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ABC-7 exclusive: An inside look at efforts to stop human trafficking at illicit El Paso massage parlors

massage parlor raid
KVIA
Yellow crime scene tape blocks off the area in front of a massage parlor along Mesa Street that was raided.

EL PASO, Texas -- They are located in strip malls appearing like a legitimate storefront, but behind closed doors some El Paso massage parlors become a front for not just prostitution, but also human trafficking.

A three-month investigation revealed there are dozens of these establishments with explicit reviews in the Sun City operating seemingly in broad daylight. ABC-7 worked closely with the El Paso County Attorney's office to learn more about the process in place to close these places down.

On Oct. 5, the County Attorney's Nuisance Abatement Team served 'Health Massage' in east El Paso a temporary restraining order for code violations. An 18-month probe revealed sex acts had taken place in this establishment, with investigators observing:

"The establishment allowed massage therapists to dress in a sexually provocative manner... The establishment advertises on websites commonly used to offer sex services using phrases in advertising that lead a reasonable person to believe sex is offered for compensation."

That raid uncovered what investigators said are signs of an illegal spa.

"It shows some of the massage rooms are used as a little bedroom, it has bedding that is not typical for a massage parlor. You can see clothes are kept in there shoes are kept under the bed, we found luggage inside of the rooms," said Amy Monsivais, trial team chief for the County Attorney's Office.

ABC-7 crews observed firsthand what Monsivais was referencing while investigators served the temporary restraining order. A refrigerator was stocked with food, a pantry housed spices and there was even lettuce sitting out - which are not things that Monsivais says you'd normally see at a legitimate massage business.

Investigators scour the dark web where sites like 'Rubmaps' review sex spas. Their workers are rated on their bodies, sexual services and fees. A snapshot taken this month revealed more than 60 massage establishments in El Paso had explicit reviews.

While the County Attorney's Office looks for civil violations, like operating without a license and masseuses living inside the parlors, in order to shut these places down, the Texas Department of Public Safety launches a simultaneous criminal investigation into prostitution. If they suspect international human trafficking is occurring, then federal agents get involved.

This past year alone, DPS served criminal search warrants at 13 establishments. However, authorities noted that civil efforts aimed at closing down these establishments are sometimes a separate process from the execution of criminal search warrants.

"They were search warrants, they weren't actions to shut them down. They were done by law enforcement, that's not what they do. We had at least information on one of those parlors and we were able to get enough information to file for a temporary restraining order," Monsivais explained.

So who is bringing these women to the Borderland, and how did they end up trapped in this illicit trade?

Collective Liberty, a national nonprofit that helps victims of human trafficking, told ABC-7 that these women are recruited from Asia and sold a false promise of the American dream.

"If they didn't have immigration status you can.t get most jobs. They went through their network, their community and that's how they ended up here. And that's often how they end up traveling, they think, overnight to maybe another part of New York - but ending up in Chicago, Oklahoma, Indiana and not even realizing what state they are in," said Rochelle Keyhan, the CEO of Collective Liberty.

Keyhan said these vulnerable women end up stranded in unknown places isolated by language and, in the end, charged with prostitution.

"If they go to law enforcement for help, they know there is a high likelihood that they are going to get arrested, so they are not going to ask for help. We need to be thinking, 'what is the end game here?' Do we care more about prostitution than trafficking, and if so, we really need to consider what the priorities are: What is the worst crime?" Keyhan said.

Monsivais told ABC-7 that in the last four years, the County Attorney's Office has been able to close down 10 massage parlors through civil lawsuits.

JC Navarrete

El Paso native JC Navarrete co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend newscasts and reports during the week.

Comments

35 Comments

      1. Same thing moron. There are no “asylum seekers”. Most illegals coming across are either criminals escaping prosecution in their home countries or human trafficking victims being sold to weirdos like you.

      2. they absolutely do….if you think there’s no trafficking going on with the other immigrants then you’re sorely mistaken. Just so we’re on the same page they find a lot of these ladies recruited are here illegally, so why doesn’t pleters office send legal help?

  1. These women need to learn enough about where they are geographically when they get here to make sure they stay in California where they will be helped by law enforcement instead of being abused by them. The large Chinese American community on the west coast is very much in tune to this problem and they have the resources and intelligence needed to deal with the problem.

      1. How the hell is that going to stop it? All will do is allow more of our own daughters to end up in the profession. You should be hung for even suggesting that

          1. This is coming from fake markturner? Promoting sex slavery? Typical from the likes of you and your ilk.

  2. PRESIDENT TRUMP CHINA SANCTIONS NEAR ME Surprised that the CDC isn’t also involved in the politically motivated sex raids along with the other slew of Alphabet Boyz since Trump slanders China & Chinese people as the origin of the so called ‘WUHAN VIRUS’. But I digress, many of these so called victims of sex trafficking are willing participants and send money back home to mainland China. So again: TRUMP CHINA SANCTIONS NEAR ME.

  3. DAng!!! The El Paso White pedophiles are shit out of luck. Themb white perverts! Cochinos!!!!!! They can’t go to Juarez to prey on children. Mfers are known for that.??? The white pervs!

    1. So what exactly is your stance? Is it, there’s human trafficking going on and is fine? Or is it there’s no human trafficking going on and the police are lying and leave them alone? I’m trying to understand the leave them alone bit.

  4. TRUMP SANCTIONS NEAR ME: WW2 History shows that prior to going to war with a country, the belligerent nation conducts Firstly the pretext false flag NO KNOCK WARRANTS & raids & roundups & frame-ups.Then come the internment camps JAPANESE. or Concentration camps So don’t be surprised or disappointed should your Chinese or Korean neighbor suddenly disappears. They haven’t been deported, they’ve been ‘resettled’

    1. But what about the human trafficking part? I understand what you mean but I don’t know law enough to know entrapment. Are you ok with human trafficking? I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the new stance of the left

  5. This is the reason you need strictly enforced borders. You can still have immigration with them. Trafficking is out of control and authorities have no handle on it – not even close. There is nothing wrong with prostitution if it is done by choice between adults. It amazes me people don’t speak up when there are stash houses near them. There is no way anyone could miss them.

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