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Human Trafficking Stories

from Boston to Bangkok

Photo | 承燁 韓 

​Part 1 : Hiding in Plain Sight

2​ The Route Through Queens

3 The Business of Trafficking

4 One Town In Thailand

5​ Taken Into China

6 Trading in Shame
7 : Modern-Day Slavery in America
8 : Human Trafficking: What Now?​



Special Report: Human Trafficking 

Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok is an eight-part investigation into human trafficking from East Asia to the Northeast Corridor of the United States by
Phillip Martin, senior investigative reporter at WGBH Boston Public Radio and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.

The WGBH investigation was done in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists, the Ford Foundation, and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. 

The series will broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays through January.

Claire Pavlik Purgus, Schuster Institute managing editor, conceptualized, designed and edited this site which provides supporting documentation and context for  WGBH Radio's human trafficking investigation, "Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok" and
PBS American Experience's
"The Abolitionists."

Sophie Elsner, Schuster Institute research editor, supervised research by Brandeis students who work as Research Assistants at the Schuster Institute.

More Schuster Institute


WGBH Boston Public Radio
By Phillip Martin

Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Special Report: Human Trafficking
"Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok" is a WGBH eight-part investigation by Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Phillip Martin into human trafficking, from East Asia to New York to New England. 

Part 1: Hiding in Plain Sight 



WGBH Investigations reports: Federal, state and local law enforcement say that the closing of an alleged brothel in Wellesley, Massachusetts disguised as a spa is the tip of the iceberg of a multi-billion dollar worldwide human trafficking industry, connected by money, a desperation to leave home, and migration. They also say it is connected by literal routes. 


​Listen to the broadcast "Hiding in Plain Sight" at WGBH Boston Public Radio.

Massage Parlors As Fronts For Prostitution
& Sex Trafficking

Erotic massage parlors, often fronts for human trafficking and forced sexual labor, are operating in plain sight in large cities and small towns throughout the Northeast.


In this Fox25 broadcast of District Court hearings, the prosecutor in the Wellesley Sun Spa case explains the mechanisms that keep the massage parlor supplied with workers. 

Selected 2012 News Reports About
 Massage Parlor 
Arrests in the Northeast


Windsor Locks, CT
“Windsor Locks Sex Spa Arrest Highlights Human Trafficking Problem In State,” 12/07/12, The Hartford Courant​

"[The victim] had answered an ad to do foot massages. She took a bus to Connecticut and was driven to a Windsor Locks building, where according to police she was held against her will for two weeks at an illegal massage parlor near the restaurant, police said. She was forbidden to leave her room and was not fed unless she performed sex acts on customers, police said."


Darien, CT
“3 charged in Darien prostitution bust,” 11/30/12, WTNH

"Three employees of Sunrise Health Therapeutic Massage were arrested on prostitution charges Friday in Darien. Police say patrons at Sunrise Health were being offered sex for money. Officers seized $4,500 in cash and a vehicle used to transport the female employees."

Clinton, CT

“Clinton massage parlor owner arrested for prostitution,”
4/11/12, New Haven Register

"The owner of a former Post Office Square massage parlor was arrested on Superior Court warrants charging her with prostitution and promoting prostitution after surrendering at police headquarters Wednesday."


Revere/Wellesley, MA
“Prostitution ring busted in Revere, Wellesley,” 10/19/12, My Fox Boston

"Two massage parlor owners are accused of being part of a human trafficking and prostitution ring. ...Attorney General Martha Coakley says that her office and investigators believe the owners ran the massage parlors jointly as fronts for their prostitution ring."

Oxford, MA
“Oxford massage parlor operators seek dismissal of sexual slavery charges,” 9/1/12, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

"The attorneys for two women accused of running a local massage parlor that allegedly offered sexual conduct for a fee are lobbying to have the cases against their clients dismissed. Attorneys Michael Erlich and Kenneth P. Canty both filed a motion to dismiss for their clients, Lanyun Ma, 42, and Wei Ma, 22, respectively, who are both charged with trafficking of a person for sexual servitude."


Hopedale / Worcester, MA
“Manager of 'massage parlors' in Worcester and Hopedale faces prostitution charge,” 6/22/12, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

“A woman accused of managing houses of prostitution in Worcester and Hopedale was ordered held on $10,000 cash bail today on a charge of human trafficking for sexual servitude. Ling Wang, 50...was arrested yesterday after a state police investigation focusing on three locations, two of which were identified by investigators as houses of prostitution."


Medford, MA
Arrests Not Enough to Close Massage Parlors,” 4/6/12, Medford Patch

"Two women at Medford massage parlors were arrested Thursday for allegedly offering sexual favors for a fee to undercover officers, but that isn't enough for police to shut down the businesses. ...Baojuan Shi, 49 of New York City, and Simone Santos, 39, of Malden, each face misdemeanor charges of offering sexual conduct for a fee. But neither implicated their employer...which prevents police from charging the owners with deriving an income from prostitution."

Needham, MA

“Police: Spas in Needham Prostitution Sting to Shutter,” 3/20/12, Needham Patch

"Two massage parlors in Needham are in the process of being shut down after employees at each location were arrested on Friday, March 16 for alleged prostitution."​

Somerville, MA

“Somerville masseuse: Yes to 'happy ending' but 'no boom boom',”

3/20/2012, Wicked Local Somerville

"A masseuse at a Somerville business who allegedly offered an undercover cop a 'happy ending' but 'no boom boom' for $100 was arrested last Tuesday. Aihong Han, 42, of New York was charged with sexual conduct for a fee, according to a police report."

Waltham, MA
“Two Waltham Massage Parlors Fined For Violating License Rules,”
2/6/12, Waltham Patch

"Two Waltham massage parlors were cited recently for violating state licensing rules, according to Waltham Police. The Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure has fined Waltham Wellness Place, 905 Main St., and Zen Massage and Body Works, 740 Main St. (Suite 116), for license violations."

Haverhill, MA

“Police watched massage parlor for year and a half,” 1/19/12, The Eagle-Tribune

"State and local police have been watching a local massage parlor for more than a year and a half because of complaints that sexual favors were being sold there, investigators said."

New York​

Henrietta, NY
“State Police: Two women arrested for running business claiming to be massage parlor in Henrietta,” 10/10/12, WHEC-TV

​"An undercover police investigation has led to the arrest of two women in Henrietta at a business claiming to be an acupuncture and massage parlor. ...The State Police Special Investigations Unit tells I-Team 10 they charged two women who worked there with promoting prostitution and operating without a proper massage therapy license."


Depew, NY
“Police stage raid at Depew massage parlor,” 9/13/12, The Buffalo News

"Depew police and federal agents today raided a massage parlor after an investigation into whether employees were performing massages without a license and engaging in prostitution, The Buffalo News has confirmed."

West Babylon, NY

“Three Flushing Women Arrested in Massage Parlor Raid,”

9/20/12, Babylon Village Patch

"Three women from Flushing, Queens have been arrested by the Suffolk County Police Department for conducting illegal activities at a West Babylon massage parlor this afternoon. Xiu-Fang Ye, 40, Liying Han, 24, and Lina Yang, 31, all from Flushing, were arrested by Suffolk County Police at 2:35 p.m at Green Health Spa at 140 Route 109 in West Babylon."

Port Jefferson / Stony Brook, NY

“Undercover Massage Parlor Investigation Yields More Than 20 Arrests,” 2/24/12, Three Village Patch

"Suffolk County police have arrested more than 20 people in an undercover investigation called 'Operation Massage Parlor' conducted at a number of businesses in the Sixth Precinct. Police seized massage tables, assorted body oils, lotions, towels, bedding, and cash, and said many of the businesses closed following the arrests."

Rhode Island

Providence, RI
“Police provoke massage parlor closures,” 8/28/12, WPRI

"A bill banning indoor prostitution in Rhode Island may have been signed into law nearly three years ago, but some businesses continue to break the law. Providence police have begun an undercover operation into massage parlors suspected of illegal activity...Three women working at spas, including the Sunflower Spa on Douglas Avenue, have been arrested and charged for propositioning undercover police officers."

“Police raid Providence massage parlor,” 10/12/12, The Providence Journal

"The Providence police raided a well-known massage parlor Thursday, arresting three alleged prostitutes and sending five suspected 'Johns' fleeing. The Lily Spa at 375 Admiral St., in operation for about eight years, lists its services in adult-entertainment advertisements in local media and online."

How To Tell If A Massage Parlor Is Legitimate

With the proliferation of Asian massage parlors that offer sexual services behind the closed doors of establishments publicly advertising bodywork, massage, and wellness treatment, it is often difficult for consumers to discern legitimate massage therapists from those who aren't. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), a professional massage therapy organization that certifies members, has created a code of ethics.

The AMTA "Code of Ethics is a summary statement of the standards of conduct that define ethical behavior for the massage therapist. Adherence to the Code is a prerequisite for admission to and continued membership in the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)" that includes a set of Principles of Ethics and Rules of Ethics.

As an organization the AMTA has worked diligently to improve and maintain excellent standards of professionalism, since there has been a long history of massage practices being fronts for prostitution which has sullied the reputation of legitimate massage practice. Many massage therapists work to uphold those professional standards but as this investigation has discovered, erotic massages—often by the hands of human trafficking victims—are being offered in establishments up and down the Northeast Corridor.

There are ways for consumers to screen a prospective massage therapist in order to ensure this is a legitimate massage therapy establishment. The AMTA has created a list of questions that you to ask:


How To Find Out If A Massage Therapist
Is A Professional

In states such as Massachusetts and New York, massage therapists must be licensed. The following websites allow consumers to check the licenses of individual massage therapists and/or establishments. 


New York:


What The Law Says About Massage Therapy

Many states, including Massachusetts and New York, prohibit sexual contact during a massage. Learn for yourself what the law says.


Students who contributed research:

Sidra Ahmed

David Altman

Damiana Andonova

Simon Cramer

Lydia Emmanouilidou

Dafna Fine

Ariel Glickman

Shafaq Hasan

Elly Kalfus

Lindi Li
Alisa Partlan

Avi Snyder
Andrew Wingens
Madeline Ziff

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