Let’s Close the Loophole in State Law to End Human Trafficking

The recent national news stories concerning a massage parlor in Jupiter, Fla., have brought to light what is nothing less than a national abomination: The trafficking of women that reaches into every corner of the United States.

The news stories about this 21st century version of human bondage have made it clear that huge numbers of women, mostly Asian, are being trafficked in a multi-billion dollar sex trade operation under the guise of legitimate massage parlors.

Here in Massachusetts, it is estimated that there are 200-300 of these illicit “business” entities — almost one for every city and town in the Commonwealth. Just this past week, police in the well-to-do community of Norwell came upon one of these places (which was located in an otherwise-ordinary mall) and, upon executing a search warrant, discovered conditions almost identical to what authorities found in Jupiter.

There were mattresses on the floor and other indicia of living that made it clear that those who worked there also were residing on the premises as prisoners of the operators of this establishment.

How can this situation — sex slavery in which women from all around the world are being trafficked in our hometowns — exist so openly in America in 2019?

It seems to us there is a fairly simple solution to the problem that can be accomplished with a small change in the law, at least here in Massachusetts, which is as follows:

The signage on the front window of the Jupiter establishment lists the following services: “Massage therapy, facials, waxing, table showers”, and this one: “Body treatments.”

Massachusetts tightly regulates the massage therapy business pursuant to chapter 112, section 228, which requires massage therapists to receive training and obtain a license.

However, the last line of this statute exempts from the licensing requirements “those who use the terms ‘bodywork’, ‘bodyworker’, and ‘bodywork therapist’.”

It’s as if the traffickers themselves wrote this loophole into the law. The women who were found in the Norwell establishment (who, similar to the women in Jupiter, were Chinese citizens and spoke no English) when the police conducted the raid identified themselves as “bodyworkers” and as such did not require any licensing requirements either from the state or local authorities. It’s as if they did not exist.

In our view, the solution is straightforward: Require every person (including receptionists) who works in these establishments to obtain a permit (as opposed to a license) in order to work there. Such persons would be required to register at the local Board of Health where they would have to appear in person, produce a valid ID , and provide their place of residence in order to get their permit.

Routine spot checks by the local boards would ensure that everyone working there has a valid permit from the local authority.  If anyone is found working there without a permit, the business would be ordered closed forthwith and the managers, as well as the owners, would be subject to arrest and criminal penalties for employing persons without permits.

In our view, this small change in Massachusetts law, if emulated across the country, could go a long way toward ending the human trafficking business that is a national disgrace.

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