7Investigates: Trafficking Ties

Human trafficking victims forced to work in massage parlors describe what happened in their own words.

7News obtained court evidence and testimony, taking you inside a massage parlor trafficking operation right here in Massachusetts.

Xiu Chen, 38, was recently convicted on 26 criminal charges, including human trafficking.

She had been running six massage parlors, one each in Bedford, Billerica, Medford, Reading, Woburn, and Wilmington.

Women provided sexual services to male clients at all of them.

Prosecutors say Chen recruited women from New York City. Once she picked them up at South Station, they would give three to four massages a day, seven days a week, many ending with sexual services.

Some of the women were shuttled to and from a crowded apartment in Woburn every day.

Others lived at the parlors, sometimes sleeping on the massage tables.

Four women who worked for Chen testified during her trial, speaking through a Chinese interpreter.

One said she had no access to a shower for days at a time.

Another said she didn’t want to perform sexual services.

One woman testified she wanted to quit after realizing the work involved sexual services.

After a year-long investigation, all of the parlors were raided in 2013.

Investigators found more than $300,000 in cash hidden in Chen’s house and even more under couch cushions inside the parlors.

And the problem in Massachusetts goes beyond one single case. 7News found the state has investigated 59 complaints of sexual misconduct against massage parlors and individual massage therapists in the last five years. And that’s just for parlors governed by current state regulations.

“There’s a segment of massage parlors operating out there without license that aren’t regulated,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said.

Healey’s office prosecuted the Chen case and several others like it.

Healey is pushing legislation to close the loophole that allows so-called “bodyworks” massage parlors like some of the parlors in the Chen case to operate without a license.

She says the change is paramount to protect other potential victims.

“These are women who are exploited, who are vulnerable, and this is not a victimless crime,” Healey said.

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