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Brothels posing as massage parlors and Asian spas have been part of the American landscape for decades, hidden in plain sight. But the Florida prostitution sting that ensnared New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft last week is a reminder of the human trafficking and abuse taking place behind the darkened windows of many of these storefronts — and how challenging they are to address.
The case also highlights how police and prosecutors are increasingly using a broad range of approaches, including deeper investigations into wider criminal networks, crackdowns on online sites where johns trade detailed sex reviews and enforcement of stricter civil codes on the massage industry, anti-trafficking activists said.
Most of the prostitutes are women from China and South Korea in their mids to late 50s who have entered the country illegally, are deeply in debt and are drawn into sex work through a combination of lies, threats and other forms of coercion, the organization said. The massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida where Kraft, a year-old Massachusetts billionaire, was videotaped engaging in sex acts is typical of the model.
Tucked into a pedestrian strip mall in an affluent oceanside community, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa employed mostly Chinese immigrant women and was linked to at least nine other storefronts from Palm Beach to Orlando. Authorities say the women averaged about 1, clients a year, were given no days off and were not allowed to leave the site, where many also lived.
Eleven alleged owners and managers face a range of prostitution-related offenses. At least one, year-old Lan Yun Ma, of Orlando, faces human trafficking charges. Hundreds of male customers, including Kraft, also face minor soliciting prostitution violations. In one recent case, a year-old woman was charged with running a lucrative human trafficking and money laundering operation across six Asian massage parlors in the suburbs north of Boston.