Central Texas prostitution sting uncovers possible human trafficking

11 spas and massage parlors were targeted by federal, state and local law enforcement during a prostitution sting that stretched from Round Rock and Georgetown north to Killeen and Temple. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

The investigation into a Central Texas prostitution ring is expected to bring more charges and arrests. Federal, state and local law enforcement have already arrested 13 people and they think that number could grow in the coming weeks. Investigators say the illegal activity could involve human trafficking.

Police busted 11 spas and massage parlors across Central Texas in the prostitution sting. Officers told CBS Austin they arrested three so-called bosses and charged them with promoting prostitution in Georgetown and Round Rock. Four women were also charged with prostitution. If they're victims of human trafficking, police say the arrests may be their one way out.

"Once we make contact with you, then this is your opportunity to make an outcry and escape," said Officer Andre Mason with the Georgetown Police Department.

The women arrested are from China. They don't speak English and had no access to phones. When they were taken into custody the organization, Unbound, was called in to offer the women options. Unbound has an office in Waco and is committed to ending human trafficking and slavery.

"Until service providers or law enforcement comes in, none of them think there's a way out at all," said Jessica Foran, Director of Survivor Advocacy at Unbound.

It's estimated there are 9,000 massage parlors in America that are suspected of being fronts for prostitution. Many are networked so the women who work there can be moved every few weeks or months to different locations.

"It disorients the victim. They don't know where they're at. They don't speak the language and they're constantly being moved, so it's a way to control them further," said Foran.

Unbound will give the women food, clothes and access to programs to change their lives. Despite the help, poverty, a lack of education and cultural differences make long-term success unlikely for too many of the women.

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