What’s a Table Shower: Illicit Massage Businesses in CT & the U.S.

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.

Desensitized by Statistics: Who in Four?

By Jillian Gilchrest, age 35

The woman to my left blots at her eyes, trying to stop her tears. I continue to talk, attempting to make eye contact with her, hoping I can convey my empathy with a look since I cannot with my words. I am presenting to eleven women who work at an OBGYN practice. As the training continues, two more women disclose their own abuse. I can tell that the women who work at this practice are close because they feel comfortable sharing their own experiences in front of their colleagues. That doesn’t happen too often.

Nearly everyday, and sometimes multiple times per day, I present to healthcare providers across the state of Connecticut about the importance of screening patients for intimate partner violence. As a presenter, I am in a unique position to observe the exchanged glances between two employees, a nurse’s knowing head nod, the tears streaming down a provider’s face, or a practitioner’s despondent stare at the floor as I present on the various methods abusers use to control and manipulate their partner. I am frequently approached after my training by someone in need of services for themselves or for a loved one.

At first I was taken aback that the professionals I was asked to train were themselves in need of domestic violence services. But, why should I be surprised? Intimate partner violence is incredibly common. And I knew that, or so I thought I did. What I knew were the statistics, that “one in four women” will experience physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. But what I didn’t think about were the individual lives behind those numbers. I think that our use of statistics to describe domestic violence desensitizes us to what it actually is and who and how it impacts those around us.

We don’t know who among us is experiencing or has experienced abuse–whether physical, emotional, financial, sexual, or technological–at the hands of their loved one. I don’t presume to think we will either, but I guess what I would like is for us to actually have the thought. I’m always struck by someone in my training who brings up a television character as their point of reference for domestic violence, especially when it’s clear to me that their colleague a few seats down has been personally impacted. For something that happens with such frequency, we still know very little about intimate partner violence and even less about how to prevent it.

Imagine if one out of every four homes caught on fire. You can’t, right? Because we’d never allow that to happen. In fact, we have created teams of people (fire fighters) dedicated to preventing and addressing it. If one out of every four women we know has been or is being abused, that should upset us. We shouldn’t just accept those numbers as fact, we should recognize them as the woman we work with, or the woman who teaches our children, or the woman who helps us find the cinnamon at the grocery store, or the woman who sells us a new cell phone. And, we should want to help her, right, and prevent other women from experiencing what she has, shouldn’t we?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that men (one in seven) can be victims of domestic violence as well, and women can be abusers. That said, men make up the majority of abusers whether the victim is male or female. This reality, placed within the context of a patriarchal society, contributes to our lack of knowledge about intimate partner violence and our passive response.  If collectively, we sought out ways to prevent domestic violence, like we do with house fires and car accidents, we could have an impact.

I challenge each of us to start talking about intimate partner violence–and not by using the statistics. Just as I train healthcare providers to use behaviorally based questions to screen their patients, we should talk about the behaviors that constitute abuse and violence. Excessive texting…belittling comments…limiting her spending or ability to work…requiring she check in and be home at a certain time…forcing her to do things sexually she’s not comfortable with…grabbing her wrists.

Enough is enough. It’s 2017. We have the information and the tools to prevent domestic violence…we just have to want to.

The Female Voice

By Isabel Fitzsimons, 11th Grade Student at the Watkinson School

A person’s voice is one of the most powerful tools, and weapons, that we as people, and especially women, have. It is not just the words themselves that are powerful, but the actions that they evoke.

Malala Yousafzai said, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” Every individual voice is important, powerful, and deserves to be heard. People say, what is not said is more important than what is said, so we must strive to talk about what is left unsaid. Those whose voices are silenced have the most to say, and we must let them speak, for they have been forced to be quiet for long enough. Women are not objects. They have a voice, and they deserve to be heard.

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Young Women and Inadequacy

By Catherine Banks, 11th Grade Student at Guilford High School

All people in the world face issues of their own.  Young women, however, battle much harder in certain aspects. Being in the social tornado of high school and the internet, the questioning state of finding themselves, and the ever changing, busy outside world, young women have many issues on their plate.  There is one issue in particular though, that is among the few which are vast struggles.  One of the most important issues facing young women today is inadequacy, and I see myself having an influence on this issue through several methods of motivation. Continue reading

Our Choice

By Nicole Nguyen, 11th Grade Student at Glastonbury High School

“What do you think makes a women want to have an abortion?” a female reporter asks Jim Buchy, a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives. As he realizes the nature of the question, Buchy pauses, his face scrunches up, and for a moment his eyes flick everywhere but at the female reporter as he struggles to find the words. “Well, there’s  probably a lot of reasons, I-I’m  not a woman,” he chuckles uncomfortably, “so I’m  thinkin’ now, if l’m a woman why would I want to get. .. ” He stumbles a bit more before admitting, “I don’t  know, it’s a question I’ve never even thought about.” Continue reading

Voices  Louder than Whistles

By Grace Gardner, 11th Grade Student at the Watkinson School 

I carry a whistle with me  wherever I go; it hangs shimmering on  my  keychain, beside my house key. In ninth grade, a fellow student laughed when he saw my whistle, playing with it in his  hands. Not understanding the significance of it, he asked “Why do you need a whistle?” I’m  sure he didn’t mean harm, but his  ignorance hurt. It introduced me  to the bitter world where women’s issues concerning safety are disregarded, muted, or worse: unnoticed. Not all of this came from one stinging laugh from a classmate, although, from then I became aware. I have since been exposed to the expansive fear, and the subsequent silence, that is practically forced upon women. Continue reading

Empowerment Through Dance

By Leia C. Ficks, 11th Grade Student at Farmington High School

I am an avid dancer. For almost every day as long as I can remember, I have put on dance shoes and gone to class at a studio near my home. I have also had the good fortune of living in Farmington and attending the Farmington public schools with mandatory art classes, and thus, have had near daily exposure to some form of artistic exercise. This has included, for example, chorus, band, ceramics and photography. For some who are either less fortunate or live in less affluent communities, these artistic opportunities are lacking or are simply not available. The arts are critical to the physical, spiritual and emotional development and maturation of young girls. Countries that consistently rank among the highest in testing for math and science such as Japan, Hungary and the Netherlands have mandatory art programs.

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Women Pursuing Potential, Promise, and Purpose in the 21st Century

By Kate Ruberti, 11th Grade Student at Sacred Heart High School

1848: First women’s rights movement. 1920: 19th Amendment was added to the United States constitution granting women the right to vote. Before and during the 18th century, women were not valued as equal to men, and were not provided with, or offered the same opportunities and experiences. There were many women who were avid and determined to create tremendous strides in achieving equality for women, and accordingly, there have been great gains and changes over the years. However, I still do not believe there has been enough change. Continue reading

A New Knee, A New Me

By April Lichtman, 11th Grade Student at Joel Barlow High School

My grandmother, mother and sister are the strongest women in my life. I have seen all three of them undergo different forms of knee surgery, which put them in states of emotional distress and physical pain. My mother got a tibial osteotomy, a procedure where a piece of bone is removed to realign the bones because there is little cartilage between the femur and the tibia. My sister, a once victorious athlete, tore her ACL and cartilage. She had to get a ACL and MCL reconstruction during her freshman year. My grandmother eventually had trouble doing everyday tasks and had to get traditional knee replacement surgery because of constant pain and worn down cartilage. I have seen these women experience physical and emotional trauma following each procedure. Many hope for a future where these procedures have been modified to have simpler recovery processes, so that women similar to those in my family, won’t have to suffer after surgery. According to recent studies, scientists have concluded that if one removes chondrocytes from the nose cartilage and grows them into bone grafts, then the patient could possibly have more mobility in the long run. This new method is the superior to other techniques and will ensure that patients have a prosperous future. Continue reading

Today’s Digital Individualism

By Gabriella Kovalenko, 11th Grade Student at New Milford High School

In the impressionable early years of adulthood, young women encounter a domain of standards, beliefs, and moral obligations marked by the transition to independence. Among the newly discovered principles is the importance of a distinct identity, one not influenced by society but by one’s passions and personal outlook. Although “uniqueness” is a desirable characteristic in itself, it is apparent the young women of today are challenged by the ideal of individuality and are increasingly more likely to become engulfed in the face of conformity. Continue reading