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 PolarProject.org, 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.