New York Has More Illegal Massage Parlors Than Active Subway Stations, Data Shows

There are more illegal massage parlors that engage in illicit sexual activities across New York City's five boroughs than there are active subway stations, according to a new report.

The New York Post reported Sunday that at least 629 illicit massage businesses (IMBs) have been discovered across the city. That network of businesses is so vast it outnumbers New York subway stations by nearly 200, with just 472 active stations located in the city.

For further comparison, the Post reported that the illegal massage parlors outnumber Starbucks coffee shops by 2 to 1 citywide. In Queens, IMBs outnumber Starbucks by a whopping 5 to 1, according to data from Heyrick Research, an organization that focuses on the illicit massage industry and sex trafficking.

Several of the illicit parlors are located in plain sight and appear to be functioning as normal massage businesses. However, online, the illicit businesses are often reviewed by customers or advertised for providing "sexy" "full-body" massages or "happy-endings," according to the Post. Some are known to provide full-service sex, while others provide masturbation or groping services.

According to Heyrick Research, the Illicit massage industry is one of the largest and most networked sex trafficking markets in the U.S.

"We assess that as of mid-2021, there were approximately 11,000 illicit massage businesses [IMBs] in the country; a figure derived from data analysis of sex buyer review sites. While the precise number fluctuates as storefronts open and close rapidly, the overarching trend has been a steady increase in the number of IMBs since we started measuring in late 2016," the counter-trafficking organization said on its website.

Yvonne Chen, a director of private sector engagement with the anti-child sex trafficking group ECPAT-USA, told the Post that people who are trafficked in IMBs are often vulnerable immigrants who come to the U.S. to make money for their families. Often, those employees are tricked into working at the illegal businesses under the false premise that they are traditional spas.

"So the first, like, first few days might be what they would consider normal, like nothing abnormal happened, they were treated well, everything was kind of fine and then there would be a special customer or an old customer that came in, that then ended up wanting extra services and that's when a lot of the coercion would happen," Chen explained to the Post.

It is unclear how many of the hundreds of illicit parlors in New York City participate in sex trafficking.

In April, the Manhattan district attorney's office said it would no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage parlors, signifying a growing movement to change the criminal justice system's attitude toward sex workers, according to the New York Times. However, the office said it will continue to prosecute those who patronize sex workers, promote prostitution or implement sex trafficking.

A spokesperson for the Kings County District Attorney's Office in Brooklyn told the Post on Sunday that long-term investigations into the owners of IMBs and undercover operations "have proven challenging for various reasons, including the complex nature of those illegal enterprises."

"The reality is that law enforcement alone cannot effectively address the intractable issue of massage parlors and prostitution; it requires a multi-agency approach or an amended legal framework," the spokesperson added.

The illegal massage parlor industry is estimated to pull in as much as $4.5 billion in annual revenue across the U.S., according to a report from Forbes earlier this year. That accounts for about one-quarter of the overall $16 billion massage services industry in the country.

Newsweek contacted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's office for additional comment on illicit massage parlors but did not hear back in time for publication.

NYPD police car illegal massage parlors
There are more illegal massage parlors in New York City than there are subway stations, according to a new report. Here, a New York Police Department (NYPD) car is viewed in Times Square on August 12, 2013 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images