Many of San Francisco’s Asian massage parlors have degenerated into something much more sinister: international sex slave shops, the San Francisco Chronicle reports in the first of a four-part series. Once limited to infamous locales like Bombay and Bangkok, sex trafficking is an $8 billion international business, with San Francisco among its largest commercial centers. San Francisco’s liberal attitude toward sex, its history of arresting prostitutes instead of pimps, and its large immigrant population have made it one of the top U.S. for international sex traffickers to work undetected, says Donna Hughes of the University of Rhode Island. “It makes me sick to my stomach,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “Girls are being forced to come to this country, their families back home are threatened, and they are being raped repeatedly, over and over.”
Relying on research from the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department estimates there are 14,500 to 17,500 human trafficking victims brought into the United States each year. Some advocacy groups place the number of U.S. victims much higher, while others criticize the government for overstating the problem. “The number of Asian massage parlors has doubled in San Francisco in the last two years,” said Capt. Tim Hettrich of the San Francisco police vice unit. “Profits are huge. I have nine people working on this. I need three times that many to keep up.” There are at least 90 massage parlors in San Francisco where sex is for sale, according to the online sex Web site myredbook.com. The scope of sex trafficking in San Francisco is much larger — women are also forced to work as escorts, outcall girls, erotic dancers and street prostitutes. Women are also placed in “AAMPs” — Asian apartment massage parlors — which are little more than apartments rented by traffickers who staff them with one or two sex workers.