Illicit Massage Businesses. You’ve seen them. You’ve heard the whispers. “That place does sketchy business,” or, “that place provides specials with massage.” Jokes about happy endings and willing, eager women are pervasive in television, movies, and comedy. But these jokes can cover a dark reality of trauma, assault, and even human trafficking.

Illicit massage businesses operate as if they were legitimate massage or bodywork establishments. In reality, they are often a source of human trafficking.

Open source data indicate that there are around 9,000 of these businesses operating in the U.S. Victims in these establishments are primarily controlled through debt, blackmail, and intense psychological manipulation. Almost every aspect of their life is controlled — where they live, what they eat, where they go, what they look like, and who they are allowed to talk to.

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