By Jillian Gilchrest, age 35
You’ve almost certainly heard about a seedy massage parlor, where men go to get a hand job or oral sex. But do you notice them? Better yet, do you question their existence? Illicit massage businesses are in communities throughout Connecticut and the country. It is estimated that at any one time there are 178 illicit massage businesses operating in Connecticut and at least 7,000 nationwide. Unlike a legitimate spa, illicit massage businesses violate numerous labor and tax laws and are hot beds for human trafficking.
One only need to google to learn all about AMPs (Asian Massage Parlor), the term used online to discuss illicit massage businesses. You can read all about how to ask for a hand job without actually asking or how to let the “girl” who works there know that you want a blow job–just rub your hands on her butt when you give her a welcome hug. A telltale sign that you’re about to frequent an AMP is a table shower. Apparently, if you kick in an extra $10-$20 bucks, you can have a “girl” clean your naked body either before or after the “happy ending.”
These “girls” are actually human beings, and many of them have been coerced, forced, or duped into working in an illicit massage business. Most of the women are from China or South Korea, with limited English proficiency, controlled through extreme intimidation, threats of shame, isolation from the outside community, and debt bondage. And yet, more often than not, it is these women who are arrested or shamed if law enforcement bust a massage parlor. We need to stop and notice these women, first and foremost, as fellow human beings and then as potential victims of human trafficking.
We also need to question why illicit massage businesses exist? Who are the customers that create a demand for hand jobs, blow jobs, and shower tables? Why are men paying for sexual acts from exploited women? Shouldn’t we want to stop this behavior instead of accepting it as, “boys will be boys”.
Later this week, the Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council will hear from the Department of Labor about their recent May 2017 statewide investigation of illicit massage businesses. Their investigation turned up numerous labor violations including no unemployment insurance, no payroll records, no workers compensation coverage, and under-reported wages for means of committing fraud. This will be the second presentation before the Council on this issue–in March the Council heard from the Polaris Project and the Connecticut Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association, both committed to addressing this illicit practice.
From the amazing work of the Polaris Project, we know that illicit massage businesses are connected to larger operators that recruit women in their home country or immigrant women searching for work in the U.S. The current practice of shutting down individual illicit massage businesses or arresting the “girls” isn’t working and has been described like a game of “whack a mole.” The Council plans to use the information and partnerships gathered this past Spring to develop a comprehensive plan to support victims, reduce demand, and target the networks that financially benefit from illicit massage businesses.
In the meantime, I challenge folks to really start noticing that seedy massage parlor for what it is and for who is inside.