Illustration by Sebastian Dahlstrom for SupChina.
For many Americans, their awareness of Chinese massage workers in America begins and ends with Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner whose visits to Orchids of Asia Day Spa were made public after a police sting early last year. Kraft was only one of hundreds of people implicated, but his status in the sports world brought national attention to the case. Unfortunately, in much of the reporting, the women were an afterthought.
In this report for SupChina, New York–based journalist Teng Chen puts the women front and center. In an extensive interview with the boss of two massage parlors, Chen discovers what drives these Chinese women into sex work. As she writes:
Low-profile Chinese women of humble origins and modest appearance are the backbone of the illicit massage industry in the U.S., which generates $2.5 billion revenue annually. Many of these women are mothers who left home to support their families, arriving in the United States without the faintest idea of what they would do to make their American dream come true.
According to the nonprofit anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project, there were more than 9,000 illicit massage parlors in the United States in 2017, mostly staffed by Chinese women, aged 35–55, with at least one child in China. Their struggle is often a silent one, done for the sake of family and dignity. Click through to read the story.