Hiding in plain sight. Businesses that could be used as fronts for illegal activity, even human trafficking.
A group called “Clean up Kennedy” is confronting these businesses, one by one, along Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa.
They're working with local human trafficking prevention groups, professional massage therapists, and a team of lawyers to draft city legislation to crack down on the Illicit Massage Business.
Friday evening, concerned citizens with the organization held signs reading "End sex trafficking in Tampa.”
People like Joe Mason want spas like Seven Star shut down.
“It really upsets me, that’s why I'm out here trying to do something about it,” says Manson. “Almost no one is fully aware that there is full on prostitution going on here and that the women are victims of human trafficking.”
Nancy Santiago was surprised to learn that some of these businesses in her neighborhood could offer more than just massages.
“I wasn’t aware of it,” says Santiago. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The issue stretches far from just South Tampa.
Just two weeks ago, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested 6 suspects accused of running a prostitution ring --out of 13 Asian massage parlors located from Naples to Tallahassee.
A reporter knocked on the front and back door of Seven Star Spa to get a response from owners. No answer, but security cameras were watching.
They may not have wanted to answer our questions, but according to Tampa police in 2013, someone was arrested at Seven Star Spa for "Offering to commit prostitution.”
Grace Jean-Pierre with the Tampa Crisis Center says human trafficking can happen anywhere, and there are warning signs when booking a massage parlor.
“A massage parlor that’s open late at night. Their websites say they close at 6, but if you drive by at midnight you see they're open. It could be provocative clothing,” says Jean-Pierre.
“The only way we can make a difference is not to allow ourselves to get desensitized,” she adds.
Section 480.0475, Florida Statutes, became effective on Oct. 1, 2013. The law restricts massage therapy businesses from being open for business between midnight and 5:00 A.M., with limited exceptions.
This law was made by the attorney general to end what they refer to as a “human trafficking epidemic” in Florida massage establishments.
Manson says he always sees parlors along Kennedy breaking the rules.
Many times, these parlors close, then reopen under a new name.
So, police have to start the investigations from scratch.
Florida is one of the top states when it comes to human trafficking.
There are a few reasons for that: Large numbers of tourists, immigrants, runaway minors, and hotels.
Over the last few years we've seen several initiatives to make people more aware of human trafficking.
That includes apps to help report suspected cases, posters with the warning signs hanging in truck stops, and social media campaigns to reach teenagers.
In March, a group of human trafficking survivors spoke to salon owners about how they can help. Suspects often bring in their victims to change their appearance.
If you happen to drive by one of these massage parlors past midnight and see that their 'OPEN' sign is on, or see other signs that business is still occurring, you can call the Tampa Police Department.
Call the Tampa Police Department Non Emergency line: (813) 231-6130
You can also send the Tampa Police a message online.
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