Hundreds of illicit massage parlors in our area are involved in human trafficking, according to a new report.
Polaris, a non-profit group based in Washington, DC that tracks modern day slavery, released a 100 page report on human trafficking in illicit massage businesses. The report states that more than 9,000 illicit massage parlors, which are actually fronts for human trafficking, are operating in the United States and creating a total revenue of approximately $2.5 billion a year. Of the 9,000 businesses, 700 are operating in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, according to the report.
“Typically, they come in from Flushing, New York and Philadelphia is a main stopping point for the trafficking to occur,” said Rochelle Keyhan, Director of Disruption Strategies at Polaris.
Keyhan says Philadelphia is one of the big cities where traffickers operate with impunity at the expense of human suffering.
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“Our willingness to buy that narrative that it’s not really a problem and that it’s not really happening, is why it’s happening,” Keyhan said. “And that’s why it’s been happening in Philadelphia for decades.”
Police say approximately 100 illicit massage businesses operate throughout Philadelphia.
“I’ve been a cop for 30 years and I had no clue,” said Philadelphia Police Lieutenant Gary Ferguson. “No idea that human trafficking and prostitution was this big a problem in Philadelphia.”
NBC10 cameras were there in November when undercover officers with the Philly Police Vice Unit cracked down on illicit massage businesses in the city’s Rittenhouse and Chinatown neighborhoods.
“This is Philadelphia’s version of a red light district,” said Philadelphia Police Sergeant Joseph Lanciano.
During the undercover operation that NBC10 witnessed, officers arrested two women working at a massage parlor on Ludlow Street and charged them with prostitution. One of the women allegedly solicited an officer for a sex act. Only a few hours later, police arrested another woman for prostitution at a massage business on the 900 block of Arch Street after she allegedly propositioned an officer only two minutes into his visit.
“We’ve been here several times and we sent a decoy and we sent an officer in and he got solicited for $160,” Lieutenant Ferguson said.
While NBC10 spotted several men at the illicit massage parlors, members of Polaris say the women, who are likely victims of sex-trafficking, are often the only ones arrested during undercover operations. Polaris also says the businesses typically get shutdown for code violations before reopening under a different name and with different women.
“If we have over 300 arrests on this block, there may be 20 who are repeated offenders,” Sergeant Lanciano said. “They’re constantly bringing in new women here to work.”
Polaris said they found a review on a buyer subscription website called Rubmaps that showed evidence that the same business on Ludlow was back in operation only a few weeks after the arrests and once again providing sex-related services.
“A lot of the women don’t realize what they’re coming here to do,” Keyhan said. “And they’re typically coerced into doing it.”
If you want to report human trafficking in your area, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You can also view Polaris’ full report here.