What to Know
- Hidden in plain sight in Massachusetts and across the U.S. are massage parlors allegedly engaging in human sex trafficking.
- The estimated billion-dollar illicit sex business is fueled by websites like RubMaps, a guide to places allegedly offering sex for money.
- According to the reviews on RubMaps, 240 parlors in Massachusetts are offering or have offered sex services.
They are near pizza shops, coffee shops and schools — massage parlors that are offering more than just a massage. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says they are in the business of selling sex.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft stands accused of soliciting prostitution from such a massage parlor in Florida. He denies the charges. But lost in the headlines of the Florida arrests are the stories of the victims, the girls and women forced into prostitution.
After the Kraft arrest, the NBC10 Boston Investigators started digging and found similar situations in Massachusetts, hidden in plain sight.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
One Massachusetts woman agreed to tell her story with the hope of bringing awareness to what she says is everyone's role in perpetuating or preventing sex trafficking.
Raised in Tibet in a refugee camp, Phuni Kim Meston's parents were nomads who didn't speak English. She says she remembers the first time a minister from Northborough, Massachusetts, came to her camp.
"When I first met him, I was 12 or 13," Meston recalled.
She says the minister promised her an education and told her parents that "he would treat me like his daughter and that I was really too smart to stay in the village."
But Meston says that's not at all what happened.
Landing in Massachusetts at age 14, she went from a refugee camp in Tibet to a victim of international sex trafficking.
Prosecutors say she was subjected to "years of forced sex" and "torture."
Meston says the minister used threats to control her and coerce her.
"I felt like I was a servant there, not to mention in the night, and he did other stuff. He told me, 'No one will believe you, even the school.' He told me my parents will go to jail in India," she said.
Meston later testified at the trial of the minister. He was convicted of rape and indecent assault and battery in 1992. He spent four years in prison.
In Boston, not every victim of sex trafficking comes from across the world.
Of the nearly 160 girls helped by My Life, My Choice, a Boston non-profit that helps get girls out of sex trafficking, many are American-born.
"The vast majority of people being trafficked here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are kids who've grown up here in our neighborhoods," said Lisa Goldblatt Grace, director of My Life, My Choice.
Police raids have rescued girls who were being forced to engage in sex for money from massage parlors in Beverly, Medford, Lynn and Quincy.
Grace says it is prevalent in the suburbs.
"We could tell you stories of young people we've served in Brookline, Lexington, Newton, and Wayland," she said.
Of the 160 girls that My Life, My Choice has helped, the average age is 14, and 85 percent are part of the state's child welfare system.
"These young people that are being exploited this way are hidden in plain sight," said Grace. "They're in our schools, showing up to appointments with their primary care physician, they're in our child welfare offices."
They may be hidden in plain sight, but they're not all that difficult to find.
The estimated billion-dollar illicit sex business is fueled in part by websites like RubMaps, a literal guide to places allegedly offering sex for money.
The website publishes reviews, in graphic detail, of what is supposedly happening inside certain massage parlors.
According to the reviews, 240 parlors in Massachusetts are offering or have offered sex services.
Each review explains the sex acts allegedly available and how much to tip for sex, giving readers in-depth details of the experience.
NBC10 Boston investigators used mapping software and found 35 of the listed massage parlors were located 1,000 feet or less from schools.
Police say their investigations of these parlors is difficult because the women often fear deportation, and many don't speak English.
RubMaps did not respond to the NBC10 Boston Investigators' repeated requests for comment.
Healey has made prosecuting sex trafficking a priority. She has created a special unit that includes five state troopers and attorneys, among other staff, and has prosecuted more than 50 cases in the last few years.
"We've seen that human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise worldwide," Healey said. "For far too long, these women who are really victims of exploitation were prosecuted themselves. That has stopped, and the focus is now on those who are buying commercial sex."
Years after her ordeal, Meston has finally found peace. She now owns Karma, a fair trade gift store in Newton that features gifts made in her home country. Meston wonders how no one noticed what was happening to her. After all, she attended school and went to the minister's church. She even cleaned the church every day.
"How could no one ask, no one went over — 'Are you OK?'" Meston said. "Why does this man on this farm keep bringing in these little girls?"
"It's hard for us to accept we are part of the equation," she added.