San Francisco Chonicle
FIRST OF A FOUR PART SPECIAL REPORT
Many of San Francisco’s Asian massage parlors — long an established part of the city’s sexually permissive culture — have degenerated into something much more sinister: international sex slave shops.
Once limited to infamous locales such as Bombay and Bangkok, sex trafficking is now an $8 billion international business, with San Francisco among its largest commercial centers.
San Francisco’s liberal attitude toward sex, the city’s history of arresting prostitutes instead of pimps, and its large immigrant population have made it one of the top American cities for international sex traffickers to do business undetected, according to Donna Hughes, a national expert on sex trafficking at the University of Rhode Island.
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “Girls are being forced to come to this country, their families back home are threatened, and they are being raped repeatedly, over and over.”
Because sex trafficking is so far underground, the number of victims in the United States and worldwide is not known, and the statistics vary wildly.
The most often cited numbers come from the U.S. State Department, which estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked for forced labor and sex worldwide each year — and that 80 percent are women and girls. Most trafficked females, the department says, are exploited in commercial sex outlets.
The number will always be an estimate, because trafficking victims don’t stand in line and raise their hands to be counted, but it’s the best estimate we have,” said Ambassador John Miller, director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The CIA won’t divulge its research methods, but based its figures on 1,500 sources, including law enforcement data, government data, academic research, international reports and newspaper stories.
Women trafficked for the sex industry are predominantly from Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union and South America — lured to the United States by promises of lucrative jobs as models or hostesses, only to be sold to brothels, strip clubs and outcall services and extorted into working off thousands of dollars in surprise travel debts to their new “owners.”
Federal investigators say that even those who come to the United States with the idea of working as high-society call girls cannot imagine the captivity and the degrading workload they face.
“Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business. In terms of profits, it’s on a path to overtake drug and arms trafficking,” said Barry Tang, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement attache with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in South Korea. “There’s a highly organized logistical network between Korea and the United States with recruiters, brokers, intermediaries, taxi drivers and madams.”
The United States is among the top three destination countries for sex traffickers, along with Japan and Australia. Once in the United States, traffickers most often set up shop in California, New York, Texas and Las Vegas.
It’s an underground world, but in more than 100 interviews with federal agents, experts and sex trafficking victims in California and South Korea, a picture emerges about how international traffickers buy and sell women between Asia and the West Coast.
In Mexico, the traffickers lead the women over the same treacherous desert paths worn down by migrants heading to “El Norte” for work. More women come through airport customs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, using fake passports and student or tourist visas made for them by their traffickers.
It’s relatively easy for traffickers to evade authorities at the checkpoints — land, air or sea — because women still don’t realize at that point that they are being tricked.
“It’s not like the movies where you open a trunk and you interview them and they tell you everything,” said Lauren Mack, special-agent-in-charge with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego. “They aren’t going to tell you they’re victimized because they aren’t — yet.”
Once in California, the women are taken most often to Los Angeles or San Francisco, where they are hidden inside homes, massage parlors, apartments and basements, only to learn that the job offer was just a ploy. Typically they are locked inside their place of business, forced to have sex with as many as a dozen men a day. Sometimes victims are forced to live in the brothel, too, where five or six “co-workers” are crammed into one room.
Sex trafficking rings are often run by criminal organizations that aren’t afraid to use violence to protect the billions they generate.
Although it’s not known how much money the San Francisco market generates for sex traffickers, federal agents confiscated $2 million in cash from 10 Asian massage parlors during a San Francisco raid in summer 2005.
Local police say the bust didn’t make a dent in the illegal sex trade.
“The number of Asian massage parlors has doubled in San Francisco in the last two years,” said Capt. Tim Hettrich of the San Francisco police vice unit. “Profits are huge. I have nine people working on this. I need three times that many to keep up.”
There are at least 90 massage parlors in San Francisco where sex is for sale, according to the online sex Web site myredbook.com. The site has been around since 1997 and has more than 55,000 reviews of Northern California sex workers. It is used by johns, yet is also a main monitoring tool for law enforcement. On average, there are about eight women working in a massage parlor, police say. That would mean more than 700 Asian sex masseuses working in San Francisco, based on 90 illicit parlors listed on sex Web sites and on police interviews.
She can watch men come and go at all hours of the day to a massage parlor across the street from her office.
The city may even be unwittingly contributing to the problem. Thirty-seven of the erotic massage parlors on My Redbook’s list have massage permits issued to them through the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
When asked about the city giving permits to illegal massage parlors, Johnson Ojo, principal environmental health inspector for San Francisco, said part of the problem has to do with a big backlog that was created when jurisdiction over massage parlors was moved from the Police Department to the Department of Public Health in 2004.
“We are catching up and inspecting each one,” he said. “But prostitution is a police matter — we are looking for health and safety violations. If we find anything suggesting trafficking, we talk to police.”
When told by The Chronicle of the scores of erotic massage parlors with city permits, Newsom said, “We aren’t doing our job. We should take these Internet lists and go down them one by one.”
In July, Newsom waited with city inspectors one afternoon outside Sophia’s Spa, an alleged brothel in an alley between an ultra-modern cocktail lounge and a sex shop on Geary Street.
A decoy, an Asian police officer in jeans and a T-shirt, stood in view of the security camera over Sophia’s front door and pressed the buzzer. The metal security door opened.
He duct-taped the lock so Newsom, the inspectors, police, a social worker and a reporter could get in.
It was a rude awakening for the half-dozen men inside, one of whom was in the middle of a sex act with a masseuse on the lobby couch.
While sex between adults on the lobby couch indicates that Sophia’s is not a holistic massage establishment, it’s not a crime unless the police see money change hands.
Women are scared for good reason. Those who have become witnesses have been burned with acid, have disappeared, or have had their homes ransacked and their families harmed or threatened in their home countries.
Global sex trafficking is making inroads into the Bay Area
“Diary of a Sex Slave,” Part 1: Fooled by traffickers in South Korea
“Diary of a Sex Slave,” Part 2: Trapped in Los Angeles
“Diary of a Sex Slave,” Part 3: Trying to break free in San Francisco
E-mail Meredith May at email@example.com.
THESE CONDITIONS CANT EXIST WITHOUT CORRUPT POLITICANS. WE NEED TO FOLLOW THE MONEY TRAIL. CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF CORRUPT POLITICIANS NEEDS TO TAKE PLACE.
HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING RIGHT IN SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSI’S BACK YARD?
SAN FRANCISCO IS AN OPEN “SANCTUARY” CITY IN VIOLATION OF FEDERAL LAW – OPEN AND OBVIOUS CRIMINAL ACTIVITY IS BEING CONDUCTED, IN THE OPEN, IN SAN FRANCISCO.
Illegal billions are being made while the security of the Country is being treatened under cover of San Francisco’s “sanctuary” status ………
CONTACT CONGRESS AND LET THEM KNOW WHAT YOU THINK: http://www.usa.gov/Contact.shtml