(TRENTON) – Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry affecting 25 million men, women and children around the world – the majority of the victims are women and girls. Well over 8,000 cases alone were reported in 2017 in the U.S. through the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) and the BeFree text line operated by the Polaris organization. Of those cases reported, the top three types of human trafficking were sex trafficking, labor trafficking and incidents involving both, which can be found in the operations of strip clubs and illicit massage businesses.
Two bills — regulating employers operating massage and bodywork therapy establishments and studying the connection between these businesses and human trafficking – sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Yvonne Lopez were advanced Monday by the Assembly Homeland Security Committee.
“Polaris Project analyzed more than 32,000 cases of human trafficking from the NHTH. Trafficking related to massage parlors accounted for 2,949 cases, which was second in prevalence only to trafficking in escort services,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who is chair of the committee. “We have all seen the increased reporting by media on local cases of human trafficking and the faces of its victims and survivors. Our proximity to other states makes New Jersey a hub for this type of criminal activity. All massage businesses should be operating above board in New Jersey and we need to know how connected they are to human trafficking.”
One bill (A-3562), sponsored by Vainieri Huttle and Lopez, would expand the duty of the Commission on Human Trafficking to include studying the connection between human trafficking and illicit massage parlor businesses. A published report by the Polaris Project, a group advocating on behalf of trafficking victims, indicates that massage parlors, including legitimate ones, may be contributing significantly to human trafficking trade in New Jersey.
“Many of the victims are undocumented, seeking financial stability and the ability to take care of their families,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “They answer misleading ads for “massage” work, are forced to live in substandard conditions, work illegal hours “on call,” and made to feel through fear and violence that they have no choice but to comply. Many are threatened with deportation by immigration officials, or that their families will be hurt. It’s a heartbreaking story experienced by many who come here for a better life and find themselves a part of a labor trafficking ring. We can do more to save more lives from human trafficking.”
As of 2018, the NHTH received 189 calls that reference New Jersey; and 98 human trafficking cases were reported. Of the 98 cases reported, 22 were related to illicit massage/spa businesses.
Another bill, A-3913, sponsored by Vainieri Huttle, would amend and supplement the “Massage and Bodywork Therapist Licensing Act” to strengthen the registration and regulation of employers that operate massage and bodywork therapy establishments. The act stipulates that no employer will engage in or advertise or hold itself out as offering massage and bodywork therapies unless the employer is registered with the New Jersey Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy. This bill provides additional requirements for the registration of employers and the operation of a massage and bodywork therapy establishment.
“Human trafficking does not occur only in illegal or underground industries. It happens right out in the open,” continued Vainieri Huttle. “For the most part, massage parlors have been a part of the American landscape for decades. However, these parlors may now reveal a potential connection to a broader network using businesses as a front for human trafficking activities. The trafficking of people and the denial of freedoms does exist. To end human trafficking in the state and nation will require us to close all loopholes and shut down all angles traffickers pursue to make money off of human lives.”
Throughout the country, there are more than 9,000 illicit massage businesses in operation, bringing in nearly $3 billion annually