Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Massage Parlors and Sex Trafficking: Hiding in Plain Sight

An update from the Chicago Sun-Times just came to our attention: “The lawyer who caused a mistrial after a masseuse testifying for the prosecution recognized him as a client – is officially off the case.”

You may remember that a witness in the sex trafficking case recognized the defense attorney as being one of her clients at the massage parlor. Although the attorney admitted to receiving massages from the witness and making an error by not disclosing this sooner, he said that there was never a sex act or inappropriate behavior during his visits.

Let’s take him at his word. No matter what happened, trafficking can indeed hide in plain sight. Businesses like massage parlors can easily become fronts for exploitation, which means they have a special role in preventing that sort of harm from occurring. And the men who were patrons at that massage parlor may not have realized that they were potentially supporting sex trafficking. The elements of force, fraud or coercion that define trafficking are not always apparent. But certainly, there are men in Chicagoland who do buy sex at massage parlors.

So what can we do to stop sex trafficking? CAASE believes that the answer involves addressing the customers who create demand for the commercial sex trade. According to the Polaris Project:
  • "Johns" who frequent brothels disguised as massage parlor make it a "hobby" to buy sex and to track all massage parlors nationwide.  There are more than 5,000 brothels disguised as massage parlors nationwide.
  • Standard pricing structure: Johns pay a house fee of $60 - $90 per half hour or hour plus they occasionally pay tips; the women are pressured to "please the customer" in order to receive tips.  These unpredictable tips are the women's sole source of income to pay the numerous fees and interest rates they are charged by the network.
  • Standard day for a woman in a brothel disguised as a massage parlor: 10am – 2 or 3am, 7 days a week
  • Estimated average number of men a woman must have sex with daily: 6 -10
Certainly, there are many legitimate massage businesses in Chicago. You can double check by asking if they are licensed and watching for signs of trafficking.

If you suspect that prostitution is happening at a nail spa, massage parlor, strip club or other business, you can report the exploitation by calling the National Human Trafficking hotline:1-888-3737-888. CAASE encourages responses that address customers, pimps and traffickers.

We are interested to see what happens with this sex trafficking case as it unfolds, and we hope that discussion about this issue will ALWAYS include the johns who drive demand for trafficked people.

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