Sex Trafficking Takes Place in Residential Brothels as Obscure As Your Local Massage Parlor or Nail Salon

Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, achieves the impossible. -Anonymous

Not in my town. Not in my neighborhood. Not within my city limits. That’s the thought so many of us have — or have had — about sex trafficking occurring in our neighborhoods, many times right under our noses.

The sad truth is that the sex trade knows no boundaries. Selling people for sex occurs in all neighborhoods, at all hours, by all races, and targets women, men and children of all ages. Studies show, however; that people who work in residential brothels are primarily women, and the average age of a person who is trafficked is between 11 and 14 years old, according to non-governmental U.S. statistics. 

The global sex trade is sometimes very obvious, with women being sold in store windows, but locally this practice can be very ambiguous. Many locations where sex is sold is not as obvious as a McDonald’s sign, seen from miles away. Selling people for sex can be as discreet as a massage parlor, and/or a local business posing as a restaurant, a nail salon or another business. Residential brothels can also operate out of residential and non-commercial areas, or be located in houses, apartment complexes, condos, or trailer homes.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a residential brothel is a type of brothel that requires women to live and sleep at the brothel’s location 24/7 with limited ability to leave the residence. 

 “Residential brothels often rely on extra security and supervision to control the victim’s movement and activities,” notes the site. “Victims are regularly moved to new brothel locations to avoid detection by community members and ensure victims remain unfamiliar with their surroundings.”

Also, according to the site, Milwaukee ranked 34 out of 100 for incoming communicationsmade to the National Human Trafficking Hotline via phone, email or online tips from Dec. 7, 2007, to Dec. 31, 2016. Houston Texas ranked No. 1 by total number of calls and Washington, D.C., ranked No. 1 by total number of calls per capita. Assistant Milwaukee County District Attorney, Erin Karshen, told WUWM 89.7 FM Milwaukee Public Radio that she sees a common thread of how traffickers begin their relationship with their victims.

 “The trafficker either picks them up off the street, provides them food, provides them shelter, showers them with compliments, gives them money to have their hair done, their nails done,” she explains.

Once victims are dependent on the trafficker for basic needs, she says the trafficker manipulates them by saying they need to contribute, saying things like, “Why don’t I just set up a date with you to talk to this person, not necessarily have sex?”

Then there is the classification of pimps based on how they operate to lure victims in and keep them under their control. A Romeo pimp is one that uses romance to lure their victim in, whereas a Gorilla (Guerilla) pimp uses coercion and violence to maintain control over their victim.

For more info on common trafficking terms, read here. 

What is Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking occurs when individuals are forced, coerced, or tricked into exchanging sex for money. It is also considered trafficking when children are sold sexually for money, no matter the scenario. Traffickers may separate victims from their families and use control and acts of violence to prevent them from escaping. Traffickers frequently move victims, further separating them from family members and friends and to keep them reliant, as they are less likely to be able to orient themselves in unfamiliar areas. 

Who Are the Traffickers?

Residential brothels are generally run by groups of people and operate across the globe, or transnationally. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, most of the brothels in residential areas are closed networks and target victim populations similar in ethnicity as those people living there. 

How Do Traffickers Advertise These Brothels?

Brothels can be advertised online as legitimate businesses.  More than likely, a brothel will advertise via cards/tarjetas or by word-of-mouth depending on if the location has legalized prostitution. In Las Vegas, for example, tarjetas and cards are handed out on the strip freely and without fear of punishment. 

Read the previous blog post here: Sex Trafficking Is A $32 Billion Industry With 75 Percent of Individuals Reported as Advertised Online 

Who Is Vulnerable To Being Trafficked?

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, women, children, immigrants or people of the LGBTQ community are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked, and those targeted specifically to work in residential brothels are usually undocumented, or tricked with promises of employment. Women who face economic hardship are also vulnerable to being coerced into the sex trade because they need to provide for themselves and their family members.

Women in residential brothels may have immigrated with a legitimate visa or a false one provided by their traffickers. In many cases, their identifying info is confiscated, leaving them vulnerable and unable to move freely on their own without their passport, visa, or other documentation. Many of the women do not even speak the local language and therefore are easily tricked into fearing the police, government officials, or other people who can help them.

We are just starting to understand the complexities of the problem, and local laws are consistently changing. A bill was proposed today in New York that would completely decriminalize sex work. This news is welcome news for pimps, brothel owners and those who profit from selling sex to members of the public. As Aaron pointed out in his previous post, How Men Could End Sex Trafficking: Part 2, decriminalizing sex would NOT eradicate the trafficking component, as many are led to believe.

Also stated in his blog post, “full decriminalization” means fully decriminalizing pimping, brothel-keeping, and buying sex. Germany and New Zealand have done exactly that, and the results have been tragic.

In her speechbefore the Italian Parliament in Rom in 2018, Dr. Ingeborg Kraus reported, that “the German model has become hell for them” with a 30 percent increase in prostitution since 2002, an enormous increase in demand for the sale of sex, and 1.2 million men buying sex every day.

“A state that legalises the buying of sex, forments hate among men and women and destroys and traumatises relationships and families for generations“ Kraus writes. “There is ‘a right’ to buy sexual acts and there is no need to feel guilty about that any more… I will preserve you from details, but today, completely legally, you can buy a woman and piss her in her face, do group rapes, or force her to swallow semen…The “German model“ of legalising prostitution has shown itself to be a law obliging the criminal world and has turned Germany into traffickers’, procurers’ and brothel keepers’ Eldorado, as Manfred Paulus, Chief Inspector with the police, has stated.

Read her full speech here

If decriminalization fails, what is the other option? The Nordic Model. Read about this and the rest of Aaron’s post here.

Catalyst Ministries aims to be part of the solution with the ever changing times. We are here and want to help. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Centerby phone at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733).


Proverbs 31:8-9