Trafficking Spotlight: Health & Beauty Salons

Imagine walking into a salon to get your regular manicure and pedicure, and the woman sitting across from you is a victim of human trafficking.

Trafficking in health and beauty salons occurs more often than many would think. Nail salons are becoming the new ‘it’ front for trafficking — where normal business is conducted at the front of the store while women are being forced into modern slavery in the back.

A Shocking Discovery

Human trafficking is when a person is forced into work usually without pay, or the person is forced, tricked or trapped in some form of prostitution. Surprisingly, trafficking can happen anywhere — on the street, in hotels, and even in your favorite salon. For one woman, she realized that a nail salon she frequented for two years had been a front for trafficking. “My ears perked up, as I hadn’t known the salon offered massages. Also, I was curious as to how this young man chose this nail salon for his needs, especially when there was a well-known massage business in the same shopping center… I looked my salon up on the Internet’s No. 1 erotic massage review site, where, the site’s operators claim, ‘fantasy meets reality.’” It is far too easy to be naive about trafficking, even when it is happening right in front of you. By simply knowing the warning signs, you could be in the position to save someone’s life. Those most likely to be trafficked in nail salons are Asian women, and often, these young women have language barriers that can prevent them from asking for help. Norma Ramos, Executive Director at the Coalition Against Trafficked Women, says that “you can have these women being labor trafficked to work in those salons during the day, and then pulled into sex trafficking at night”.

What Can You Do?

What can you do to be a solution to the problem of trafficking in nail salons? The first step is to simply be vigilant. If you see something out of the ordinary, say something. For one woman in DC, it was noticing a young man coming in to get a “massage” in a salon that didn’t advertise them. Spas and salons that are fronts for sex trafficking will often have poorly trained workers who will take men who come in into completely separate rooms. A report by Polaris also states that a huge red flag is any sign that employees, especially women, are living on the premises. It is no secret that we all love finding a good deal when we pamper ourselves, but often, we must “realize that a slave is paying the price. That $10 nail job is available because the person at your service is living a shadow life, a slave life”.

Free for Life is committed to shining a light into the shadows surrounding our daily lives and local communities. Keep an eye out for more Spotlight posts, highlighting what trafficking looks like in various sectors of society.

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Mehlman-Orozco, Kimberly. “My nail salon may be a front for a brothel.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Nov. 2015,
Martin, Phillip. “Nail Salons and Human Trafficking.” The Huffington Post,, 3 Aug. 2010,
Free for Life
Free for Life Team
Free for Life is fighting human trafficking around the world in the areas of prevention, intervention and restoration. Together with our partners, we are working every day for our vision statement: freedom for all. View more posts by Free for Life.