I-Team: Sex trafficking continues in Providence

An NBC 10-I-Team investigation has found that despite a law passed in 2009 that closed a loophole in Rhode Island's prostitution laws, sex is apparently for sale in more than a half-dozen so-called Asian massage parlors in Providence.

Beginning in 2005, the I-Team's numerous hidden camera investigations found that prostitutes were working in more than two dozen Asian massage parlors that were actually brothels. At the time, Rhode Island's prostitution law allowed for prostitution to take place indoors.

Following the I-Team's reports, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a new prostitution law that made prostitution illegal, whether it took place on the street or indoors.

According to a website called Rub Maps-You Happy Ending, prostitution is rampant in more than Asian massage parlors in Providence once again.

The website consists of anonymous reviews of Asian massage parlors, offering detailed descriptions of the types of sex being offered at a particular parlor.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said while making a case against a massage parlor that offers sex is difficult, police are still trying to monitor it and when possible, prepare cases for prosecution when they find prostitution taking place.

"We're re-dedicating a focus to identify massage parlors that offer this kind of service. We're not going to tolerate it here in Providence," Pare said.

At a recent seminar conducted by the Newport Initiative for Non-Profit Leadership, the subject of sex trafficking and exploitation of women captured the attention of experts in that field who attended.

A video was shown of a young woman who began her life in prostitution at age 17. She ran away from what she described as a "horrible" home life and eventually met a man who told her he loved her.

The man turned out to be a pimp.

When the woman and the man were arrested on prostitution charges the woman was given the opportunity to testify against her pimp and end her life of prostitution.

But she refused.

She explained that she loved him and told authorities he was taking care of her. The pimp rented a motel room where the woman would have sex with men throughout the day. But the woman never got to keep any of the money she received for selling her body.

"It's a family concept. I just give it all to him. I never see any money," the woman told police officers.

One expert on the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking is Sarah DeCataldo of the non-profit agency Day One in Providence. She said that the woman in the video is typical of young women who are suckered into prostitution by men who act as their pimps. The pimps offer them clothes, promise them money and some pimps tell the young vulnerable women that they love them.

"We see these men who are essentially pimps. They go to group homes, to schools. They'll go to the Warwick Mall, the Providence Place mall looking for young girls who are already in the midst of a troubled life," DeCataldo said.

DeCataldo agrees that it's difficult to make a legal case against pimps or so-called Asian massage parlors.

"When police go in, a lot of the women aren't comfortable talking to the police, aren't comfortable disclosing what is happening to them because the trafficker or house madam has created such a climate of fear," she said.

DeCataldo and other experts said that men who pay for sex with a prostitute are only making the problem of sex trafficking worse and rewarding the pimps who are sometimes violent and care more about the money than the well-being of the women who are selling their bodies for money.