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November 20, 2017 06:03 PM

Human Trafficking in Massage Industry

A two year study into human trafficking in the massage therapy business has produced some alarming results. 

It found that trafficking is prevalent in the massage profession, with as many as 9,000 illicit massage businesses nationwide. 

KELOLAND News Investigates has been investigating why the problem seems to mostly lie with Asian massage businesses that often setup shop in strip malls and offer "More than a Massage." 

According to this latest report put out by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, human trafficking is rampant in the Asian massage industry. 

Women from China and Korea looking for greater opportunities in the west are sent to the United States to work in massage shops all over the country.  

"The downside is that there is the tendency toward racial and ethnic profiling, but predominately that's where we see in terms of sex trafficking and the affiliation with massage therapy. Unfortunately that's the demographic that shows up and they become indentured and slaves because their passports are taken," said Debra Persinger, Executive Director, Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

"And once they get them into these work environments--they will keep them through force, fraud and coercion --and they cannot get out of those unless they adhere to working within or offering sexual acts. And that does happen in massage businesses throughout every state," Becky Rasmussen of Call to Freedom said. 

The new report is calling for both state and local governments to take action.  Recently Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) called for deregulating the massage business. 

"Absolutely not because for us, the ultimate piece is for consumer protection. You have to protect the public and so that would be an enormous step backwards to do away with massage therapy regulation--in fact if anything--that's where regulation is needed to protect the vulnerable--both citizens and the people being exploited," Persinger said. 

Coming up Monday on KELOLAND News at 10 in our two-part investigation into human trafficking in the massage business, we sit down with a group of concerned licensed therapists who say it's happening here.  We show you some of the signs they point to and why they're frustrated over the lack of action by state regulators and law enforcement.  

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