Sex Trafficking and Massage Parlors in the USA
Rape culture occurs when a society/culture normalizes or trivializes sexual assault (Baum, Cohen, & Zhukov, 2018). It is measured by victim blaming language, empathy for assailants, implied victim consent, and questioning the credibility of the victim (Baum, Cohen, & Zhukov, 2018). Some societies more prone to rape culture have significantly higher levels of gender segregation, interpersonal violence, and devaluation of women (Sanday, Peggy Reeves, 1981). Out of 300,000 news articles Baum, Cohen, and Zhukov, (2018) found 279 articles about rape, and based on data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, they found rape culture predicted rape. The authors found in areas of higher levels of rape culture in the press, there were higher levels of reported rape, but fewer arrests. They did not find any sign of this phenomenon in any other type of crime, and noted “because lower police vigilance or courtroom mistreatment may deter future victims from reporting, while raising potential perpetrators’ senses of impunity, the association between rape culture and crime likely reflects an increased incidence of rape, rather than increased reporting by victims” (Baum, Cohen, & Zhukov, 2018).
So how does this relate to sex trafficking? Any underage male or female that is in the sex industry is considered a victim of sex trafficking and any that purchase their services is actually raping an underage child. Rape victims living in a rape culture society reported that the lack of prosecution and victim blaming was a significant factor in why they did not report their rape. Research found in rape cultures, the trials take longer, have high levels of public scrutiny, and retaliation is common. Perpetrators in a rape culture may feel more protected and believe they have more of an ability to get away with sexual assault. They also are also more likely to be prone to engage in acts of sexual assault because there are fewer consequences which are less severe than non-rape cultures, and this only encourages them to continue with their crimes (Baum, Cohen, & Zhukov, 2018).
The police and FBI have made grand announcements of cracking down on massage parlors which have been linked to sex trafficking rings. However, similar to the Epstein situation, justice is not being carried out! Numerous of these massage parlors are never shut down or they pop up in similar locations under different company names. “Almost every local law enforcement that does one of these cases, the quote usually is, ‘We think we’re getting the tip of the iceberg,” said Brad Myles, CEO of Polaris, a nonprofit group that operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline. “What is the iceberg? Or how many icebergs are there? I don’t know if anyone has a really good handle on who the masterminds are.” Polaris estimated that 9,000 illicit massage parlors operate in the USA based on reviews on Rubmaps, a Yelp for sex spas, bringing in about $2.5 billion a year.
By definition, the United States of America is a rape culture. The city with the highest sex trafficking per capita is Washington DC! Where is the justice for victims in the Epstein scandal? USA TODAY found that in 500 sex trafficking cases from 2008 to 2017 in Florida, only 15% were convicted of trafficking. Most of those convicted had reduced charges or they were dropped completely. They also found that in Hollywood, 24 massage parlors from 2016 to 2017 were involved with sex trafficking. The undercover operations reported that two of the massage parlor employees attempted to bribe the police. Not one person went to jail. Rape and sex trafficking will continue unless we start bringing these rapists and criminals to justice.
Baum, M. A., Cohen, D. K., & Zhukov, Y. M. (2018). Does Rape Culture Predict Rape? Evidence from US Newspapers, 2000–2013. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 13(3), 263-289.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. (1981). “The Socio-Cultural Context of Rape: A Cross-Cultural Study.” Journal of Social Issues 37(4): 5–27.