The Illicit Massage Industry: A Financial Baseline

Within the United States, the illicit massage industry (IMI) operates as a largely unregulated, multibillion-dollar transnational criminal enterprise. Conservative estimates of the IMI’s total illegal revenue hover around $5 billion dollars, based on academic research and suspected revenue estimates for the approximately 13,000 IMI storefronts operating in the United States. Although structural differences exist between Chinese and Thai IMI business models, which together represent more than 85% of the total market share, we assess nearly all IMI actors engage in similar, yet uncoordinated money laundering and tax avoidance schemes. 

Overall, we judge IMI financial networks remain vulnerable to wide-scale disruption at the federal, state, and local level; however, IMI actors have demonstrated a high-degree of operational flexibility in the face of increased regulatory and law enforcement pressure. While intelligence gaps exist in our knowledge about IMI financial networks, we assess some IMI actors are likely well-positioned to reduce their financial risk exposure in response to heightened enforcement, to include transitioning some financial payments to non-traditional systems, such as mobile payment applications and cryptocurrencies.

Illicit massage business (IMB) revenue is primarily generated from entrance fees (“house fees”) which are paid by sex buyers upon their arrival at a storefront location.  

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About Our Research

Research and analysis is where we interpret, synthesize, and validate information–it’s where actionable intelligence is born. Our reports discuss a range of topics, including deeper dives into trafficker’s business operations, strategic opportunities for disruption, and suggestions for addressing key intelligence gaps. All of our research currently focuses on one type of trafficking–the US illicit massage industry.