On October 19, the Fresno EOC Nielsen Conference Center was packed with community members, law enforcement and victim service providers for the Central Valley Freedom Coalition’s Fall General Coalition Meeting.
Featured were representatives and keynote speakers Rochelle Keyhan and Meghan Carton, from Polaris Project’s End Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses (IMBs) Initiative. Keyhan and Carton presented on the trends, victimology and barriers to identification of victims of IMBs, in addition to challenges that law enforcement, victim service providers and policymakers face.
Polaris states that 1/3 of all Illicit Massage Businesses in the U.S. are located in California and conservatively estimates a minimum of 200 locations in the Central Valley alone.
Victims of human trafficking in IMBs are much less likely to identify as victims. Survivors tend to be middle-aged women of East Asian descent, posing a challenge to victim service providers as the resources for translators and culturally relevant resources are minimal.
Additionally, Keyhan and Carton explained IMBs differ from other cases as they tend to be an organized network. This makes closing the fronts for sex and forced labor difficult. When one business is shut down others often crop up in neighboring cities.
Sergeant Curtis Chastain of the Anti-Human Trafficking Task-Force and Fresno Police Department states there are at least 175 registered massage businesses in the city of Fresno. Since January of 2016 the Fresno Police Department has closed 16 massage businesses for being a front for illicit sex.
The presentation by Polaris Project’s End Trafficking in IMB Initiative makes it clear this topic needs continued dialogue and mobilization by both law enforcement and victim service providers to provide protection for victims and prosecute traffickers.
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