Forced into prostitution in NJ

It starts as the promise of a job and a new life in a new country.

“Come to Mei Guo,” meaning beautiful country, or America, in Chinese. “There are many jobs. We will help you get a job. You can help your family.”

That’s the pitch that recruiters will make to unsuspecting women in rural China. What happens is a bait-and-switch when they arrive in a new country.

“People in trafficking situations find the circumstances of work are fundamentally different,” said Robert Beiser, director of the strategic initiative on sex trafficking at Polaris, a nonprofit that tracks human trafficking. “The promise of opportunity of jobs is a fraud.”

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Anne-Marie Caruso, NorthJersey.com

Prostitution has been going on since the beginning of time, and Asian women have been trafficked to America to perform services for over a century, since Chinese nationals worked on railroads, when it was a clandestine affair.

Today, prostitution of Asian women is out in the open in the United States. Yet few people will notice the activities in plain sight unless they take the time to look. Along strip malls throughout America, massage parlors operate next to bakeries and gift shops. Some are legitimate, but others are houses of prostitution.

Bait-and-switch

In New Jersey, Asian trafficking rings are loosely organized. Perpetrators have been arrested selling massage certification for Asian nationals who run prostitution sites out of massage parlors.

“They’re mostly coming from Flushing,” said Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton. “They’re isolated. You won’t hear about them unless someone reports them.”

COVID has slowed the illicit massage business, Cureton said, adding that police work with prosecutors to crack down on these businesses. Flushing and other parts of Queens are the center for many of these small massage parlor operators, Cureton said. Women arrive from China to start in Queens and are placed in other salons.

Facade of massage parlor.
Facade of massage parlor.
Philip DeVencentis/NorthJersey.com

Most of the foreign women who end up in massage parlor sex work are from China and Korea, Beiser said. They’re told by recruiters that they will have factory jobs or domestic work. Once they arrive, they’re forced into working at massage parlors. The women owe an overwhelming amount of debt to recruiters for transport to the U.S. and turn to sex work at the parlors to pay off the money. Stuck in a new country without language skills, they can’t get the help they need and are afraid to tell their families back home what is happening, for fear of shame.

Trafficking in New Jersey

Massage parlor raids have become common around the country and in New Jersey. The raids have nabbed common folks and the prominent. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among the people identified as clients of illicit massage parlors. These undercover raids happen in suburban strip malls all around the country.

In Bergen County, former Westwood Councilman Robert W. Miller pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to selling fraudulent massage therapy training certificates to workers in order to promote prostitution, according to former U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

Miller, 67, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi to charges of using facilities in interstate commerce to promote prostitution and performing an act to promote, manage, establish, carry on and facilitate that unlawful activity. 

According to court documents, Miller offered New Jersey massage training certificates for a fee of $500 to $2,500, without the required training. Between January 1997 and August 2013, Miller provided at least 50 fraudulent massage therapy training certificates to 25 massage parlors in Union, Passaic, Hudson and Middlesex counties.

In Hunterdon County, Naresh Rane pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to charging $1,000 to $2,600 for massage training certificates without training. This happened between 2013 and 2014, with Rane admitting that he knew the documents he was producing and selling were used to disguise prostitution activities as legitimate massage services.  

In Somerset County, anonymous complaints led to the arrest in August 2022 of Zhuhua Luo, 42, who lives in Flushing but operates a massage business in Central Jersey. The native of China was charged with third-degree promoting of prostitution.

'It's everywhere'

Sex trafficking is a serious crime wherever it occurs, said Patty Hartman, public affairs specialist at the FBI in Newark. However, there is no reliable data to determine how much human trafficking goes on in any city or geographic region, she added.

“Unfortunately, human trafficking is not restricted to one area of the U.S. All 56 of the FBI’s field offices in the Garden State have reported human trafficking incidents,” Hartman said.