This episode features Private Investigator, Michael Longmire from the North Carolina Board of Massage and Body Therapy. Nicole also reports on a recent sting in Knightdale.
Lance shares a recent date night with wife Cheryl in which they watched the movie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter And Nicole tells the story of wiping out in a roller skating race at a local rink.
As an icebreaker, Lance asks questions about New Year’s Eve trivia. Did you know that in Spain, it’s tradition to stuff a grape into your mouth for every bong of the clock at midnight? It’s called The Twelve Grapes of Luck. In Mexico, the color of your underwear reflects your hopes for the new year and in Denmark, neighbors throw pots and pans at neighbors’ doors as a symbol of well-wishing.
Nicole reports on a recent sting operation to shut down an illegal massage business operating in a small North Carolina town that was a front for a brothel. The business was being run by a woman. An employee from a neighboring business in the same strip mall had provided the original tip to police that resulted in their shut down.
On this episode, Nicole interviews Private Investigator, Michael Longmire who was hired by the NC Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy. Michael clarifies that the term “massage parlors” has a connotation with adult establishments and that unlicensed massage establishments are referred to “illegal massage businesses”. The legal massage industry seeks to close illegal massage businesses, many of them operating as brothels, and hired Michael two years ago to investigate these illegal establishments.
Michael estimates that there may be as many as 500 illegal massage businesses in the state and that there are 9,000 across the country. He says that these businesses are “almost like slavery”. Victims working for sexual services have no other choice. They are often undocumented from either China or Korea, live in the establishment and are required to work long hours without adequate pay. Michael also says that the reason they are here is because there is a demand. Many of the victims get lured or forced into the industry with the hope of sending money back to their families in their native countries. The Board wants to encourage communities to pressure these businesses to close and to offer victims services.
The illegal massage businesses are typically easily identified: advertisements promote the person providing the service rather than the service and include language such as “provides a happy ending.” Many of the ads are posted on backpage.com. The establishments might also restrict clientele to men and prohibit services to those of certain races or under a certain age. They are open 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day and are often located in a strip mall or even in larger malls. Clients may be seen parking far away from the business and “sneaking” into the front door.
Legitimate massage and bodywork businesses require licenses and continuing education. North Carolina is working on a database that interested customers can reference to see if a business is operating legally.
There are documented cases of coercion being involved with keeping the victims in the business. Michael says that Polaris recently received a tip that there was someone being physically forced into a business after being pulled from a car. In another case, a woman who had escaped a business and left the state later reentered NC and began working in another business. The original business owner, discovered the woman at the second business and assaulted her. In addition to coercion tactics, victims are often kept in place because of debt bondage they have incurred to the business owner.
Typical rescue efforts don’t include places for the victims to stay that include culturally sensitive care. For example, there is nowhere for victims to receive counseling in their native language. Furthermore, victims need special legal assistance to handle their potential illegal immigration status.
If you suspect an illegal massage business, contact your state’s Board of Massage and Bodyworks Therapy or local law enforcement. More law enforcement will need additional training to human trafficking training to appropriately respond to the specific needs of massage victims. Michael also says that there is a need for Chinese Americans to come alongside efforts so that there will be more culturally sensitive responses as well as to put pressure on the Chinese American business owners to shut down.
If you are in North Carolina and wish to report a potential illegal massage business, call 919-546-0050. Or, you can go to www.bmbt.org and file a complaint. You can also contact Michael Longmire through the website if you’d like to learn more about the issue or have him speak to your group.