Prosecutors said two women were arrested in a raid of three alleged brothels operating as massage parlors.
The connection between prostitution, massage parlors and sex trafficking recently made national headlines when billionaire NFL mogul Robert Kraft was picked up in a similar sex scandal in Florida last month.
Human rights advocates said it’s a huge problem especially here in Hawaii as well.
Law enforcement stormed Ace Spa, Golden Spa and Sun Spa at 1507 King Street Friday night.
The Prosecuting Attorney’s office said the bust highlights an ongoing effort to stop sex trafficking and prostitution in the heart of Honolulu.
Two women were taken into custody for promotion of prostitution and related charges.
But, less than 24 hours after the three massage parlors were raided all three businesses had their open sign lit up and front doors wide open. When KHON went in to inquire, they turned off the open signs shortly after.
Glenn Freitas lives in the building.
He said it was a bit of a surprise seeing the doors open this morning. “It’s like they’re not afraid. They don’t care…It’s a business and they’re taking a chance to do what they do to make money,” Freitas said.
Kathryn Xian, the executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said she’s not at all shocked.
“It’s not surprising that these places are quickly opened right after they are busted by police. This particular building has been well known to house prostitution or brothels for several years. Why they continue to skirt around the issue of evicting them remains to be seen,” Xian said.
Xian said law enforcement aren’t targeting the real problem.
“You need to end the demand. You need to go after the johns and people who pay others for sex. You need to go after the traffickers themselves. Busting the mama-sons at brothels won’t do anything. They don’t own the brothel. They just manage it onsite for people who are responsible for these crimes,” Xian explained.
“Massage parlor businesses, which front for commercial sex is extremely lucrative in Honolulu…we know there are over 100 active massage parlor brothels that re being reviewed by sex buyers who are local, tourists, business people, regulars, that are listed online right now,” Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women said.
Jacoba-Carolus said the problem is so widespread in Hawaii and there is so much money generated that there is a strong link to organized crime.
“That’s what really defines or sets apart massage parlor brothels from other prostitution.”
Other havens for sex trafficking in Hawaii are strip clubs, hostess bars and game rooms according Jacoba-Carolus.
Freitas said he speaks to the women who work in the brothels next to his apartment all the time. He described them as low-key.
“The people are friendly the girls are friendly they’re nice, they’re sweet. As far as outside of there, to me they don’t take their business outside of their business,” Freitas said.
Freitas added that people are going in and out of the massage parlors are all hours of the night and day.
It’s an industry in high demand here and many of the women in the massage parlor brothers are Asian, Jacoba-Carolus said.
“Specifically, the women are Chinese, Korean or Filipina, Thai, Vietnamese. They tend to skew more foreign born, which raises a lot of questions about their vulnerability.”
Xian said it’s important for people to remember that many of the women in these brothels are victims.
“They are the victims whether or not they grew up in it or they were forced in it,” Xian said.
Case workers from the Susannah Wesley Community Center were at the raid ready to assist the 12 women working in the spas when they were raided in case any of them were victims of sex trafficking.