On February 27, 2022, Xui Li Kong, 57, Jing Zhang, 40, and Hua Li, 59, were indicted by a federal grand jury in New Castle County. Delaware. They are each charged with one count of Criminal Racketeering, Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Racketeering, Human Trafficking, Promoting Prostitution, Money Laundering, Conspiracy, Criminal Nuisance, and Operating a Massage Establishment without a License.
According to the indictment, from March 2020 to February 2023, Kong, Zhang, and Li allegedly ran illicit massage businesses in North Wilmington and Newark in Delaware. Search warrants executed at the defendants’ personal residences and three of the illicit massage businesses revealed that female victims were living in the establishments in unsanitary conditions. Further, the victims were forced to perform sex acts for sex buyers.
Buying sex and sexual exploitation are inherently linked, if there is a demand for sex there will be sexual exploitation. Therefore, it is imperative that law enforcement officers are utilizing their resources with the purpose of ending commercial sexual exploitation and keeping communities safe. It is important they remember that by targeting demand, they are also targeting the root cause of sexual exploitation. Illicit massage businesses, like the Rainbow 7 Spa and Royal 7Spa, exist because there are customers – sex buyers – patronizing their business.
The CSE Institute supports the Equality Model to combat commercial sexual exploitation. Commercial sexual exploitation has decreased in countries where the Equality Model has been implemented. The Equality Model consists of four key elements: (1) decriminalization of the prostituted person, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and facilitators with a commitment to treating buying sex as a serious crime, (3) a public education campaign about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) funded, robust, holistic exit services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model directly targets the demand for buying sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers, while decriminalizing the people who are being bought and sold for commercial sex. Furthermore, the decriminalization of people in prostitution recognizes those who are bought and sold for sex as exploited, not as perpetrators of a crime.
Illicit massage businesses are one of the most common venues for sex buyers. Other common venues include hotels, strip clubs, recreational facilities, and residential brothels. Victims of illicit massage businesses are often immigrants of Eastern Asian descent, which allows for their victimization and exploitation, forcing them into the sex trade. Notably, victims in these businesses are often promised different work and a better quality of life, and are then trapped in a different reality where they are treated as fetishized commodities. The complicated intersections of race, ethnicity, immigration, and class vulnerabilities often prevent victims of trafficking from coming forward due to fear of prosecution.
The CSE Institute applauds the U.S. Attorney’s Office for effectively pursuing sex traffickers and providing justice to victims and survivors. The CSE Institute also urges law enforcement and the district attorney’s office to work with local municipalities to adopt ordinances that target those businesses and establishments promoting prostitution, while simultaneously supporting victims. Further, by focusing investigatory efforts on sex buyers, law enforcement can disrupt the market demand for commercial sex.
The CSE Institute will continue to provide updates on the sentencing in this matter.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.