Super Bowl prostitution bust
45 arrested, 16 juveniles rescued in Super Bowl prostitution bust
(Reuters) - Forty-five people were arrested and 16 juveniles rescued in a two-week crackdown on prostitution in the New York-New Jersey area leading up to last Sunday’s Super Bowl, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said on Tuesday.
The bureau said some of those arrested claimed they traveled to the site because of the high-profile football game, which drew an estimated 400,000 visitors to the region. The minors rescued ranged in age from 13 to 17 and included high school students and children reported missing by their families, the FBI said.
Arrests were made and victims recovered in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, said FBI spokeswoman Barbara Woodruff.
The FBI, backed by state and local law enforcement agencies, had mounted a major crackdown on human trafficking and prostitution ahead of the February 2 championship game, with some 3,000 law enforcement agents and civilians trained to help spot people who might be the victims of human trafficking.
Some trafficked women reported seeing up to 50 johns a day during Super Bowl, more than double the usual traffic, said Lori Cohen, director of Sanctuary for Families, which assists victims of human trafficking.
"Many of the men were setting up football parties where they are drinking, watching football and ordering in prostitutes," Cohen said, adding that one woman she spoke with told her "it was really dangerous. If she was … at a party where the team was losing, the men would get really drunk and really violent."
While the game has passed, the risk has not, said Michael Harpster, who heads the arm of the FBI that focuses on violent crimes against children.
"It’s easy to focus on this issue in light of a high-profile event, but the sad reality is, this is a problem we see every day in communities across the country," Harpster said.
Globally, human trafficking - which includes not only people forced into prostitution but domestic workers and others who are transported from their homes and forced to work - is a $32 billion industry with some 2.5 million victims, according to data from the United Nations.
The latest arrests are in addition to last week’s bust of a multimillion-dollar New York criminal operation that sold wealthy clients “party packs” of drugs and prostitutes. Some 18 people were arrested in that crackdown, New York state officials said.
One woman who was trafficked into prostitution as a teen and now works as an anti-trafficking activist, said the best way to reduce prostitution would be to arrest the men who search for it.
"I don’t blame this on the Super Bowl or Nascar events, or the Final Four in basketball," said the woman, Theresa Flores. "I blame it on the lack of education that is happening because we are not going after the demand, that is, the men."
Her organization, traffickfree.org, monitored classified listings and found numerous “Super Bowl specials” in northern New Jersey offering services at $50 for 30 minutes and $100 for an hour.
"They don’t keep any of it, not a single penny," she said, adding that the money is automatically turned over to pimps.
Ventura aims to weed out illicit massage parlors
Ventura aims to weed out illicit massage parlors
By Arlene Martinez
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Faced with a flood of applications for new massage parlors in 2009, the city of Ventura increased regulation of the growing industry.
The city implemented a six-month moratorium on new massage parlors and developed rules geared at eliminating establishments that were fronts for prostitution rings.
Now, Ventura is going further, hoping to step up enforcement across departments and beef up its ordinance to ensure massage parlors provide only legal therapy.
"The purpose of the code — it’s not to try and make life difficult for people who want to open a massage therapy business," Ventura police Cpl. David Ruggiero said. "Our goal is to maintain the integrity of the profession."
There are 65 permits for massage establishments in Ventura, compared with 27 in Oxnard, 23 in Simi Valley and 17 in Thousand Oaks, Ruggiero told the City Council on Jan. 7 in an update on the city’s crackdown efforts.
The number of such businesses bothers city officials because police say they are often fronts for illegal activity. Problems usually involve prostitution but increasingly has been linked to worse, officials said.
"There’s reason for us to be concerned there’s human trafficking going on in some of these establishments," Ruggiero said.
In the past year, police have conducted 50 inspections and made 20 arrests on suspicion of code enforcement violations. But such arrests are having little effect on the overall problem, police said.
There are “so many people willing to work and take over ownership. Even in cases where we suspend or revoke (their licenses), someone else will take over ownership almost immediately,” Ruggiero said.
Ventura is one of nearly 100 cities that require any employee of a massage establishment to be certified by the California Massage Therapy Council, council CEO Ahmos Netanel said.
The nonprofit council, created by state legislation in 2009, provides voluntary certification for massage therapists.
Massage practitioners need 250 hours of training for certification; massage therapists, 500. The process also involves a criminal-background check, Netanel said.
He added that recent changes to state law haven’t watered down a city’s ability to monitor massage parlors or impose restrictions, so long as they don’t single out massage parlors.
"They have to apply the same rules and regulations to other professions," he said.
But city officials disagree.
"It expressly forbids local regulation," except in narrow circumstances, City Attorney Ariel Calonne said.
Calonne’s office is working with the council to strengthen the city’s ordinance to crack down on illegal operators.
In October, police arrested three people on prostitution-related charges. Two were women, ages 38 and 47, while a third was a registered sex offender accused of managing two massage establishments in violation of city ordinance. Those cases are pending.
Ruggiero said arresting women on prostitution charges is not the answer, especially because they are the victims in many cases.
The parlors involved in the October arrests were in the 1700 and 1900 blocks of East Main Street. The availability of cheap office space in that midtown area might contribute to the growth of massage parlors in the city, officials said.
When Ventura updated its massage parlor rules in 2009, it banned blackened windows, business hours lasting past 10 p.m. and locked front doors that require clients to be buzzed inside. Some business owners got around the blackened windows provision by using blinds instead.
Updated rules will ban all window coverings, Calonne said.
"Administrative enforcement is where we will grapple with this problem most effectively," Calonne said, adding that more resources would help.
Police Chief Ken Corney said an increasing crackdown on prostitution and trafficking in Los Angeles was driving a lot of activity into Ventura County.
Even with that explanation, Councilwoman Christy Weir questioned why Ventura seemed to have more than its share of the parlors.
"We need to take a really hard look at the difference in enforcement," she said.
Weir requested that information be included when staff members return with the updated rules.