Asian massage parlors in Fargo-Moorhead: By Robin Huebner on Feb 25, at Another is tucked into a tiny attic space inside an older building, dimly lit with stains on the carpet. A futon mattress rests on the floor next to a massage table and a menu of services states customers must pay up front. The lone female employee, who doesn't speak English, is asked through a translation app on her phone whether commercial sex happens there.
No, she replies, shaking her head. Most of these massage parlors advertise on the classified ads website backpage. The Forum and WDAY-TV recently made these observations during visits to seven massage parlors in the metro area that identify as Asian massage by name or appearance — two in Fargo and five in Moorhead, three of which popped up in just the past few months. The influx has caught the attention of police departments in both cities, though none of the massage parlor owners or workers have been charged with crimes.
A report released in January by the anti-trafficking group Polaris estimates more than 9, illicit massage businesses are operating in the U. Shannon Ruziska said he's not aware of any current or past allegations of human trafficking involving local businesses, but they're on the lookout for signs of it. Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said the same is true in his city.
Both made it clear that if trafficking is happening here, police will go after the traffickers only, and that any victims will be referred to local agencies for help and resources. Hard-to-prove allegations Fargo police received a complaint in that illicit acts and massages without proper draping were happening at Asian Health Massage at 32nd Ave. Ruziska said they sent an undercover officer in, but were not able to confirm the allegations. Police weren't able to verify any criminal activity, but a woman who works nearby has her suspicions.
Dana Soto said she often saw the male-only customers of Gold Star park far away from the business so their vehicles wouldn't be seen next to it.
The complainant said when her male friend became aroused during a massage there, the employee tried to remove the towel around his genitals and asked if she should "keep going. As a result, the city is drafting a new ordinance regulating massage businesses. North Dakota has some of the more robust massage therapy training requirements in the country.
Massage businesses in the state are regulated by the North Dakota Board of Massage, which requires therapists to have hours of instructor-based training and continuing education every two years. Minnesota is one of only a few states that do not regulate the massage therapy profession. Instead, cities and counties may adopt their own laws. Under current ordinance, the city of Moorhead requires a massage therapist to have hours of study.
French said Moorhead will aim to replicate what's on the books in North Dakota. However, the victims of human trafficking at those parlors receive little, if any, of the money they earn, according to Debra Persinger, head of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, based in Overland Park, Kan.
They're basically slaves in that circumstance," Persinger said. According to the Polaris report, most of the women recruited into massage parlor trafficking have recently arrived from China or South Korea, are in their mids to late 50s and speak little or no English. They may answer an ad seeking a massage therapist, only to learn too late that sexual acts are part of their job duties.
Melissa Williams, a trafficking navigator for Youthworks in Fargo, said some of the women carry heavy family debts and are fronted money or a place to live by their traffickers, who use threats of violence, arrest or deportation against them. In a few cases, a woman stepped away from a client she was working with in order to see who'd come through the front door. Some women were willing to answer questions about the parlors where they work.
They said the businesses do get requests and calls from people asking whether they have sex-related or "special services," but said no such thing is offered.
Several of the women said they were the only ones working that day. All of the seven businesses have extended hours of operation, open until 10 p. Persinger, who's one of the voices nationwide working to curtail human trafficking in the massage profession, said long, late hours of operation can be a red flag for an illicit massage business.
So are backpage ads, the aforementioned "table shower," obscured windows and businesses where you have to ring a doorbell or be buzzed in to enter, she said. An unwanted stigma The proliferation of illicit massage businesses nationwide is particularly troubling to the people who work in legitimate operations, and to those who train therapists. Nyberg is dismayed because many people who could have improved health with the benefits of massage therapy may never seek it out.
She said instruction about proper therapist-client relationships begins Day One. She suggests that consumers ask to see a massage therapist's license, which should be in plain view. License renewal cards should be posted as well. Not a 'victimless crime' Some customers may unwittingly find themselves in an uncomfortable situation at an illicit massage business. Many others will deliberately seek out such establishments.
According to the Polaris report, the businesses are particularly attractive to people who wouldn't otherwise buy sex because of the risk. On multiple user-generated websites, including rubmaps. They can read about which women provide which sex acts and their physical attributes. Paid subscribers get the most detailed information.
In her job as a trafficking navigator, Williams works with at-risk youth and young adults, some of whom are trying to get out of the commercial sex trade. Williams and police encourage people to report anything suspicious. Williams reminds people that commercial sex and human trafficking are not "victimless crimes.