Know Before You Go

As part of our anti-human trafficking media campaign, we want to make sure that the public has the information they need to make safe choices when patronizing businesses. Not all businesses in Houston are necessarily involved in human trafficking—but it’s important to be an informed consumer. It’s also important to know what to look for so that you can report a tip to the national hotline.

Massage Establishments

  • Double-Check its State License: Visit the Texas Department of State Health Services to see if an establishment is licensed: Know, however, that an illicit establishment may secure a license to give the appearance of legitimacy. For example, in 2015, 9 out of 240 illicit massage establishments did have their license.
    • Foot Massage: Businesses offering foot massage are regulated neither by the State of Texas nor by the City of Houston. Many unlicensed establishments offer foot massages to circumvent regulations.
  • Consult Reputable Buyer Review Boards: Read reviews, such as those posted on Yelp, to see if customers allude to, or imply in any way, that a business offers illicit services. Refrain though from only relying on this strategy to assess the legitimacy of an establishment.
  • Hours of Operation: By Houston ordinance, legitimate massage establishments may open at 8 am, but they must close by 10 pm. Avoid establishments that advertises 24/7 spa or massage services.
  • Surrounding Neighborhood: Illicit establishments may blend into a neighborhood by being situated next to legitimate businesses. Do not assume that an establishment is legitimate if it operates, for example, in a suburban or well-to-do area.
  • Building Appearance: Illicit massage establishments often use neon signs and feature opaque or even barred-up windows. Such establishments are also often known to use surveillance systems to monitor staff and clientele—not just for legitimate security concerns.
  • Irregular Staff: Women who are trafficked are often rotated between different illicit massage establishments around the country every 2-3 weeks.
  • Appearance and Demeanor of Staff: Traffickers control every aspect of their victims’ lives. Take notice if workers are especially anxious and fearful, or if they show signs of poor physical and mental health.
  • Conversation with Staff: Ask your masseuse when you make future appointments if they indicate days that they are off. Pay attention to warning signs when workers speak. Indicators vary from them alluding to not being in control of their lives to not being aware of where they work and live.

Nail Salons

  • Scope of Problem: In comparison to other metropolitan areas, such as New York City, labor trafficking in Houston-area nail salons is likely less of a documented problem—but it still exists.
    • For in-depth coverage of labor trafficking in nail salons in New York City, read Sarah Maslin Nir’s investigative article “The Price of Nice Nails”(published on May 7th, 2015).
  • Double-Check its State License: Nail salons must maintain its license with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation—however, labor trafficking can occur even in a nail salon that secures and maintains a license. Nevertheless, you can still research if a nail salon has a history of citations by visiting: You can search or verify licenses for estheticians/manicurists as well as search for violations. Health code violations are not necessarily indicators of human trafficking.
  • Cost: Be wary of establishments that offer extremely low-cost manicures and pedicures—for example, at or below $20. If a nail salon offers services below market value, they must make up that cost in overhead—namely, by paying its workers less than subsistence-level wages. When in doubt, its best to pay a market price.
  • Supervisor-Staff Relationship: Be suspicious of those managers who forbid their staff to say anything (and speak for them instead)—outside though of assisting someone who has English-language limitations.
  • Hours Worked by Staff: Women whose labor is trafficked often work long hours at a given business without having regular breaks or lunch periods. Take notice if you regularly see an individual consistently working at all hours of the day week by week. Ask the person who does your nails when you can make future appointments to see if they indicate certain days that they are off.