Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots, was arrested on the charge of soliciting prostitution at a massage parlor in Jupiter, FL, in late February.
Breaking his silence on the matter for the first time in more than a month in a statement on Saturday, March 23, Kraft stated, “I am truly sorry. I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard.”
While this is the highest profile case of massage parlor busts, it is far from the first, causing many to pose the question: Could these massage parlors exist in the heart of a city like Edmond?
Among the high-end cars and old money passed down for generations, there is a dark secret woven deep into Edmond. With a population of around 92,000 residents, Edmond is home to roughly 28 different massage parlors, some of them fronting sex trafficking.
The stereotypical trafficking victim appears in society’s mind as a tied up, beaten and drug-addicted young woman. This is not the case, however, as massage parlors have become one of the national leaders in the trafficking and prostitution business.
“We stopped thinking about just cages, bars and chains as the means of coercion,” John Richmond, the U.S. Department of State’s top anti-trafficking official, said. “They are using nonviolent forms of coercion.”
These women arrive in America from Asia looking for work. Some want to live a better life; others want to send money back home to their families or pay off debts. Regardless of their motivation, they usually show up in New York City.
When they step off the plane at JFK, several of these new immigrants go the part of NYC which feels most like home: Flushing, Queens, better known as Chinatown. Here the streets are lined with women yelling out, “Massage! Massage!” Many of these women were coerced into the industry and are being held against their will.
Law enforcement told the New York Times they estimate there to be “9,000 illicit massage parlors across the country, from Orlando to Los Angeles. The epicenter of this national underground is the bustling Chinatown in Flushing, in the New York City borough of Queens.”
While shipping these girls out across the country, the people who run this industry keep their hands clean by residing in Flushing and pleading ignorant to any of the charges brought against their out-of-state parlors.
RubMaps is an online directory for special massage parlors with “happy endings”— the name of the sexual favor the customer receives after, or in place of, the massage. The site gives the location of the parlors and reviews of the girls, parlors and how the “happy ending” was.
In Edmond, 18 of these “happy ending” massage parlors are listed on RubMaps. This means a resident wishing to get a legitimate massage has a better than average chance that he or she has wandered into an operation which offers illegal activities as well.
One of the “happy ending” Edmond parlors had a phone number with a Flushing area code (347) which has since been disconnected. However, the number is still listed as their main business phone.
With reviews as recent as December 2018, reviewers go into detail about what these women did. Two women named CiCi and Lee—most likely nicknames given to them by employers—were rated on a scale of the pleasure they provided the customer.
Additionally, the parlor has business practices an average customer might consider unusual. They do not accept credit cards, only cash, which significantly lowers the risk of a paper trail. They also say they “work for tips,” a slang phrase in this business for notifying the customer they do in fact solicit prostitution.
As stated by the New York Times, “The women are paid just a sliver of the $60 or more the client pays for an hour-long massage. Their real money—and chance at a better life—comes in the form of tips, which they are encouraged or forced to amplify through illegal means.”
Chris Mueller, the director of training and external affairs for the anti-sex trafficking organization Restore NYC, states many of the women “fear retaliation by traffickers to their families in China, and some feel morally indebted to those who helped find them a job.”
In an interview with the Times, Mueller said, “This is a powerful exploitation tactic. Any favor is implied there is going to be a payment back. ‘Look at what I have done for you. I found you a job. I found you a place to live, and this is how you repay me?’”
Jenny Wagnon, the public information specialist for the Edmond Police Department said, “We work routinely with [the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs] on these crimes and do spot checks on massage parlors around our jurisdiction. We do not at this time have an active investigation.”