By David McClendon and Jamey Caruthers, CHILDREN AT RISK
(To view the map, click here)
Across the state of Texas, there are hundreds of illegal massage businesses (IMBs) acting as fronts for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. These illicit businesses are found in nearly all major Texas cities, often near some of the wealthiest neighborhoods.
Many can even be found within walking distance of public schools.
In fact, over 35,000 Texas children attend public schools that are within 1,000 feet of a suspected illegal massage business, including 4,000 Pre-K and Kindergarten students, according to a new analysis by CHILDREN AT RISK. Nearly a million children attend schools that are within a mile of a suspected IMB.
Many of these suspected illegal massage businesses are not just engaging in prostitution by illegally offering commercial sex: many IMBs are also implicated in human trafficking. The women trapped in these places are made to provide sexual services to as many as ten men a day through force, fraud, and coercion.
To identify suspected illegal massage businesses, CHILDREN AT RISK gathered data from the website RubMaps.com, a popular online review site for massage establishments that functions as the “Yelp” for commercial sex. In addition to posting sexually explicit and extremely disturbing reviews, RubMaps users also share tips with each other on what the women will do, how to work with management, and how to avoid law enforcement. Nearly every town in Texas has a RubMaps board.
Below is a sample of the kinds of reviews posted (edited for explicit content):
- “I got a few minutes of action outta her…it was a good time, I left the tip and got outta there with my head up high, very recommended.” – Review of Rainbow Foot Massage in Houston, 3/3/18
- “The mamasan made her take me to the room, she left me there and came back when I was ready for the action…I kept [redacted] her for a while… trying to control of the pace until I thought it was enough… [the victim] acted… passive the whole time…” – Hi Butterfly Massage in Dallas, 2/28/18
- “So she’s rushing me the whole time til finally I tell her look, if you keep stopping I’m never going to finish. So, I know these girls hate it rough, but now I’m just ready to go…” –Review of Sunny Massage Spa in Houston, 12/13/2017
In total, we identified 689 suspected IMBs (as of April 5, 2018) that were listed as open on RubMaps, were not labeled as “non-erotic” by users and had at least one review.
These havens for human trafficking are clustered in major metropolitan counties. Harris County has the largest concentration of suspected IMBs, with 259, followed by Dallas (97), Bexar (69), Collin (53), and Tarrant (52) Counties. But few places across the state are spared: Lubbock, Potter (Amarillo), Brazoria, and Fort Bend Counties all have at least 5 suspected IMBs.
When these suspected IMBs are mapped alongside every public school in Texas, the results are shocking: Fifty-five schools across the state lie within 1,000 feet of one of these illicit businesses. More than 1,100 schools lie within a mile.
The problem is particularly stark in Harris County. Twenty-three schools, representing more than 16,000 students, are within 1,000 feet of a suspected IMB. Over 300,000 Harris County students – nearly a third – attend schools within a mile of a suspected IMB.
The four-county region surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth (including Denton and Collin Counties) is another hot spot. In that area, over 12,000 students attend 15 schools within 1,000 feet of a suspected IMB. Some 315,000 students attend schools within a mile of these illicit businesses.
Several schools are virtually surrounded by suspected IMBs. For example, Tom W Field Elementary in Dallas ISD is within a half mile of five suspected IMBs, some with over 40 reviews on RubMaps.com.
CHILDREN AT RISK has published an interactive map so that parents, students, and community leaders and members can see where these suspected IMBs are in their local areas and how close they are to public schools.
To view the map, click here.
What Can Be Done?
Although parents and educators should be alarmed about the proximity of human trafficking to their schools, it is also critically important not to overlook the victims of illegal massage businesses. The women in these places are victims of the buyers who use them, massage parlor owners who sell their services, and the property owners who lease to illegal massage businesses.
More focus needs to be placed on buyers and demand for illegal sexual services. The men who frequent illegal massage businesses are professionals: they could be people from your church, your doctor, or someone you work with. They are fathers, brothers, uncles…until these men stop buying sex this problem will continue.
It is also important to note that we are not in any way trying to impugn the legitimate massage industry which offers a needed therapeutic service. In fact, we hope that the legitimate, licensed massage industry will join us in our fight to end the illegitimate appropriation of their trade by traffickers, pimps, and predators.
In a separate post, found here, we outline a number of policy steps that officials can take now to address this issue, including tougher penalties for property owners, bringing deceptive trade practice suits, and training for school boards on human trafficking issues.
We encourage Texans to explore the map, find out where these suspected IMBs are located, and demand action from their lawmakers. People can also search the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation website, find out whether a suspected IMB is licensed, and, if it is not licensed, report it to the authorities. People can also report to TDLR any suspicious or disturbing activities taking place outside these establishments.