COLUMBIA, Mo. (KY3) – “If we were going to make a difference to reduce human trafficking, we needed to do more,” said Missouri’s Republican Attorney General, Eric Schmitt.
On Tuesday, he announced the Hope Initiative. It’s a three phased approach, targeting illcit massage businesses in the state.
“[Those are] the number one reported area for sex trafficking and are havens for prostitution and human trafficking,” Schmitt said.
Phase One of this initiative has focused on finding illegal massage businesses advertising on websites like Backpage, CityXGuide, RubMaps, and other websites known for human trafficking.
This work has allowed the state to identify 77 illegal massage businesses.
Letters were sent to their landlords, 23 of them have already evicted the illegal massage businesses from their property, another 17 have committed to doing so.
One landlord refused.
“If the landlords to refuse to evict, we have legal tools in our repertoire that we are fully committed to using,” Schmitt said.
The second and third phases of the initiative deal with lawsuits and possible criminal cases.
But, there is also a focus on trying to get the victims help.
“Thousands of these IMBs operate all across the country,” said Sarah Jones, Assistant Attorney General for Special Litigation. “More often than not, their victims are typically from Asian countries like China, South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, and are enticed to the United States by recruiters with a promise of well paying employment or education.”
Once they get to the US, those promises are often pulled, the victim is threatened, and doesn’t know a way out.
Schmitt says the state is committed to helping those victims, but they get moved around a lot and often times don’t come forward.
“There are human beings being affected,” Schmitt said. “Beyond that shaded window where this activity is happening is, typically, a young woman who’s being exploited financially, sexually, and we need to do everything we can to set them free.”
Below are tips provided by the Attorney General’s Office to spot an illicit massage business:
- Prices below market – this incentivizes the masseuse to earn tips
- Male-only clientele
- Customers entering and exiting through rear or side entrances
- Business is open late at night
- Windows are blocked off so that you can’t see inside
- Doors are locked requiring customers to be “buzzed in”
- Business website contains sexual innuendo or references to the appearance of the masseuse
- Online reviews describing sex acts
- The masseuse(s) appear to live on-site
The Attorney General encourages all Missourians to report any instance of human trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
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