Websites offer content written by customers of erotic massage parlors, making it easy to find sex traffickers. But prosecution is complex. HADLEY — Prosecutors painted a squalid picture of what went on inside the little house on busy Russell Street: The Asian women were kept there night and day, providing sexual services for a fee, sleeping where they worked, and rarely venturing outside except to take out the trash.
The customers themselves led law enforcement to the address inby writing detailed reviews of the services they received at Hadley Massage Therapy — services that went far beyond massage.
On a controversial website called Rubmaps. But even though law enforcement officials can easily find other suspected sex-trafficking operations on Rubmaps.
Shutting them down is not as simple as rounding up the men and women in the massage parlor. Healey said her office will continue to go after the massage businesses described on the review boards.
But even when law enforcement moves against erotic massage parlors, conviction of alleged traffickers is no slam dunk. The women, many of them fearful of deportation and unable to speak English, often make reluctant and poor witnesses.
After being questioned, they often leave the state. Donna Gavin, head of the human trafficking unit for the Boston Police Department, said police scrutinize review boards during investigations when they get tips about problematic addresses.
But theyhave to be selective because investigations can be labor intensive, she said. Indeed, the Internet has been a boon for human trafficking generally, allowing sellers to easily and discreetly reach buyers without attracting attention. For example, cases of forced sex and forced labor reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline increased by He would have done it anyway, he said, but the Internet made it much easier.
Launched inRubmaps. The site, registered to a Georgios Veniaminidis based in Cyprus, is careful to distance itself from illegal activities. An analysis of the site provided by an anti-trafficking group, Praesidium Partners LLC, identified active illicit massage parlors in Massachusetts. In addition, Rubmaps lists many parlors that are now closed.
Some observers, such as Los Angeles-based sex researcher and psychotherapist Christine Milrod, say the industry is composed of many willing sex workers and buyers, making the encounters a proverbial victimless crime. But others such as Valiant Richey, a prosecutor in King County, Washington, believe many massage parlor women are exploited, forced into service through debt bondage, poverty, and fear.
He said review boards are fueling commercial sex by increasing demand. Richey may be the first state prosecutor to go after reviewers for promoting prostitution, targeting the now shuttered Seattle-based site The Review Board.
Thirty-five defendants, including brothel operators and reviewers of prostitution-related services provided mainly by Korean women, were charged last year. Most pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges, and a trial is pending in March for two remaining men. The debate about whether such sites are legal echoes a more public fight over Back.
Last year, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from three sex-trafficking victims in Massachusetts who accused the website of helping to facilitate the abuse and exploitation of children. Other efforts to go after Back have been thwarted by the federal Communications Decency Act, which shields online platforms from liability.
Last August, the lawmakers filed legislation meant to hold Back and other websites able by eliminating federal liability protection for websites proven to facilitate violation of sex-trafficking laws.
Prosecutors from Massachusetts to Minnesota detail cases where mostly foreign-born women work seven days a week, 12 to 24 hours a day, sleeping in parlors or nearby flop houses, and are managed by a network of interstate traffickers and business people. Semen and sperm were found on doors, towels, walls, blankets, and massage tables, court records show. All three have pleaded not guilty. So far, only one has reached a conviction, and in that case prosecutors withdrew the sex-trafficking charge to settle with a lesser prostitution-related plea.
Many argue that, without reducing demand, the problem will never go away. With that much money on the line, sex traffickers often find new locations as soon as one is shut down. Some antitrafficking advocates are using Rubmaps as a tool to fight the industry.
In Houston, a nonprofit advocacy group called Children at Risk is using review data to identify apparent illicit parlors and recruit volunteer attorneys to seek to shut them down for lack of licensing records.
For Shandra Woworuntu, a year-old human-rights activist and sex-trafficking survivor based in London, viewing Rubmaps was a shock. Woworuntu, founder and director of the New York-based Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program, said she still is recovering from her brutal enslavement in in brothels, massage parlors, and hotels along the East Coast. Jenifer B. She focuses on social justice issues, including criminal justice, child welfare, sex trafficking and personal debt for print, digital and broadcast.
By Jenifer B. Phillip Martin.
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