Massage parlors promising “happy endings” in New York are at the center of international human trafficking schemes involving underage girls and illegal immigrants.
These establishments are starting to crop up in greater numbers across the city again after previous crackdowns by authorities in 2014, and their crimes extend far past prostitution. With the assistance of sites like Backpage.com, the owners of these sex shops can update advertisements daily and better avoid scrutiny from law enforcement, reports Staten Island Live.
For those who argue these establishments commit victimless crimes, authorities note these parlors are typically staffed entirely by women, many of whom are forced to live at the store and are often underage. Illegal immigrants are specifically preyed on and threatened with deportation if they do not follow instructions.
The NYPD has arrested 11 people on prostitution charges in Staten Island through April 2017. Criminal complaints show five of the people arrested do not have U.S. citizenship and five provided their work address as their primary residence. All but one woman identified themselves as Asian and/or Pacific Islander.
“Human trafficking is up 50 percent in the city alone — that’s a huge red flag that this issue is permeating and it needs to be addressed aggressively,” Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican running for mayor, told Staten Island Live regarding the massage parlors. “Unfortunately, we know that this is a human trafficking issue, it’s not just prostitution.”
Authorities arrested eight members of the Rendon-Reyes gang in Brooklyn in April on charges of human smuggling and sex trafficking of minors, which they allegedly participated in for a decade. All eight members face a lifetime in prison if convicted. Detailed statistics on human trafficking are difficult to assemble, but officials estimate thousands of women are trafficked into New York each year.
Officials in New York City say poor enforcement of immigration laws is aiding the human trafficking business. Women are often kidnapped from other countries and subsequently brought to the U.S. Their lives and the lives of their families are threatened in order to terrorize the victims into obedience.
“I consider forcing a woman or a child to perform sexual acts and be victims is something that should be taken seriously and I think that’s the type of message we’re sending if we don’t enforce [people being in New York illegally],” Malliotakis told Staten Island Live.
Authorities successfully closed six of these massage parlors in 2015, but more continue to open. Malliotakis and other local lawmakers say there has been a steady increase in calls reporting shady massage parlors popping up in their communities.
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