From December 2007 to December 2016, approximately 2,950 cases of sex trafficking in the commercial massage and health and beauty service industry were reported to hotlines operated by Polaris, a leading anti-trafficking organization in the United States.
Of these health and beauty businesses that were fronts for brothels, nail salons made up over 10%, at about 50 reported cases, according to a recent report from Polaris.
Regarding labor trafficking — as distinct from sex trafficking — nail salons were the highest reported health or beauty business involved, at about 200 cases. Labor trafficking exploits its workers for extremely low wages, and work provided is involuntary, but not related to sexual acts. In these cases, traffickers and victims have an employer and employee type of relationship.
For both types of trafficking, victims were primarily females in their mid-20s to mid-30s from China, South Korea, and Southeast Asia. Because of language barriers, it can be difficult for victims to reach out for help, the Polaris report explains.
Additionally, victims of sex trafficking may frequent nail salons as customers due to their trafficker’s desire to enhance their physical appearance, especially if the victim is a higher-end type of escort.
In order to identify a nail salon customer as a sex trafficking victim, pay attention to the demeanor of the customer: Is she refusing to make eye contact with an older gentleman who pays for her service? Is she acting submissively or does she seem to be controlled? If so, she may be the victim of sex trafficking.
Regarding brothels fronting as commercial health and beauty businesses, the spas or salon will often have poorly trained workers, or they will refuse to offer a service from their menu completely. Watch out for male customers being taken into a different room, or for any evidence that the women are living on-site. These are red flags for a potential sex trafficking business posing as a commercial storefront, according to Polaris.
Referred to as “Modern Day Slavery,” the organization’s new report aims to increase awareness about sex and labor trafficking by organizing the epidemic into 25 distinct typologies, ranging from industries in agriculture, hospitality, traveling sales, beauty, and more.
Much of this illicit industry is still unknown, so while this data could possibly be an accurate portrayal of the prevalence of trafficking in the country, it’s by no means certain. Polaris simply reviews the data of reported cases, and exposes potential gaps that need to be further explored, serving as beginning step toward eradicating sex and labor trafficking in the States.
If you suspect a person is a victim of human trafficking, call the Polaris Project Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or visit www.polarisproject.org.