The United States has a complex network of “massage parlors” that are fronts for prostitution and truck women across the country to have sex for money, according to a new report on America’s sex economy.
The Urban Institute‘s new report examines how these massage parlors operate in eight different cities, noting they often operate in a “circuit” of cities.
Dallas, Texas, for example, is networked with parlors in Queens, N.Y., Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.
The purpose of shipping prostitutes from massage parlor to massage parlor is “to keep clients interested,” the report found.
Here’s how it works in Washington, D.C., according to the report, which said there are nearly 5,000 erotic massage parlors across the U.S.:
[Massage parlors] are commonly run out of business locations and found scattered throughout downtown DC. Prices charged at massage parlors — operating as fronts for prostitution and sex trafficking — include a $US60 to $US80 set “house fee.” This is a set price for walking in the door and, depending on the sex act the buyer wants, additional fees are added. For a “full service,” the fee is (on average) an additional minimum of $US120 which includes a table shower, massage, and sexual intercourse. One law enforcement official described how women are able to keep some of their money — unlike in street pimp cases where the women and minors typically hand all of their money over — but often pay additional fees to the brothel owner.
Massage parlors often recruit women from Thailand and the Philippines, offering them jobs that don’t involve prostitution, according to the report. Once these indebted women arrive in the U.S., the parlors coerce them into doing sex work.
It’s hard to prosecute the sex workers because the women often refuse to give up information about the people who are connected to the operation. And once the women are accustomed to the lifestyle — including gym memberships and expensive clothes — they might be reluctant to get out of the business, according to the Urban Institute.
Police sometimes try a different tactic: going after the landlords. Few landlords might be willing to allow these massage parlors to operate inside their buildings in the first place. But once police go after these landlords, they’re even less likely to let the operation to continue.
The massage parlors are highly organised and typically run by business-savvy people from China or Korea, according to the report. They invest money in locally owned community banks, real estate, and other legitimate businesses. Massage parlor owners have also reportedly gotten good at hiding their assets and changing tactics once law enforcement caught on to what they were doing.
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