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"Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business. In terms of profits, it's on a path to overtake drug and arms trafficking," said Barry Tang, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement attache with the U. Once in the United States, traffickers most often set up shop in California, New York, Texas and Las Vegas. Traffickers fly the women to Canada or Mexico, and walk or drive them into California.

Relying on research from the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department estimates there are 14,500 to 17,500 human trafficking victims brought into the United States each year -- but does not quantify how many of those are sex victims. "The number will always be an estimate, because trafficking victims don't stand in line and raise their hands to be counted, but it's the best estimate we have," said Ambassador John Miller, director of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Chronicle photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice Send comments on this series to Chronicle photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice at [email protected] Girls try to get the attention of passersby at a bar in Dongduchon, South Korea.

Chronicle photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice Send comments on this series to Chronicle photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice at ...

more Many of San Francisco's Asian massage parlors -- long an established part of the city's sexually permissive culture -- have degenerated into something much more sinister: international sex slave shops.

Once limited to infamous locales such as Bombay and Bangkok, sex trafficking is now an $8 billion international business, with San Francisco among its largest commercial centers.

It's relatively easy for traffickers to evade authorities at the checkpoints -- land, air or sea -- because women still don't realize at that point that they are being tricked.

"It's not like the movies where you open a trunk and you interview them and they tell you everything," said Lauren Mack, special-agent-in-charge with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego.

When she failed, she was sent to the "touching room," a private suite where men could have their way with her for $400.