COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - They're in shopping centers, strip malls, and some are even scattered in our neighborhoods, but more than 30 massage parlors in Colorado Springs are little more than a front for an illegal sex industry.
Reader discretion is advised, some of these details are sexually explicit.
A KRDO special report found that there are 36 massage parlors in the city that have recent reviews specifically outlining explicit sexual acts that can be purchased inside. That's more than there are licensed brothels in the entire state of Nevada.
Those reviews are publicly available on seedy websites like RubMaps and CityXGuide. Those sites -- like now-defunct Backpage.com, which was seized by the U.S. Government -- offer a way for customers, known as Johns, to find locations where they can purchase sexual acts.
So what do all of the reviews have in common? They make it clear the women inside these massage parlors are selling oral and vaginal sex. The reviews also grade women on their physical appearance, hygiene, and even breast size.
We paid for a membership to one of those websites to see how many locations were being actively reviewed. Many parlors had multiple reviews.
Over the course of our four-month investigation, we found the 36 spots dotted across a map of the city and county.
There are also the advertisements posted online -- some are subtle, but others are explicit and very graphic.
"They're selling sex," said Lt. Mark Comte, who supervises the Vice and Human Trafficking Unit with the Colorado Springs Police Department. "They're showing young girls wearing barely anything ... this business, when posting these ads, is demonstrating it's a house of prostitution."
Customers usually pay a house fee to enter the spa, and then they pay extra for certain sex acts. For more involved sex, men are paying up to $150.
"The money is paid in cash; there's no 'We take Visa, Mastercard or American Express," said Comte. "The girl performing the act may get a little bit."
But most, if not all, of the money will end up going to the manager on site, known as the "mama-san." The mama-sans usually refer to an older Asian woman in charge of the parlor.
That includes Sang White, who was arrested in 2014 for suspicion of human trafficking, pimping, and providing a place of prostitution at the World Spa near Hancock Expressway.
White was never convicted of anything more than a misdemeanor, and she's still listed as an operator at World Spa, according to state records.
We decided to pay White a visit at the World Spa. They wouldn't let Stephanie Sierra inside, so we went back a few days later and Andrew McMillan spoke with one of the workers.
We asked the worker if she was aware that there are reviews online saying customers can purchase sex acts at that location, and we even showed the worker a printout of the reviews when she initially said "no."
"You can see where it says sex acts right here," we said to the employee, pointing out the explicit review.
"No, no," the employee responded.
"You're not worried about getting busted again?" we asked, referring to White's 2014 arrest.
"We do not do none of that," the employee said before slamming the door.
One of the reviewers of World Spa gave high marks to a girl named Mimi. The review, posted in late January 2019, says "[Mimi] is about 25 years old with a perfect body that loves to be f***** good and hard." The reviewer outlines different sexual positions he allegedly performed with the woman, and another review gave a similar account. Other reviewers said they weren't able to meet Mimi; one added that the "mama-san is a fun time, but I'm sure she pales in comparison to performances described in the various reviews here about Mimi."
We had also surveilled World Spa in late March to see where the employees go whenever the parlor closes for the day. We got there at 8:30 p.m. and waited until a woman turned off the open sign at 10 p.m.
We watched the front and the back for the next three hours, but no staff came out.
Oftentimes, the women are forced to live inside the parlor.
"It's very sad," Comte said. "Their dignity is being stripped from them and they don't even realize it."
Authorities say they believe it's common for the women to sleep inside the same spas they work in, often sharing beds in the same room. Police say there are roughly two sex workers per parlor, which works out to about 70 women working in El Paso County alone.
But before they get to Colorado Springs, where do these women come from?
"Our experience here are these women are usually from [North or South] Korea and China, and they usually come into the West Coast through California and then make their way eastward," Comte said.
The women are usually in their late teens to early 20s when they reach the West Coast, but by the time they get here, they've been working for several years.
"These women will start out their younger years in the bigger markets. There's more demand for it and more of a customer base for it, but then as they age, younger girls come in to take their place ... that's where we start to see them in Colorado Springs," Comte said.
Comte said after that much time in the sex trade, many of them don't feel like they have a choice and don't feel there is something else that life has to offer them.
Contact your local representative:
Colorado Springs City Council:
Councilmember Don Knight, District 1
Phone: (719) 385-5487
Councilmember David Geislinger, District 2
Phone: (719) 385-5493
Councilmember Richard Skorman, District 3 (Council President)
Phone: (719) 385-5470
Councilmember Yolanda Avila, District 4
Phone: (719) 385-5492
Councilmember Jill Gaebler, District. 5
Phone: (719) 385-5483
Councilmember Andres Pico, District 6
Phone: (719) 385-5491
Councilmember Bill Murray, At-Large Representative
Phone: (719) 385-5485
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org(link sends e-mail)
Facebook: Bill Murray, Colorado Springs At-Large Council Member
Councilmember and President Pro-tem, Tom Strand
Phone: (719) 385-5486
Councilmember Wayne Williams, At-Large Representative
Phone: (719) 385-7720
El Paso County Commissioners:
Holly Williams - District 1
Phone: (719) 520-6411
Mark Waller - District 2
Phone: (719) 520-6412
Stan VanderWerf - District 3
Phone: (719) 520-6413
Longinos Gonzalez - District 4
Phone: (719) 520-6414
Cami Bremer - District 5
Phone: (719) 520-6415