Top Ways to Identify Massage Businesses Involved in Human Trafficking


In light of the recent closure of four illicit massage businesses in Madison, Huntsville, and Decatur, I wanted to dive into this subject just a bit deeper. AL.COM recently published a great article about how to identify illicit massage businesses. Here it is:


Alabama’s attorney general recently announced the closure of four North Alabama massage parlors in the first civil action under a new provision of the state’s human trafficking law.

The businesses, operating in Huntsville as Health Massage and Massage Foot Care, and in Madison and Decatur as Massage Foot Care, were allegedly fronts for human-trafficking enterprises. According to AG Steve Marshall’s office, workers at the massage parlors were forced to work “incredibly long hours during which at least some of them were expected to engage in sex acts” with customers. Workers seemed to have little freedom of movement and were kept in houses owned by the business owners where they were “left to eat and sleep in terrible conditions,” the AG noted.

The shutdowns raises awareness of human trafficking enterprises – especially those linked to massage parlors.

According to, a group dedicated to stopping human trafficking, illicit massage businesses often obtain legally required permits in an effort to blend in with other legitimate operations.

There are warning signs, however. Potential customers should be on the lookout for:

  • Massage prices significantly below market-level value
  • Women asking for large tip or expressing distress if they do not receive a tip
  • Massage businesses that are open later hours or those that say workers are on-call at any hour
  • Women appearing to be living at the business
  • The location serves primary male clientele
  • A locked front door that customers can only enter if buzzed in or entrance through a back or side door.
  • An excessive amount of security or video cameras
  • Covered or darkened windows
  • Regular rotation of workers; new women coming in every several weeks
  • Advertising on commercial websites that offer sex services

Alabama law prohibits massage parlors from being used as a dormitory or place of sleep or providing massages behind locked doors. Anyone giving a massage is also required to be clothed from the shoulder to the knees and no massages are allowed in sexually oriented businesses.

According to Polaris, illicit massage, health and beauty businesses often appear to be single storefronts but are typically controlled as part of a larger network. There are as many as 7,000 storefront illicit businesses operating as massage parlors in the U.S., with most of the victims being women in their mid 30s to late 50s from China and South Korea. Victims in another segment are typically younger females, mid 20s and older, from Southeast Asia.

The workers are often recruited through fraudulent ads that misrepresent pay and hide the sexual nature of their jobs, the experts said. Once at the establishment, they work excessive hours and are paid less than minimum wage, if anything at all. Many of the workers report being threatened with arrest or deportation.

There were more than 5,100 human trafficking cases reported in 2018, according to Polaris. Thirty-six reports were made in Alabama.

If you suspect any illicit activity at a massage business, call the Alabama Board of Massage Therapy at 334-420-7233. You can report suspected human trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.


This article is spot-on but I wanted to add a few more things that you can look for.

In the state of Alabama, all massage therapists must be licensed. To be licensed we must pass a national exam that is administered in only two languages–English or Spanish. If you go to a massage business and the workers speak neither English nor Spanish, you can assume they are not licensed.

Our state requires that all therapists must have their licenses prominently displayed. So, if you walk into a massage business and see six workers giving massages but not that many licenses on display, there’s a big problem. The workers are likely unlicensed.

All reputable massage businesses will have clients fill out a health history form. There are certain medical conditions that are incompatible with massage. For example, if a client has ever had lymph nodes removed, massage pressure must be significantly reduced in the quadrant of the body affected by the lymph node removal. Failure to make this adjustment could trigger a dangerous, irreversible form of swelling called lymphedema. If you go to a business that does not require you to fill out a health history form, you should turn around and leave. They are performing massage recklessly.

The Alabama board of Massage Therapy requires very high standards of cleanliness in all massage businesses. If you visit a business where the linens look like they haven’t been changed between clients, leave. Reputable massage businesses practice universal precautions to avoid any sort of cross contamination.

If you are already on someone’s massage table and the worker starts trying to talk you into a longer session or additional services, you may be in a business where the workers are trafficked. Up-selling clients who are already on the massage table just is not customary in a reputable massage business.

If you suspect any illicit activity at a massage business, call the Alabama Board of Massage Therapy at 334-420-7233. You can report suspected human trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. If it appears that a worker is in some sort of immanent danger, contact your local police.










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The Dark Side of Cruise Ship Spas


When it comes to relaxation from the inside out, nothing beats a trip to the spa. From the minute you step inside, the soothing ambiance begins to work its magic. Renew yourself with premium beauty and wellness therapies, like hot stone massages, aromatherapy or full-body wraps. This is your time to be spoiled, indulged and beautified. Lay back, close your eyes, and feel the stress sail away as your body and mind experience total tranquility.”

Sounds amazing doesn’t it? This is one major cruise line’s pitch for their on-board spa services. 

When I was in massage therapy school I was vaguely aware that the cruise lines employed lots of massage therapists, but I didn’t really give it much thought at the time. I had a busy family life and major commitments that kept me planted with deep roots so I knew that work environment would never be a good fit for me. I heard a few of the younger, unattached students talking about the prospect of working for a cruise line. Sounded exciting and pretty exotic. No one at the school had any direct experience so we weren’t able to hear any first hand accounts. Our school didn’t have any sort of affiliation with the cruise lines. I later learned that a major massage school chain, Cortiva, does in fact have a very close affiliation with the cruise lines. I figured that out rather quickly last September when I traveled to Boston to take a class at Cortiva, Boston. The cruise line influence was overwhelming. Giant posters that painted a rosy picture of life on a cruise ship and literature galore! Here’s what one flyer exclaimed:

"The biggest and most obvious advantage of being a travel massage 
therapist is that you get to see the world. If you are lucky enough to 
be chosen for a position on a cruise ship, you will be going wherever 
the ship takes you. Since cruises take vacationers to some of the most 
beautiful locales on the planet, you will be able to experience many of 
the same things that the passengers pay to see and do. Being tied down 
to a physical building can become very boring very quickly for some 
people. Becoming a cruise ship massage therapist is a dynamic career 
that offers you something new each day on the job.

I had heard that working as a massage therapist on a cruise ship was difficult, that therapists worked long hours and had few breaks, but again, I never spoke to anyone directly who had ever done it. 

Yesterday, I came across the most interesting account by massage therapist Sheryl Rapee-Adams who did, indeed, work on a cruise ship. She did it back in 1997 and states that conditions have improved in the last 17 years, but I wonder… how much? It went into great detail about what life was like… from the meals to the accommodations, the work, the pay, her fellow massage therapists and the “caste-like” system that exists among those employed on a cruise ship.

What an eye opener. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work on a cruise ship? It would certainly depend on your job, but for massage therapists it’s grueling work. I’ve only taken one cruise and I don’t know that I’ll ever do it again. It made me feel a bit claustrophobic. But, if I do ever go cruising again, I seriously doubt I’ll get an on-board massage. Why not? When massage therapists are worked to the bone, they don’t tend to do their best work. Pretty simple.

I thought Sheryl’s account was fascinating. I encourage you to read it and think about it next time you get ready to book that on-board massage.


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The Best Massage Quote Ever. Yes, Ever.

By touching a body, we touch every event it has experienced. For a few brief moments we hold all of a client’s stories in our hands. We witness someone’s experience of their own flesh, through some of the most powerful means possible: the contact of our hands, the acceptance of the body without judgment, and the occasional listening ear. With these gestures we reach across the isolation of the human experience and hold another person’s legend. In massage therapy, we show up and ask, in so many ways, what it is like to be another human being. In doing so, we build a bridge that may heal us both.
–Tracy Walton
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Gratitude and Joy


In a world that sells dissatisfaction, it’s almost heretical to feel happy about your body. And on the rare occasion when body satisfaction is socially acceptable, it’s usually in the context of “Dang, I look amazing in my wedding dress/tailored business suit/perm/bathing suit/whatever I just spent a lot of money on in order to make me feel this way for a couple of hours.” For all the sunshiny Facebook messages telling you “You’re beautiful!” there’s not much to make us feel legitimately joyful to be in our own skins.

So where does happiness come from, anyway? Psychological studies show that happiness stems not from being the best, most successful, or sexiest, but from gratitude. So telling yourself over and over that you’ve got a great body is less likely to leave you feeling happy than feeling grateful for the body you’ve got. It’s not always easy. None of our bodies are perfect. We often feel at odds with our bodies, feeling as though they’re betraying us in some fundamental way.

Still, it’s the season of Thanksgiving, and if there were ever a time to give thanks for the bodies we inhabit, it’s now. 

You can give thanks that your body has seen you through many long years of life.

You can give thanks that your body is young and healthy and strong.

You can give thanks that your body has taught you important lessons about pain and the mental and emotional strength you have in bearing it. 

You can give thanks that your body has survived the ravages of cancer.

You can give thanks that while your body contains the seeds of the disease that may one day kill it, it will not die today.

You can give thanks that your body has given rise to new life.

You can give thanks if your body honors your parents with features it received from them.

You can give thanks if your body honors your parents with its presence, against all odds, having been born to others.

You can give thanks if your body has the senses to know beauty, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the world around you.

You can give thanks if your body includes a mind that can think, imagine, and dream.

You can give thanks that your body has built, dug, cooked, sewn, planted, and shaped the world around it.

You can give thanks that your body has held and honored and taught the bodies of others around you.

Massage therapists are lucky people. We get to see the wonder in the bodies around us every day. It’s an honor, and one we’re perpetually grateful for. On Thanksgiving Day, give thanks for food and family and friendship, those standards of the season. Express your gratitude however you normally do, through writing in your journal, phone calls to your loved ones, a reflective walk in the woods, or prayer. But don’t forget that inimitable body of yours, which has accomplished so many things throughout your life. If we all inhabited our bodies with an attitude of gratitude, who knows what might happen? Maybe that whole peace on earth business wouldn’t seem so far away.

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Massage Franchising: The Inside Story


I’ve had SO many people ask me about massage franchises–my opinion of them, whether I’ve ever been to one, that sort of thing. I DO think they have their place. I would never work for one myself–I guess I’m at a point in my life where I love calling all the shots. And no, I’ve never been to one, but a few of my clients have. I think they’re good for the massage industry in several ways.

They’re helping massage become more “mainstream”-many people who would never consider getting a massage in the past will try out a massage franchise. I guess maybe they feel it’s safer because it’s a known entity.

They have raised the bar for independent massage therapists like me. As a whole, massage therapists can be a bit flakey in their business practices. Okay, there, I said it. You know it’s true. The introduction of massage franchises has forced us all to step up our game. That’s good.

I stumbled upon a blog that was so well written and so well researched that I knew I wanted to share it with my clients. It was written by an LMT in St. Louis named Alice Sanvito. I agree with everything she says. Here it is. Enjoy.

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Five Facts You Should Know About Women’s Health


1. Women are more prone to certain health conditions than men. Women are more likely to experience depression, stroke and rheumatoid arthritis. Some conditions, like osteoporosis, are directly related to women’s hormone fluctuations and smaller frames. Others, like fibromyalgia, are much more common in women, but scientists have yet to figure out why.

2. Women do not always experience the same symptoms as men with the same conditions. While men are more likely to experience a heart attack than women, women are more likely to die of the same heart attack. The reasons may be related to the publicized symptoms: while everyone knows about chest pressure and pain down the left arm, these are symptoms typically experienced by men. Women may experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or fatigue. Knowing the different ways conditions manifest in men and women can truly be a lifesaver.

3. Women have different risk factors than men. Remember that bit about women being more susceptible to stroke? In addition to the risk factors shared with men, there are also many women-specific risks, including being pregnant, taking hormonal birth control pills, using hormone replacement therapy, and experiencing frequent migraines. Unfortunately, these additional risk factors don’t always show up in educational materials.

4. Women and men sometimes react differently to drugs and other treatments. Women wake up faster from anesthesia. Some drugs, like ibuprofen, seem to be more effective in men than women, while others like erythromycin (an antibiotic) work better in women. And of course there are medications typically prescribed for sex-specific issues that can interfere with each other. As an example, acetominophen (AKA Tylenol) can interfere with the effectiveness of birth control.

5. In spite of all this, women’s and men’s bodies are more similar than they are different. We share 99% of our genetic material with every other person on the planet. We have the same basic structure, suffer from most of the same illnesses, and heal in the same way. A healthy diet, active lifestyle, adequate sleep, and positive attitude are beneficial to men and women alike. There are no studies showing whether massage therapy is better for any one subset of people than others. Maybe that research will be done in the future. In the meantime, if you’d like to know whether it works for you, there’s only one way to find out! Schedule an appointment now:~)

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3 ways teens can benefit from massage

ImageAdolescence is a unique stage of life. In between childhood and adulthood, teens go through massive changes on both a physiological and a psychological level. Naturally, this means that teens also have unique health and wellness issues. While nothing replaces regular physical exams with a physician and an active lifestyle, massage therapy can be a valuable component of a teen’s health and wellness. Here are three different issues often occurring during adolescence that massage has been shown to help:

1. Poor body image and eating disorders.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3% of American teens suffer from an eating disorder, and the majority of them go untreated. Depression, social pressures regarding appearance, and participation in sports where leanness is valued (such as gymnastics, wrestling, and diving), are all associated with the development of eating disorders. Needless to say, high school provides ample opportunity for all of these. 

Studies done at the Touch Research Institute with women who struggle with either anorexia nervosa or bulimia showed that regular massage decreased anxiety levels, increased levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine, and reduced depression scores. Participants in the study also showed better scores on the Eating Disorder Inventory, indicating better body awareness. While counseling is obviously of paramount importance, massage therapy can be a powerful adjunct to other forms of treatment for eating disorders.

2. PMS and menstrual pain.

What’s worse than menstrual problems? Menstrual problems when you’re a teenager. Between the irregular cycles, the inexperience with managing symptoms, and the embarrassment about getting help, adolescence can be a rough time to have a uterus. Effective treatments like hormonal birth control can have negative social connotations, and require a pelvic exam to obtain, a procedure that most teen girls have yet to experience and may wish to avoid. 

Massage therapy has been shown to help with pain, anxiety, and feelings of depression related to PMS, as well as other symptoms like water retention. Girls can also benefit from learning self-massage techniques to use when experiencing menstrual cramps on a day-to-day basis.

3. Athletic injuries.

While high school athletes are injured at around the same rate as professional athletes, their growing bodies mean that they’re often injured in different ways. Since bones grow before muscles and tendons do, youth are more susceptible to muscle, tendon, and growth plate injuries. Sprains, strains, growth plate injuries, repetitive motion injuries, and heat-related illness  are among the most common injuries among young athletes. Boys are most likely to experience athletic injuries while playing ice hockey, rugby and soccer, while soccer, basketball and gymnastics lead to the most injuries in girls.

Sports massage has a long history, and can be especially effective when dealing with repetitive motion injuries like tennis elbow and runner’s knee. Massage therapists are now found at every kind of sporting event, from the Olympics all the way down to your local 10K. Given that teen athletes can be more vulnerable to injury and overuse than their adult counterparts, it makes sense to offer them the same opportunities for healing and pain relief.

Summer is the perfect time to schedule a massage for your teen. Typically they aren’t as busy as they are during the school year. I require that a parent or guardian be in the treatment room if the teen is under 17 years of age.  

Could your teen use a massage? Schedule a session with me soon. They may not admit it, but they’ll think you rock!

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Let’s Talk Tunes



I am in LOVE with solo classical/new age piano music. If you’ve worked with me more than one time you’ve probably figured that out. I don’t play the piano, but I love listening to it being played well. I’d like to think I give a better massage when I’m listening to music that really inspires me. My new favorite is British composer Helen Jane Long. Some of my other go-to faves are Brian Crain, Jim Brickman, George Winston, David Lanz, Joe Yamada, Joe Bongiorno and Yiruma.

Now… I sometimes, mistakenly, assume that everyone LOVES exactly what I love. That’s fairly safe to do when we’re talking foot massge…but maybe not music so much. If you have a favorite artist or genre that just puts you into that nice “marmalade on warm toast” place we all love, let me know. If you have it on your iPhone/iTouch just bring it into your next session. We can put your phone in “Airplane” mode and pop it into my Bose system. If it’s an iPhone5 be sure to bring your little adapter thingy:~) Remember, YOUR massage is all about YOU.

I’ve added a new feature to my website home page: an icon that shows the music I’m currently playing in my studio. It will link to amazon so you can sample the music yourself, before you ever get on my table. I have tons of other music, so if you’re in the mood for nature sounds, Celtic, flutes or even Gregorian chants, let me know. I’m very flexible.

I’m going to listen to Helen now:~)


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Here’s what I put on your skin.

Ever wonder exactly what I use on your skin to create that nice glide? I use a number of lubricants. I’ve tried a lot of different products over the years.  I started out using a very traditional water based massage cream when I was in school. It worked fine but I found out that most commercial massage creams contain parabens. Parabens are synthetic preservatives and while the FDA has stated that they are safe, lots of experts–who are a lot smarter than I am–believe that they are carcinogenic. Since I have my hands in this stuff all day long, I want to use a product that is safe for me as well as for you. I no longer use any products that contain parabens.

Massage lubricants are either water or oil based. There are tradeoffs to both. Oil based products feel warm upon application but can leave you feeling greasy. The key is to not use too much. Water based products tend to feel cold upon application but don’t leave you feeling as greasy. I prefer the oil based products, but I use both.

The simplest product I use is organic coconut oil. It has tons of health benefits and the product I use is food grade so I cook with it extensively. Here’s a link if you’d like to read more about all the benefits and uses of coconut oil.

Coconut oil isn’t necessarily my first choice because, while it’s great for your skin, it tends to be a bit slippery and it will leave you feeling more greasy than anything else I use.


Lately, my go-to product has been Santa Barbara Massage Cream. It is oil based but unlike most oils, it’s a solid. It has great glide, but it also has a lot of grip or control, for when I want to do deeper work.

ylandylang-1 clarysage

I’ve been using the two products you see here, the Ylang Ylang & Orange and the Clary Sage & Lavender. They also make an unscented version which I also use and a singular Lavender scent which I don’t have, but am happy to try if any of you would like me to. Please note the company’s tag line, “so natural you can eat it”. While I haven’t tried eating it, I appreciate that it contains only three ingredients: olive oil, bees wax and coconut oil. No parabens.


There are times when I want to use a water based product. For those times, I use Bon Vital Original Massage Creme. It is one of the few “unscented” products that I have tried that is truly unscented. Some clients prefer the Bon Vital because it really doesn’t leave you feeling greasy at all. If you have some place to go right after your massage and you don’t want to feel in the least bit greasy, you may want to try the Bon Vital.

BV BVingredients


Notice that while the list of ingredients is much longer, it still does not contain any parabens.

For those of you with allergies, none of the products I use contain nut oils nor formaldehyde in any form.

So that’s what I use on your skin. If you have any questions or would like to try something new in your next session, just let me know. I have all the products ready to go at all times.



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l Have Moved

I have moved! Okay, I just moved down the hall, but hey, a move is a move right? A hair salon moved into the space right next to The Center for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and a washing machine was installed right up against the wall we share. Guess what? Hair salons tend to do laundry all day long. The first time I heard it I couldn’t figure out if a helicopter was landing close by or if they had installed one of those big machines that mixes paint at Home Depot and Lowe’s.  That’s what it sounded like.  So much for peaceful and tranquil…I apologize to those clients who experienced that whop, whop whopping sound during their last sessions. Yikes. No more… I’m down the hall in Room 5 now. The new room is a whole 2 inches longer than my previous room. Booyah! With the help of my family I repainted, shampooed the carpet and did some minor redecorating. Hey, am I the HGTV queen or what? Schedule a session soon and see my new place.Image

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