Line Media‘s coverage area operate out of smaller spaces, typically below residential spaces along busy streets.

According to the report, commercial front brothels that claim to specialize in Asian techniques operate by pretending to offer legitimate services (i.e. massages, acupuncture, etc.), but actually primarily provide commercial sex. The victims are most often Asian women, both documented and undocumented.

None of the six massage parlors in Brown Line Media‘s coverage area that allegedly offer sexual favors commented on the sites’ reviews.

All of the establishments in Roscoe View Journal and Center Square Journal‘s coverage area that allegedly offer clients sexual gratification also currently hold a Chicago Massage Establishment License, according to city records.

Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs is responsible for granting licenses and inspecting businesses that seek and are granted Massage Establishment Licenses. To acquire a license, massage parlor proprietors must be fingerprinted, pass a background check, employ only those with personal massage licenses and provide copies of all massage therapist licenses issued by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation for every employee or prospective employee. These inspections, according to the department website, are administered before the license is initially granted and every two years when the license is renewed, in addition to periodic random inspections.

According the department’s website, “Message establishment operators should not allow its employees, agents or independent contractors to touch, or offer or agree to touch the sexual or genital area of any person. Engaging in any of these acts makes the Massage Establishment licensee strictly liable for revocation or suspension of the license.”

The report acknowledged that trafficking may be difficult to see in the open, but there are several tell-tale signs of massage establishments that engage in human trafficking, such as:
  • Suggestive or blatantly sexual advertising.
  • An expired or nonexistent license.
  • Darkened, obstructed, or covered windows.
  • People coming and going at odd times.
  • Mostly male clientele utilizing the establishment.
  • Predominantly Asian women, of diverse ethnicities and nationalities, including Korean, Thai, Chinese, and ethnically Korean-Chinese citizens performing the services.

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