Anti-Trafficking Strategic Tip: Go After the Landlords and Property Owners!
by Bradley Myles
The Polaris Project
As many people in the anti-trafficking field know, commercial-front “massage parlors” throughout the United States can sometimes be a cover for illegal prostitution activity and also for human trafficking. These places have one reason of staying in business, the profits, and the profits only come from one place, the johns. These businesses cater to johns, and sadly, there are so many people who buy sex that it’s easy to understand why the massage parlors stay open at all costs. There’s just too much money to be made from the johns.
Who are the johns that are driving the existence of these massage parlor brothels? The frequent customer base includes middle to upper class men who visit the brothels for a variety of reasons, including a perceived lack of risk and a belief in the low likelihood of being arrested by law enforcement. Johns who go to these places often call themselves “hobbyists,” implying that they have taken it on as a “hobby” to buy commercial sex from vulnerable women. Appalling. What sort of world do we live in when patriarchy and male entitlement have grown to such a point where certain men take it on as a “hobby” to buy women?
It wouldn’t be accurate or fair to try and make the claim that human trafficking is occurring in every single “massage parlor,” but a significant number of instances where human trafficking has been identified is cause for serious concern.
It’s time to shut down the “massage parlors” for good, but do it right and do it carefully. There’s a way to shut them down by encouraging law enforcement to spend the majority of their time and resources on the people in positions of the most power and privilege, including the johns, the mamasans, the business owners, and especially, the landlords and property owners.
Very rarely does the manager of a massage parlor seek to buy or own the building in which the business operates. The risk of law enforcement raids is too high and it’s not worth the long-term investment. So, they rent. This means that brothels where human trafficking is potentially occurring are renting from legitimate landlords and property owners.
These landlords and property owners would prefer to keep it a secret: that their monthly rent check is coming from a brothel, maybe even in cash. Surely, the landlords have a lot to lose, not to mention their reputation, or business from other tenants. They may even face criminal charges.
So, as our movement grows and becomes more strategic, I think it’s time to put the landlords on notice and let them know that their days of benefiting financially from brothels and human trafficking are coming to an end.