SEX TRAFFICKING – San Francisco Major Center – International Crime Networks Smuggle And Enslave

San Francisco Chonicle


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 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.

But the scope of sex trafficking in San Francisco is much larger — women are also forced to work as escorts, outcall girls, erotic dancers and street prostitutes. Women are also placed in “AAMPs” — Asian apartment massage parlors — which are little more than apartments rented by traffickers who staff them with one or two sex workers. Business is done by word of mouth, and only customers approved by the owner are allowed in.
There are thousands of trafficked women in San Francisco,” said Norma Hotaling, who advocates for victims as director of the Standing Against Global Exploitation Project in San Francisco.

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.


Part 1 

Global sex trafficking is making inroads into the Bay Area

Part 2 

“Diary of a Sex Slave,” Part 1: Fooled by traffickers in South Korea

Part 3

“Diary of a Sex Slave,” Part 2: Trapped in Los Angeles

Part 4 

“Diary of a Sex Slave,” Part 3: Trying to break free in San Francisco

E-mail Meredith May at




Illegal billions are being made while the security of the Country is being treatened under cover of  San Francisco’s “sanctuary” status ………



3 Responses

  1. In one sense you are right, these conditions can’t exist without corrupt politicians — but the corruption is their “anti-trafficking” campaign itself.

    Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris (former girlfriend of ex-mayor Willie Brown), and others have been attempting to confuse the issue of trafficking with that of much more widespread ordinary prostitution between consenting adults.

    At a press conference yesterday, Newsom bragged about the city’s shutting down 36 massage parlors in the city. But he has no evidence that trafficking was going on at all of those establishments. Names and arrest numbers are noticeably missing. Instead, the mayor and other crusaders cite “estimates” of how much trafficking is allegedly going on.

    It’s a lot of unsubstantiated hype. Anti-sex politicians and their allies realize that going after consensual sex is not popular any more, so they are trying to scare people with the bogeyman of sex slavery.

    To Starchild: I think you are dead wrong. But thanks for your opinion. You seem to have a problem discriminating between widely divergent sets of facts. The laws should be enforced. Illegal, but consensual sex, is still illegal. Illegal, non-consensual sex, rooted in tracking, is illegal or mutiple counts. All the laws need to be enforced. If citizens want the laws changed we have a process for that. Change the laws or enforce them. Those in Congress and your local polticians who favor violation of our Federal Laws (so called sanctuary cities) should be arrested and tried in Federal Court. Our system was not designed to allow politicians to “pick and choose” which laws they would enforce …..

    I can remember a time when certain individuals in the South wanted to ignore Federal Civil Rights laws. They refused to enforce the laws enacted by the Congress or the laws modified by the Courts (Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act). The Federal Government, under Eisenhower and Kennedy, had to use the National Guard to make sure those laws were enforced. Maybe the time has come to enforce our Federal Laws again. I’m tired of the corrupt politicians ….. ignoring the laws passed by the elected Government ……..

    Do you know who sets our immigration quotas? Congress! The current Speaker of the House is endorsing the violation of the Immigration Laws established by her Congress ….. she supports the concept of San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city and the immigration laws she herself passes. SF the same city that International Groups have named the leading American Gateway for sex trafficking and the forced sexual exploitation and sexual slavery of woman. Why is this …. corruption and big money …….

    If I were in charge, Speaker Nancy, Mayor Newsome and the SF Council would wake up to the National Guard knocking on their doors ……….followed by a perp walk into Federal Court

    Speaking of Immigration Quotas …. do you think they are too restrictive … did you know we, the US, will allow the legal immigration of 2500 people from Yemen this year …… hope we are checking their underware before they get on the planes ….. We are also allowing legal immigration from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon. We even have a “Special Diversity Immigration Lottery” program providing preferential treatment to individuals from these Countries.

    My regular readers know I am a 1st generation American and support legal immigration. There are many reasons to allow immigrants from these countries to enter the US, enter after they follow our legally established immigration procedures.

    Granting amnesty to illegals from these countries or other Countries is simply insane.

    Proposals to provide amnesty to 20 million illegals is reckless. There are only 7 States in the US with a population larger than 10 million people and the politicians are suggesting amnesty for 20 million illegals.

    Let me suggest that we take the state of Alabama as an example. Alabama is the 23rd most populace state in the Country …. 22 states have more citizens, 27 have fewer citizens. Alabama has just about the average population for an American State. Alabama’s population is just under 5 million …. and the polticians are suggesting we can provide amnesty to 20 million illegals. A number over 4 times the population of the state of Alabama. Think of that for a minute ….. a large enough number of illegals to populate the State of Alabama 4 times over. One last example …. with 20 million people you would need to replace every man, woman and child in Alabama and South Carolina and Montana and South Dakota and North Dakota and Alaska and Wyoming and Mississippi and Iowa … and still need to find room for 1 million more illegals. Exactly what are the politicians thinking …….

    This doesn’t even consider the additional rush of illegals that would be triggered from all over the world in a last minute attempt to cross our borders before an amnesty program would begin ………

    We need to enforce the laws or change them … change them in the open and in public … let the American people have their say ………. when the people don’t say “yes”, arrest the polticians who refuse to enforce our laws. It is imperative that we, as a Country, identify and then jail the corrupt politicans.

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