Human trafficking hiding behind massage therapy in ND - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Human trafficking hiding behind massage therapy in ND

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Licensed Massage Therapist Stephanie Wilson has practiced her passion  for 15 years.

"I have a love for the body- of knowing how it works and how it functions and why things work and how the muscles relate to each other," she says.

But there's a growing number of those practicing human trafficking under the guise of massage therapy.

"A lot of times people think human trafficking is smuggling- people being loaded into vehicles and taken across borders," says North Dakota Board of Massage President Jon Simmons.

But Simmons says human trafficking is harder to spot and it's happening right here in North Dakota. 

"It's really whenever somebody gets put in a place where they are being manipulated or coerced or threatened," he says.

They're forced into things like hard labor, drug trades and even what's most common in this area: prostitution. Wilson thinks the history of massage makes it an easy hiding tool, going all the way back to the Romans when she says massage was much more sexual.

"Really, massage is a healing tool," she says.

North Dakota has some of the highest standards for licensure and the Board of Massage Therapy does random inspections to make sure facilities are meeting cleanliness and licensing standards. All massage therapists in North Dakota should have their license clearly posted or present at any time they are working with a patient.

"There really is no such thing as unlicensed massage therapy. It's just illegal," says Simmons.

The board's website is www.ndboardofmassage.com and provides information for anyone looking to check into a licensed massage therapist or alert the board to a practice they should investigate.

"They can use us as a resource to check who is licensed in the state, who has met the education criteria, who is being regularly inspected," says Simmons.

The Board says to let them know if you see anything suspicious. Then they are able to work with local law enforcement. They say if you see anything that requires immediate attention, contact your police.


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