Some massage parlors a haven for human trafficking

BPD bust scene (CBS42 / Phillip Ohnemus)
BPD bust scene (CBS42 / Phillip Ohnemus)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The sign claims it’s a spa, but Birmingham police say what’s going on inside VIP Spa is more than therapeutic.

Officers joined the FBI and ICE agents during a raid at the spa last week. Seven people were arrested on prostitution charges.

Investigators say these so-called spas are often fronts for prostitution and human trafficking.

This is the third time in the past year that a massage parlor has been busted for prostitution. Besides the VIP Spa, Birmingham police also raided the Bali Spa and the Super Sauna on the same stretch of Parkway East in Roebuck.

Yet, the women who are being arrested aren’t from the Birmingham area. Investigators say they’re usually from out of state.

“A lot of them we’ve come in contact with are from Georgia, and any time a female crosses state lines doing illegal activities there is a human trafficking aspect to it,” said Lt. Ron Sellers with the Birmingham Police Department.

A business owner next door says the very next morning after the VIP Spa was busted, some of the same women who were led out in handcuffs were trying to get back inside.

Even though these women are the ones facing charges, some feel they’re the victims. That includes Special Ops, a group that prays for and talks to prostitutes about escaping a life that is often compared to slavery.

Members of Special Ops say they’ve visited a number of massage parlors in Birmingham, and they believe the VIP Spa bust only reveals a fraction of the problem.

Lt. Sellers says their raids have led to the closing of the Bali Spa and the Super Sauna. But what does the future hold for VIP Spa?

Sunny Slaughter, who is one of the nation’s top experts on human trafficking, says the business needs to be shut down for good.

“If this spa and these types of businesses keep opening up in the same location, just different names, then I think we need to start investigating why that’s able to happen and put a restriction, if possible, on a business of that type ever coming into that location again,” Slaughter said.

2014 WIAT-TV CBS42

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