Myth: Sex trafficking only takes place in illegal or underground places.

Reality: Sex trafficking happens in legal businesses, like hotels, massage parlors, and the internet.

It’s natural to assume that sex trafficking, an illegal activity, is happening in underground, illegal businesses. While this is sometimes true, sex trafficking can also occur in many places, including legal businesses. In fact, women and children may be forced and coerced to sell their bodies to willing buyers in places you regularly go. Some of the most prevalent venues for sex trafficking are hotels and motels, massage parlors, and the internet.

In 2016 alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 5,593 cases of sex trafficking nationwide. 588 of these reported cases were from hotels and motels, making them the number one venue for sex trafficking. Pimps use hotels and motels to set up “dates” between the girls and the buyers. Most times, victims who are sold in hotels and motels have plenty of interactions with people in the community, like taxi drivers, front desk staff, housekeepers, and security personnel. But because most people do not know the signs of human trafficking, these women and children remain unidentified without hope of getting help.

Following close behind hotels and motels, 561 of the reported cases in 2016 came from illicit massage and spa businesses. These “massage parlors” often operate out of strip malls, office buildings, medical complexes, or residential homes. The pimps will attempt to disguise their trafficking ring as a legitimate business by paying rent and taxes, advertising in places like the yellow pages, offering legal services like massages, and even acquiring relevant licences and permits. Because traffickers go to such great lengths to disguise businesses, these massage parlors continue to bring in a tremendous profit through the exploitation of innocent women.

The third most common place where trafficking takes place, as reported by the hotline, is the internet. Traffickers use the internet to post hundreds of thousands of new ads every day for the “services” their victims offer. THORN, an organization committed to fighting sex trafficking online, reports that 63% of child sex trafficking victims were advertised online. This is because the internet has made buying children for sex as easy as ordering a pizza. THORN calls the internet the “largest marketplace for buying and selling children in this country.”

So what can YOU do? Here are three, simple ways you can help identity perpetrators and victims and bring an end to sex trafficking in our community and country:

  1. Follow this link to learn the signs of sex trafficking in hotels, and spread the word to anyone you know who works in the hospitality industry.
  2. Click this link to learn the signs that a spa or massage business is engaging in commercial sex and what you can do to shut down massage parlor trafficking.

Help legislation pass the Senate to hold websites like accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking. Find out who your US Senators are by clicking here. Then, call their offices or write them a letter asking them to support FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017) in the Senate.


National Human Trafficking Hotline, THORN, Polaris Project