Thursday, March 7, 2019

Prosecuting customers in the fight against sex trafficking of illegal immigrants in American massage parlors

Recent headlines from an investigation into sex trafficking have included the arrests of high profile customers, which may do more to limit the market than targeting massage parlor brothels and those who work in them and operate them.

Here's a NY Times headline that has garnered more attention than most prostitution investigations:

Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Charged in Florida Prostitution Investigation
"Robert K. Kraft, the billionaire owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, was charged on Friday with two counts of soliciting sex as part of a wide-ranging investigation into prostitution and suspected human trafficking in South Florida.

"The charges against Mr. Kraft, 77, in Jupiter, Fla., came after the police used video surveillance to observe activity inside several day spas and massage parlors. The police said that the parlors had been used for prostitution and that many of the women involved were considered to be victims."
And here's a followup story that describes the working conditions, which are themselves violations of American labor laws. But the sex workers are in no position to seek help from the law, since they are vulnerable twice over, first as illegal immigrants (who have typically entered on a short term visa and overstayed) and second as illegal sex workers (although they can be counted as crime victims rather than as criminals in some investigations of trafficking).

Behind Illicit Massage Parlors Lie a Vast Crime Network and Modern Indentured Servitude

"The frequently middle-aged women who work in parlors with names like Orchids of Asia and Rainbow Spa are often struggling to pay off high debts to family members, loan sharks, labor traffickers and lawyers who help them file phony asylum claims. In some cases, their passports are taken and their illegal immigration status keeps them further in the shadows, with some of them rotated every 10 days to two weeks between spas operated by the same owners. Forced to pay for their own supplies and even their own condoms, many women must sleep on the same massage tables where they service customers and cook on hot plates in cramped kitchens or on back steps.
"Law enforcement officials said there were an estimated 9,000 illicit massage parlors across the country, from Orlando to Los Angeles.
"The women are paid just a sliver of the $60 or more the client pays for an hourlong massage. Their real money — and chance at a better life — comes in the form of tips, which they are encouraged or forced to amplify through illegal means.
"The ubiquity of the massage parlors offers an accessibility and sheen of normalcy not offered by traditional brothels. And as the massage parlors have expanded even into small-town America in recent years, meticulously detailed review sites like Rubmaps have served as the Yelp and Foursquare of the illicit parlor business, with graphic anatomical descriptions of the women and explicit breakdowns of the sexual services proffered.
"A federal law enforcement official...said that the most common method for smuggling women from Asian countries was either a fraudulent tourist visa or a fraudulent work visa, such as for nursing work.
"One reason the Asian massage parlors remain so poorly understood is the extreme reluctance of the women to speak with the police and even with their own lawyers.
"Some fear retaliation by traffickers to their families in China, and some feel morally indebted to those who helped find them a job, said Chris Muller, the director of training and external affairs at Restore NYC, an anti-sex-trafficking organization.
"Bradley Myles, chief executive of Polaris Project, a nonprofit that works to combat human trafficking, said that the madams arrested on big raids like the recent ones in Florida — known as “mamasans” — are often women in their 60s and 70s who have spent decades in the sex trade but are usually pretty far down in the organization."

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