Did you know that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month? Did you know that each year millions of people are bought and sold as property? A video by the Clearwater Human Trafficking Criminal Justice Committee states the “After drugs, humans are the second most trafficked item in the world!” Victims are controlled by their traffickers and are constantly under the threat of violence. Women make up the vast majority of victims and are often tricked into slavery with promises of legitimate employment. Once in the hands of the trafficker, escape is an unlikely future without intervention.
What happens to them? Many are exploited for economic gain. You can find these victims of human trafficking in factories, restaurants, people’s homes, and businesses posing as legitimate massage offices. Tens of thousands of victims of human trafficking enter the United States each year.
Massage therapists have long fought against the image of seedy massage “parlors” and unwanted sexual connotations. While our member represented, organizations have worked with legislators to find and punish the individuals who financially gain and perpetuate this travesty on the human spirit. In 2011, the California Massage Therapy Council began an investigation into Massage Schools that had a disproportionate number of graduates with prostitution arrest records. It was discovered that fake massage schools were selling fraudulent massage therapy transcripts for upward of $1000. These fake transcripts were then used to get legitimate work permits for individuals at illegitimate massage establishments.
As a result of the CAMTC’s investigation and cooperation from legislators, Senate Bill 285 was introduced and later signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, making it a misdemeanor in California to sell fake massage school transcripts. Other states like Florida have passed legislation creating new criminal penalties for those convicted of human trafficking. One such penalty makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for someone to run a massage establishment if both the owner and employees don’t have the proper government IDs.
Through awareness and vigilance, the massage therapy industry will continue fighting to eradicate human trafficking from our noble ranks. You can participate by educating yourself on proposed legislation in your state and by writing letters to your representatives showing support for bills you believe in. Consider purchasing massages from companies that manufacture locally instead of outsourcing to underpaid labor forces in foreign countries. You can also take it one step farther by purchasing personal products from retailers like Maliadesigns, which manufacture internationally through Fair Trade producer groups that uplift and support women in third-world countries and support organizations that fight human trafficking through donations education.