How are Massage Parlors Linked with Human Trafficking?


How are Massage Parlors Linked with Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is an evil phenomenon that resembles modern-day slavery, and the massage industry is one of the hardest-hit businesses in the United States. Illicit massage parlors are so common in the United States that most people may find one within a short driving distance. If you don’t know how to spot the symptoms, the link between illegal massage parlors and human trafficking can be tough. Unfortunately, most of what appears to be respectable businesses are not exactly what they claim to be.

Unlike medical establishments that use physical touch as part of diagnosis or treatment, massage parlors are not governed by tight regulatory regulations. Even though massage therapy is a legal profession with many professionally educated therapists, the industry’s uniquely private and intimate nature encourages all kinds of boundary-crossing from “therapy” to “pleasure.” After all, they’re called “parlors” and “spas” rather than “clinics” for a reason.

The secrecy and ambiguity of massage parlors make it more difficult for law enforcement to catch people trafficking. Women who work in such facilities are typically trained (through threats or violence) to avoid communicating with the authorities and often refuse to cooperate with their legal counsel.

Because of these “favorable” circumstances and the lack of stringent (or any) zoning rules in some locations, a massage parlor can be used by criminals as a front for not only sex work but also other black-market activities such as money laundering.

If you don’t know how to spot the symptoms, the link between illegal massage parlors and human trafficking can be tough. Unfortunately, most of what appears to be respectable businesses are not exactly what they claim to be. Sex trafficking, labor trafficking, conspiracy, immigration fraud, and money laundering are all crimes involved in human trafficking.

The signs that massage parlors are linked with human trafficking are many. Look out for them if you are thinking of getting a massage.

Some symptoms of human trafficking in massage parlors include

  • They give any sexual or erotic services or advertise on illegal websites.
  • The suppliers are dressed pretty casually.
  • They refuse to provide service to women.
  • To get into the business, you must buzz in.
  • Providers are not permitted to manage their funds.
  • The service providers speak little or no English.
  • The employees/providers live in the parlor.
  • All of the windows have been covered or blacked out.
  • The providers ride together to and from the parlor and reside in the same neighborhood.
  • Providers are only present for a short time, and new ones appear weekly or monthly.

Look out for these symptoms if you want to get a massage done. What exactly is human trafficking before going to details on massage parlors.

Recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer, or receipt of persons for exploitation through the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person. 

Sex trafficking occurs when a commercial sex act is induced through force, deception, or coercion or when the person compelled to do the act is under eighteen. There are some types of human trafficking. Sex trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage are the three most common types of human trafficking. According to the US Department of State, forced labor, also known as involuntary servitude, is the world’s largest source of human trafficking. Another type of human trafficking is debt bondage, in which a person is forced to work to repay a debt.

Massage parlor sex trafficking has fast become one of the most common ways we observe girls and women sex trafficked. In establishments that appear as legal massage or bodywork establishments, massage parlor trafficking is in plain sight. We choose to ignore it. Therefore it endures. We aren’t doing anything to impact change, whether we are aware of what’s going on or want to act as if we aren’t.

It’s difficult to overlook what’s happening in these Massage Parlors when you know what’s happening. The women trafficked at massage parlors, according to Polaris Project, are usually immigrants from China or South Korea, mothers between the ages of 35 and 55 who are looking for a way to support their families. The traffickers frequently lie to them or substantially mislead them about the type of job they would be doing once they arrive in the United States.

“Once they’re at the massage parlor, traffickers use a combination of deception and extortion to tighten their grip” (see additional means of control below). A woman who speaks little English, whose identification documents are in the hands of traffickers, whose finances are under their control, and who has been transported by traffickers to an unfamiliar location is told she has the “choice” of providing commercial sex or leaving taking care of herself.

Victims of massage business trafficking are unlikely to self-identify as trafficking victims to authorities or service providers due to their severely twisted sense of “choice” and chronic emotions of shame. To comprehend this dynamic and support victims while conducting thorough investigations that ultimately hold the traffickers accountable, properly trained care providers and law enforcement officials are required.

Like other human rights violations, trafficking in massage parlors appears to be a problem far too large and insurmountable for regular folks to address. However, there are important ways that we can assist law enforcement in shutting down these illegal businesses and ending human trafficking in our communities.

Learning the distinction between reputable massage clinics and human trafficking hotspots is a critical step in combating human trafficking in massage parlors. Being able to distinguish between the two has two major benefits

  1. You can avoid helping financially to human traffickers by learning how to recognize legitimate massage clinics.
  2. You can report a massage parlor acting as a cover for human trafficking to the authorities, assisting them in their continuous fight to eradicate this contemporary form of slavery


Caregivers and Parents, Learn how human traffickers target and recruit children and who to contact for assistance in potentially dangerous situations. Organize community talks about child safety in your town involving parent-teacher associations, law enforcement, schools, and community people.