At least 18 massage parlors were raided in Missouri recently as part of the state’s effort to battle human trafficking.
According to a report by the Springfield News-Leader, the massage parlors are believed to be part of a large ring of human sex trafficking in Greene County. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said on Thursday women at the businesses were being held against their will and forced to engage in sexual acts with customers. The women are believed to be from China or other east Asian nations.
Hawley, who has sought emergency orders to close the businesses down, said on Thursday his office is going to “hunt down” any human traffickers in the state.
“We will find you out, we will hunt you down and we will prosecute you,” Hawley said.
Hawley’s office named 18 spas and massage parlors in the state’s action against the operators of the businesses.
According to a report by ABC News, many of the businesses had been advertising sexual acts on websites, such as Backpage.com and Rubmaps.com.
Raids were also conducted in Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The raids were carried out the same week as the U.S. House of Representatives passed three bills to combat human trafficking across the United States, the most notable of which is the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act, which would reauthorize more than $520 million over the next four years to fight human trafficking. The bill is currently pending in the U.S. Senate.
It’s unclear how many victims of human trafficking are in America, but in 2016, more than 7,500 cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, including about 2,300 cases involving minors. The number of reports rose by greater than 35 percent from 2015, according to a report by UPI.