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Manteca massage parlors crossing the line?
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The world’s oldest profession is flourishing in Manteca.

But thanks to technology and business savvy of those practicing prostitution it goes unnoticed for the most part and is extremely difficult to prosecute.

Unlike street walkers who ply their trade in motel rooms, those selling their bodies are doing so by intermingling with a legitimate business — massage parlors.

Manteca — a city of 73,000 people — has 47 people licensed to provide massages. Those using massage therapy as a front operate out of clean buildings indistinguishable from legitimate massage parlors. Instead of advertising their products on strolls and attracting attention to them they do so not on Craig’s List as much as on websites such as It is clearly an adult site.

Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion on Monday pulled up the website and scrolled down to Manteca listings. Attached to them are ratings that customers give them for various sex acts along with an area for typed comments that leave nothing to the imagination.

Obligacion — besides pointing out prostitution is a crime — noted that it doesn’t qualify as a victimless crime. While he noted there are no health standards to deal with communicable diseases as employed in legal Nevada brothels the bigger problem is human trafficking.

Manteca Police investigated claims of women forced to conduct sex acts at a massage parlor that has since closed down on Historical Plaza Way.

“When officers visited the location none of the women said they were there against their will,” Obligacion said.

And since they found no one that said they were being forced into prostitution nor were there signs that prostitution was taking place, there was nothing officers could do.

Undercover stings that once worked no longer do since the prostitutes are careful as to what they say and don’t say.

The police do get complaints occasionally from citizens.

A recent one involved a man who needed a back massage. He was told repeatedly to take off his clothes and shower. He resisted noting that he didn’t need to do that for a back massage. He eventually left and called the police.

Human trafficking, though, is a growing problem in San Joaquin County and that includes Manteca.

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DA notes human trafficking victims in sex trade have been as young as 11

San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar has made combating human trafficking a top priority.

She recently told Manteca Rotarians that her office has dealt with victims as young as 11 years old that are forced to do tricks. Teen girls — and sometimes boys — are moved about often by pimps to avoid being detected. That doesn’t simply mean location  to location within a city but literally transported hundreds of miles away to be forced to prostitute their bodies in another city before being moved again days later. The same is true for adult women.

Salazar said there have been instances where victims were doing upwards of a dozen tricks per day noting younger victims are in greater demand.

“It’s a heinous crime,” Salazar said.

She added that services don’t exist that can adequately address the needs of a victim once they are rescued from human trafficking. Often they have lost a lot of school time as well as being physically and mentally abused.

Salazar can, however, point to some success stories where young teens were rescued from prostitution and were able to return to school and pursue their own lives. At the same time, steeper penalties are putting pimps away for longer periods.

“The best way to put them out of business is not to patronize them,” Obligacion said of massage parlors doubling as houses of prostitution. It’s the same as if you don’t feed the bears they won’t come around.”

The police chief said it is very difficult to detect prostitution given how they operate and the fact they make sure they keep the outside of their businesses in top shape as well as make sure there are no residue spillover of issues such as loitering, drug use and such outside that prompts neighbors to lodge complaints.

“There are definitely legitimate high end day spas out there,” Obligacion said.

The chief noted those that engage in illegal acts in message parlors make it a priority to stay low profile.

“Property owners don’t complain because they (the illegal massage parlors) pay top dollar and keep buildings in good shape,” Obligacion said.

In California, to be licensed as a massage therapist you simply need to pass a state test and pay a fee.

Modesto is trying to put a lid on message parlors being used for sex by putting in a blanket ban on new ventures. That, however as Obligacion noted, has created problems as it was “such a wide net” that is caught legitimate massage businesses as well.

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Internet site lists 10 parlors that reviewers say offer paid sex

The page lists 10 Manteca locations include the shuttered massage parlor that was on Historical Way Plaza that — based on reviews — are potentially operating for all practical purposes as makeshift brothels.

They list prices charged for basic services and whether there is semi-truck parking. Often they have a listing describing the woman giving the massage describing her body characteristics, yes, and hair. That is in addition to the graphic rating system for services performed.

In many instances members have as many as 10 different message locations in Manteca and nearby cities that they visit.

The website per se can’t be used to prosecute a business for conducting prostitution. That’s because it consists of second person reviews that can’t be verified by law enforcement and no crime was witnessed.

Obligacion noted that over the 23 years he has worked as a police officer Manteca has had street walkers but the Internet and proliferation of massage parlors has taken almost all of them off the streets.