Growing awareness of the illicit massage business is raising concerns with past treatment from police during cases.
Following the deadly shooting in a spa outside Atlanta, Georgia in March, there has been growing awareness about the illicit massage industry, crackdowns from police, and the human trafficking that has often been thought to follow.
A recent story from the Washington Post looked into the ethically questionable choices from police in a variety of sting operations targeting local spas across the US. In multiple cases, undercover officers engaged in sexual acts with workers and then arrested them.
Here in Arizona, Department of Homeland Security agents allegedly engaged in sex acts with potential trafficking victims. Paige Hughes, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of DHS, told The Post “the conduct of a ‘limited number’ of agents in the Arizona case ‘was not consistent’ with the agency’s policy and had been referred to its office of professional responsibility for action.”
Advocates are pushing for a change in how these cases are conducted. Grace Chang, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara whose work focuses on human trafficking and immigrant women, stressed to The Post how dangerous and counterproductive these raids can be.
The aftermath of the raids often leaves the spa workers with arrest records and potential psychological trauma that may lead to ongoing anxiety, fear, and distrust of law enforcement.
Brad Rideout was one of four legal experts interviewed by The Post about police conduct during these operations.
“In order to have prostitution, you have to exchange money for sex,” Rideout said, “Officers should not have sex with suspects in any investigation or use any sort of sexual touching, fondling, or any use of sexual organs to solve a crime.”
As concerns about conduct have risen over the years, some jurisdictions have started to consider new limitations. This may include “limits around physical contact by police, including prohibitions against skin-to-skin contact, as well as the verbal humiliation or degradation of sex workers.”
The attack in Georgia raised questions about how to best regulate this industry. While many sex workers have chosen this work by their own free will, some women are forced into this work “under the threat of violence, deportation, or financial ruin.”
The owners of these illicit spas are often difficult to find because they hide their identities through large criminal enterprises. This makes prosecuting those in charge and putting a stop to the groups much more complex.
Despite growing awareness about what is OK and what isn’t when it comes to handling these cases, some community members fear recent events may cause past lessons to be forgotten.
To learn more about the concerns and issues with these past operations, the link to the original Washington Post story can be found down below.
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