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Illicit massage businesses are a venue for sex and labor trafficking in the United States. Though many of their locations are made publicly available through online advertising, little is known about why they choose to locate where they do. In this work, we use inferential modeling to better understand the spatial distribution of illicit massage businesses within the U.S. Based on addresses web-scraped weekly from online advertisements over 6 months, we modeled illicit massage business prevalence at the census tract and county levels. We used publicly available data to characterize census tracts and counties, finding that the state in which they are located, distance to international airports, rent and income levels, racial composition, and religious presence all had significant relationships to illicit massage business presence. Illicit massage businesses operating with unethical labor practices and/or forced sexual services are not in line with just, peaceful, and inclusive societal goals, and the burdens of this industry disproportionately fall on women. While we emphasize that not all illicit massage businesses are settings of human trafficking, better understanding this industry is a key step toward better regulating it and protecting those harmed within it.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Human Trafficking on 04 Oct. 2021, available at: