Joplin police said this morning that a total of seven adult women were identified as human-trafficking victims and removed from the three Joplin massage businesses that were served search warrants on Thursday.
In a news release, Capt. Trevor Duncan said the victims have been referred to area service organizations for assistance and that no arrests were made Thursday. Police searched businesses located at 2906 S. Main St.; 1329 E. 32nd St., Suite 5; and 500 E. 32nd St., Suite 4, in Joplin as part of a human-trafficking investigation that Duncan said is ongoing.
Police have not yet revealed details of the investigation beyond the number of victims identified in Thursday's searches.
Including the businesses searched this week, six Joplin massage operations have now been searched by law enforcement in just more than a year.
In January 2017, Joplin officers assisted FBI agents in searching three such establishments, after which all three were shuttered. Duncan specified that the Joplin Police Department was the only law enforcement agency involved in Thursday's operations.
All six of the businesses that have been targeted by law enforcement have advertised on Backpage.com, an online classified advertising website that has come under scrutiny of law enforcement officials and lawmakers across the country for allegedly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking.
Backpage’s website includes sections for ads offering jobs, workshops, furniture and other miscellaneous categories, much like the popular online marketplace Craigslist. But Backpage’s site also included a section labeled “adult,” offering “escorts, body rubs, strippers and strip clubs.”
The “adult” section on Backpage’s website has been shut down, but the Joplin massage businesses have posted ads under a “Joplin services” section of the site. None of the advertisements explicitly mention sexual acts, but several make reference to “pretty and hot” or “sweet and young Asian girls.” Several of the ads include photos of women in lingerie.