On March 16th, Becca Torns-Barker, Scott Raymond, and I met in the Legislative Office Building as invited guests at the Connecticut TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Council meeting. The committee is comprised of members from a variety of areas of government, and they are working on a number of fronts to combat human trafficking in Connecticut. They had invited the AMTA, as well as the East Hartford PD, to attend and speak to what we are seeing in the massage field as a front for illegal trafficking and what challenges and success we have encountered.

Beau Thurnauer spoke on what EHPD has done to combat the illegal ‘massage parlors’ in their town. In 2014, they started to work to create compliance laws that would help to close these businesses. This did succeed in closing 6 of the 12 that they were concerned about, mostly through surveillance and compliance checks.

A big break happened when two ex-employees at one of the spas came forward to speak to the EHPD looking for help and protection. The information they provided was invaluable in assisting the EHPD to reach out and connect to a joint task force encompassing both federal and local authorities, as well as victim support services.

I was amazed at the scope of the operation, the variety of agencies that needed to coordinate, and the commitment that the EHPD has demonstrated to helping the victims while stopping illicit and illegal practices from continuing. Thurnauer did stress the commitment of both his Department and of the State to NOT prosecute victims, but acknowledged that they often disappear back into the folds of the mama-san or whoever is housing them.

Once AMTA was able to speak, Becca presented information from both National AMTA and Polaris Project that indicated how CT LMTs get licensed and what is required to sit for the MBLEx exam. She then spoke to the numbers of licenses granted to residents of Flushing NY, which is a known-area for human trafficking, and about the address-of-record for these people. There is clearly, when you look at the numbers, some discrepancies in how these people are able to both obtain licenses and be able to work in CT.

Becca’s recommendation was to create pro-massage ordinances in towns, and maybe offer that from the state level as a suggested best practice, so that there are some teeth behind the laws and protections for those who are legitimate, ethical licensed massage therapists. She stressed that making it more challenging for a legitimate therapist to maintain a license and practice is not the goal; making the license more difficult to receive in the beginning is a better plan (such as pictures to verify ID against the MBLEx records).

The meeting left me with far more answers and information about the complexity of closing these illicit businesses. There is to be further dialogue between the EHPD and the AMTA so that we can try and find recommendations going forward, as well as suggested practices to expedite these closings in other towns. The TIP committee is on-going and looks at human trafficking from the perspectives of those in house-service, food-service, and personal-service industries. I was honored to attend and look forward to continuing to dialogue and collaborate.

Nicole Arel, Government Relations Chair