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Understanding Human Trafficking Within the Massage Industry

 Illicit Massage Businesses (IMB) and Human Trafficking

What do I need to know as a consumer, massage therapist and advocate for legitimate massage services and businesses.

It is important to first clarify that reputable massage therapy businesses are referred to as Massage Establishments not “Massage Parlors”. Massage parlors, now referred to as Illicit Massage Businesses (IMB) are hidden in plain sight and appear to be legitimate business. The Polaris Project reports that there are an estimated 9,000 plus massage parlors or Illicit Massage Businesses (IBM) in every state in the country earning nearly 2.5 billion yearly. In addition, many IMB’s are part of an organized crime network that include illegal drugs, weapons and money laundering.  

There is a misconception in the US that many illicit massage businesses are operated by women who choose to sell sex under the guise of the practice of massage therapy whereas, most women at IMB’s are victims of human trafficking. 

As per the U.S. Department of Justice, trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”   

Victims are coerced by someone they meet online, who are close to them or even family members. Traffickers control victims with a variety of tactics that include physical harm, emotional brainwashing, abuse and isolation. Victims are threatened with deportation, arrest and shame to their families if they quit. Victims are mainly recruited outside of the US, are typically mothers in their mid-30’s to late 50’s and promised better income for their family. These women have no idea they are going to be sexually exploited and become trapped by the debt owed to the traffickers.

As per the Polaris Project*, “Force is rarely an element of massage parlor trafficking. Instead, victims are controlled by traffickers through a complex mixture of cultural manipulation, fraud, and coercion. Key among these are telling the women that the police are in the pockets of the traffickers and will simply arrest them, that the rest of society views the women as worthless, and that they have no real options but to stay at the massage parlor and do what the traffickers say.”

What can I look for as a consumer? What are the signs of IMB’s & Human Trafficking?

There are many national organizations and government entities such as the Polaris Project,, and FBI that list possible indicators of IMB’s and human trafficking. Below are a few possible common indicators. 

·         Offer services at a lower price than the area market value and only accept cash

·         Surveillance cameras located in uncommon places of the business including massage rooms

·         Women will ask for a large tip or express distress if they do not receive a tip

·         Advertise on illicit websites or show women dressed to suggest prurient interest on their


·         Indicators that the women are living on the premises

·         Have no Intake Paperwork for customers, falsifying intake forms to protect their clients

·         Open 24 hours or advertise late night services

·         Have to buzz in to get into the business

·         Speak very little to no English

·         Windows are completely covered or blacked out so that passersby cannot see into the business

·         Advertise “New Girls”

·         Employer may speak or answer question on behalf of the employees

·         No signs/posters advertising Fair Labor Standards, minimum wage or worker’s rights 


How can I as a consumer or massage therapist assist the Massage Therapy Board in regards to IMB’s and Human Trafficking?

The Louisiana Board of Massage Therapy takes its role of protecting the public seriously as well as the integrity of the profession but can only act within its authority to do so. (Louisiana Revised Statute 37:3551 et seq and the accompanying rules and regulations). The board will act within its jurisdiction in regards to IMB’s, but does not have the same authority that state and local governmental agencies have to enforce criminal laws and cannot enforce local ordinances. For this reason, the board reports and believes it is essential to give any information necessary to assist law enforcement and other parish agencies in regards to possible IMB’s/Human trafficking. Most IMB’s are part of a national crime network which requires intervention from multiple agencies and specialized law enforcement teams. If you suspect human trafficking/illicit activity, report this information to the board by filing a complaint on our website. If you wish to file an anonymous complain email to, then report the same information to local/state authorities by using the resources listed below.  

State Police Hotline: 800-434-8007      


List of Local Sheriff Offices:


Link to register a complaint with state police:


Find out if your Parish has any local ordinances regarding Massage Establishments and report concerns directly to that office.


Contact your parish fire marshal if you know people are living on the premises illegally.


Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force Website:


National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888


For Victims of Human Trafficking Nationwide:

DIAL "211" to be connected with a person and resources needed. Dial anywhere in the U.S.

TEXT: "HELP" to 233733 (Be Free)


*Polaris Project: