GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. - After an investigation that lasted nearly a year, two women are free from a tiny, cluttered room inside the Stoney Creek Spa, and free from a closed-off world of prostitution and human trafficking.
Guilford County investigators arrested one woman, accused of running an illegitimate spa business with disturbing secrets.
Lixiang Chen, 52, is behind bars, but investigators say this is just the beginning of what they're calling a lengthy investigation.
In the Magistrate's Orders regarding this case, and in the documents, it's never explicitly spelled out as 'human trafficking.’ But with charges like these: two felony counts of promoting prostitution, and one count of continuing a criminal enterprise, the Sheriff's Office wants you to read between the lines.
In the unassuming shopping center in Whitsett, N.C., just off I-40, investigators say Chen ran a "spa,” but it was much more than that. From the documents, it sounds more like a brothel, where police say Chen got a portion of the money by prostituting the two victims.
Investigators say two Chinese Nationals, ages 33 and 46, lived there, sleeping in bunk beds when they weren't working.
Rachel Parker with World Relief Triad worked with the Sheriff's Office, helping the victims get immediate help after this arrest. But for this kind of unthinkable trauma, anyone put in this position will likely need help for years to come.
“Once those barriers are taken down, and it is suddenly freeing, you do not know where your new boundaries are,” she said, “What happens now if you upset someone? Where is that marker? Where is that defining point? The freedom sometimes can be very concerning, to them because they don't know what their structure is. They don’t know how to navigate that.”
Chen is in jail, and she'll be in court next month. Sheriff Barnes says he expects more arrests.