Illegal massage parlors outnumber Starbucks in NYC

In one in all New York’s toniest neighborhoods, only a few blocks from the Brooklyn federal courthouse, a shady massage parlor is hidden in plain view.

The Ming Happy Spa on Montague Street, conspicuously open till 1 a.m. seven nights per week, is subsequent door to a high-end ladies’s boutique and operates an innocuous second-floor storefront that sees a gradual stream of well-dressed male clientele late into the night time. 

The alleged illicit massage enterprise in the upscale neighborhood is one in all at the least 629 others presently working throughout the 5 boroughs — a community of unlawful enterprises so huge, they outnumber Starbucks 2 to 1 citywide, in response to information from Heyrick Research.

For each Starbucks that’s in the 5 boroughs, there are at the least two IMBs. In Queens, which has at the least 269 open brothels, the illicit companies outnumber Starbucks 5 to 1, the info from the intelligence-driven counter-trafficking group that focuses solely on the illicit massage business reveals.

Like many different IMBs, the Ming Happy Spa seems harmless sufficient from Montague Street’s sidewalk. Mainstream chains like UPS and CityMD neighbor the enterprise on the bustling block and inventory artwork of males, ladies and {couples} receiving luxurious massages are displayed on the home windows alongside the enterprise’s cellphone quantity, hours and deal with. 

But earlier this summer time, a neighborhood teenager in search of an reasonably priced massage after a boxing session at Gleason’s Gym wandered in and seen the hallmarks of a spot providing greater than spa companies. 

“[There was] only one woman working there. She asked me what I wanted and I simply said an hour-long back massage,” 17-year-old Matthew Kodsi, who was 16 on the time, instructed The Post.

“She asked me several times if I wanted anything ‘other than the massage,’ including a shower beforehand. I said no, just the massage.” 

Ming Happy Spa, which doubles as a brothel, is just one of 629 businesses that operate in plain sight.
Ming Happy Spa, which doubles as a brothel, is only one of 629 companies that function in plain sight.
William C. Lopez/NY Post

Kodsi, whose household has lived in the neighborhood for over 50 years, rapidly began to note different crimson flags. 

“She requested payment upfront and tried negotiating a tip, starting at 40 percent, but I requested she keep it at 20 percent. The one-woman show, mixed with the strange negotiations of service and payment, made me uneasy,” the teenager defined.

Once Kodsi was on the desk, the employee acquired “half a dozen calls” throughout the first 20 minutes from a person she stated was inebriated and “begging for an appointment” and about midway via the massage, the person burst into the room and demanded companies in slurred speech.

According to recent data, for every Starbucks that's in the five boroughs, there are at least two illicit massage businesses (IMBs).
According to latest information, for each Starbucks that’s in the 5 boroughs, there are at the least two illicit massage companies (IMBs).
Robert Mecea

“She told him to wait in the street and he left to go back downstairs. It was very clear to me at that point that this particular parlor had gained a reputation amongst men looking for a certain attention late at night,” Kodsi stated. 

Kodsi’s mom Rachel Foster is the co-founder of the anti-trafficking group World Without Exploitation — so the teenager grew up learning about what the sex trade seems like and helped begin the group’s youth coalition. 

“When I was in the space, it took me a moment but then I quickly connected the dots,” Kodsi stated.

Matthew Kodsi (right) went to Ming Happy spa not realizing it was a brothel and was asked if he was looking for anything else besides a massage.
Matthew Kodsi (proper) went to Ming Happy spa not realizing it was a brothel and was requested if he was in search of anything moreover a massage.
William C. Lopez/NY Post

“There seemed to be no issue with teenagers going into the space and paying for whatever ‘services’ they were offering. If I had not been a WorldWE youth leader, making videos and educating kids about these issues, I’m not sure I would have picked up on what was happening in the way I did,” he continued. 

“What this establishment does is normalize prostitution and suggest that, for a price, women can be bought by men so long as they have the financial resources to do so … The money paid for sex doesn’t buy the consent of these women, only their compliance.”

The Ming Happy Spa has a heavy on-line footprint promoting “sexy” “full-body” massages from “beautiful” “Asian masseuses.” On a well-liked intercourse purchaser assessment web site, a form of Yelp for “happy ending” massage companies, the placement has over a dozen evaluations, the latest from Aug. 4.

Ming Happy Spa's seemingly innocent website page.
Ming Happy Spa’s seemingly harmless web site web page.
Arellano, Juan

In all the evaluations, the boys declare they paid $60 for the massage and between $40 and $50 for the alleged intercourse act that got here on the finish and described in repulsive element what groping they had been allowed to do, how expert the employees had been and their total ranking of the expertise. When reached by cellphone, the spa declined remark.  

Hundreds of such companies throughout the 5 boroughs, from the Upper East Side to Staten Island, are reviewed on the web site and plenty of of them allegedly promote full-service intercourse, not simply post-massage masturbation, the evaluations point out. 

Experts instructed The Post the prevalence of those institutions, and their potential to function in plain sight with impunity, displays an unofficial, citywide shift toward the decriminalization of the intercourse commerce. It coincided with a push from City Hall and three district attorneys to not prosecute individuals in prostitution as a result of lots of them are forced into the trade both as kids or out of financial desperation as adults. 

Rachel Foster (left) is a co-founder of the anti-trafficking group World Without Exploitation.
Rachel Foster (left) is a co-founder of the anti-trafficking group World Without Exploitation.
William C. Lopez/NY Post

While many anti-trafficking advocates, politicians and consultants largely agree that folks in prostitution shouldn’t be re-victimized with an arrest, they are saying unfettered demand is what keeps pimps and traffickers supplying a gradual stream of trafficked ladies on the market and is what retains the business thriving. There is not any indication that the ladies at Happy Ming had been trafficked.

First revealed in The Post’s expose of an open-air sex market in East New York, arrests for intercourse patrons and pimps have all however dried up citywide, in response to information from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. In 2018, there have been 1,130 arrests for patronizing a prostitute and selling prostitution and in 2019, there have been 623. By 2020, that quantity dropped by about 50 p.c to 316 and as of July 16, there have been simply 30 such arrests citywide, the numbers present. 

“When you remove any veil of accountability, the demand [for sex] is going to go up because now there’s zero fear of consequence. In many ways, by default you are almost putting a stamp of approval and acceptance on it and that to me is alarming,” Chris Muller-Tabanera, the nationwide director of Heyrick Research, instructed The Post. 

“What I think is often misunderstood in the broader conversation is, yes, we don’t want to keep arresting those who may already be vulnerable or exploited, but by taking all eyes off the industry, you’re giving a free pass to buyers, you’re almost giving your consent to it and [IMB] managers are probably just counting their money like giddy schoolboys.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been obscure about whether or not he helps full decriminalization, which might legalize the illicit spas and take away penalties for intercourse patrons, or partial decriminalization, which removes penalties for intercourse staff however nonetheless outlaws sex-buying, pimping and brothel-owning.

In March, the lame-duck mayor outlined a series of police reforms that included some proposed modifications to how intercourse work is policed — however they didn’t particularly deal with illicit massage companies or intercourse shopping for. Shortly after, the Coalition Against Women in Trafficking criticized the proposed coverage modifications, saying de Blasio is “de facto supporting sex-trade decriminalization, which would green-light sex-buying, sex tourism, commercial sex establishments and third-party profiteers.”

The NYPD didn’t return a request for remark in search of extra data on the work they’re doing to arrest intercourse patrons and pimps and shut down IMBs, nor did City Hall.

A spokesperson for the Kings County District Attorney’s Office stated they proceed to “aggressively prosecute traffickers and offers services” to individuals in the intercourse commerce however famous long-term investigations into the house owners of IMBs and undercover operations “have proven challenging for various reasons, including the complex nature of those illegal enterprises.” 

“The reality is that law enforcement alone cannot effectively address the intractable issue of massage parlors and prostitution; it requires a multi-agency approach or an amended legal framework,” the spokesperson stated. 

“In years past, specific community complaints have led to operations that shuttered some establishments but yielded very few trafficking cases. We have not received similar complaints in recent years.”

Yvonne Chen, the director of personal sector engagement with the anti-child intercourse trafficking group ECPAT-USA, spent years working with Chinese ladies trafficked in IMBs and agreed the business is extremely complicated and differs from traditional sex trafficking

“I think it’s important to recognize that America is very westernized, and it is about the individual and it is about my own rights … but a lot of people are coming from communities, specifically in East Asian culture, [which is centered] around collectivism,” Chen instructed The Post. 

She stated the people who find themselves trafficked in IMBs are sometimes weak immigrants who got here to the US so they might make more cash for his or her households or assist sick family members and are sometimes tricked into working at massage companies beneath the premise that they’re conventional spas. 

“So the first, like, first few days might be what they would consider normal, like nothing abnormal happened, they were treated well, everything was kind of fine and then there would be a special customer or an old customer that came in, that then ended up wanting extra services and that’s when a lot of the coercion would happen,” Chen defined. 

“Exploiters or traffickers would say, ‘Well, you know, this is a customer, like, we want to make sure they’re happy, if they’re not happy, you know, we might take money out’ or ‘Don’t you want to support your family? This is really the only job’ or they might even threaten to tell their community, things like that and then some people might get assaulted, or raped or harassed and then after that comes a lot of the shame,” she continued. 

“Shame is a word that I feel like in the English term doesn’t necessarily portray how heavy that is for someone … shame is so heavy and it can really paralyze someone into feeling like they can’t even share anything.” 

Chen stated the extent of coercion trafficked ladies in IMBs face is far more nuanced than conventional trafficking and exploiters don’t have to depend on violence to maintain victims beneath their management. In many cases, they threaten to report them to immigration or their households and inform them the police will deport them in the event that they attempt to name them.

When police do goal IMBs, Chen stated oftentimes, there have been extra arrests for trafficked ladies than prospects, which “caused a lot of distrust in the community.”   

While arresting patrons and traffickers is one method to goal the IMB business, Chen stated the individuals who find yourself trafficked want extra choices and companies so their vulnerability isn’t focused by exploiters.

“I think employment opportunities, living wage opportunities, and things like that should definitely be a focus,” Chen stated. 

“You can’t tell someone to leave a situation if you don’t have something else that’s better and I think that’s something that we have to acknowledge as a society.” 

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