COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — The Colorado Springs Police Department is implementing major changes to the way it investigates illicit massage parlors tied to organized prostitution, potential human trafficking, and possibly more serious felony type crimes.
Police leaders credit an ongoing KRDO NewsChannel 13 investigation that began in 2019 for exposing the issue in the greater Colorado Springs area.
Colorado Springs is home to over two dozen massage parlors that make it clear online that sex is for sale. The illicit massage parlors are hiding in plain sight in shopping centers, some even near houses of worship.
“There are a significant number of them in the community,” Lt. John Koch said. “We’re aware of that.”
Lt. John Koch is head of CSPD’s metro vice unit, which is tasked with investigating sex crimes involving children, prostitution, human trafficking, illegal narcotics, illicit gambling, and more.
Koch’s team conducted investigations into 18 Colorado Springs spas from January 2019 through February 2020.
Thirteen spas were cited by CSPD during those investigations. Two of them, including One Spa on Iowa Avenue and Dream Therapy on B. Street, were busted for prostitution.
However, One Spa, which is in the Knobhill neighborhood, received an explicit sexual review on a website called Rubmaps one week before this article was published.
Rubmaps is an online platform that allows users to rate sexual services and the women who perform them at illicit massage parlors. The reviews are very explicit about the woman’s body and what type of sex they had and how much they paid for sex. When we asked them about the reviews, those working inside One Spa said that they only perform massages.
Dream Therapy on the south side of Colorado Springs received a review on Rubmaps two weeks ago, despite being cited by police for prostitution in October 2019. No one answered the door when KRDO went to the business last week seeking comment from spa management.
Eleven of the other spas in question were cited by investigators for not having the required massage therapy license to practice in Colorado.
Most of the spas that were busted by police in the last year and a half remain in operation today, which is a frustrating problem for CSPD’s metro vice unit.
“Just going and issuing a citation for a license violation or prostitution, what we see is those businesses stay in operation. They may pop back up under a different name,” Lt. Koch explained.
CSPD’s metro vice unit spent the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic studying up with city attorneys on how to shut these businesses down for good.
“Out of your coverage, we took a look at where can we be better? What things can we do better? How can we look differently at these investigations? Are there other things that are going on?” Koch said.
CSPD has not made any recent human trafficking arrests tied to the illicit spas. Detecting human trafficking is more challenging and time-consuming, according to Koch.
“It’s not as simple as what many people think, that we go in and there are these people that are being trafficked and we take them out of the business and we arrest everyone and we move on. It just doesn’t work that way,” Koch explained.
Part of the challenge for investigators working on multiple cases at once is the fact that oftentimes, women working inside these massage parlors won’t speak to officers.
“The issue that creates is if we don’t know that something is going on, and if victims won’t talk to us and tell us what’s happening, it’s very difficult to hold the people above them accountable,” Koch explained.
Koch said his team trained over the last few months with the goal of conducting longer-term massage parlor investigation that could result in more serious felony charges. Investigators are hopeful this new approach will prevent these so-called spas from popping up under different names or locations in Colorado Springs.
“When you look at things with a longer lens you may determine there’s some type of trafficking going on. Maybe it’s not sex trafficking. Maybe it’s labor trafficking. Maybe there’s neither one of those but it’s money laundering or some other activity that’s going on in these businesses that we find,” Koch said.
A major component of the new investigative approach is how police are now working to enforce the city’s public nuisance order. Colorado Springs city code allows officers to work with landlords and the court system using abatement as an avenue to shut down a business that has two or more instances of illegal activity, including keeping a place of prostitution and pimping.
“A lot of people you’ll hear — and I’ve heard this as a police officer — they’ll go, ‘Well, what’s the big deal? It’s just somebody paying for sex and it’s two consenting adults.’ And that’s wrong,” Koch said. “Perhaps that’s the life someone chooses and that’s how they choose to make money. But you also have to consider that some of these people that are engaging in prostitution have been trafficked and they have been put into a life where there’s drug dependency and maybe alcohol dependency and maybe dependency on a pimp.”
As the metro vice unit in Colorado Springs works to hold those running these operations accountable, they want any potential victims to know there are ways to get help.
“If people are being victimized and they are in these businesses against their will and they’re being put in a situation where they are being forced to do things, forced to engage in activities there is help,” Koch said.
Koch wants victims to know that they can anonymously contact CSPD for assistance.
“We have resources that are available and investigative avenues that we can take. You’re not alone. You’re not on an island by yourself,” Koch said. “There are so many resources in this community and so many things that we can do to help. But that’s starts with people reaching out to us.”
As CSPD implements its new approach to tackling the large number of illicit spas in Colorado Springs, police have a warning for those running these illicit spas.
“We are actively working to make arrests and do investigations into these businesses and people need to be aware of that,” Koch said. “My message would be to stop because we are looking at a new way of doing this.”
CSPD said its new investigative methods are in place now but it will take time to see significant results while balancing the other duties the metro vice unit is charged with. Investigators say their main priority on these investigation is to build stronger cases to ensure they can shut them down for good.
When KRDO began its investigation into these illicit spas in January 2019 there were 36 of them in operation. Most of the massage parlors closed during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, but most have reopened, and some have changed names, which is a common trick. Currently, we estimate there are at least 27 of these spas still operating in the shopping centers of Colorado Springs.
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