The sex trade in St. John's is carried out on street corners and hotel rooms, but a large part happens right in front of the city's eyes, though most people never see it.

Four women who have worked in adult massage parlours agreed to tell their stories, detailing a business that is thriving, varied in the services it provides, and sometimes dangerous.

CBC is not using the real names of the women, all of whom are in their 20s.

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The sex trade industry is carried out in plain view, on streets like Queen's Road in downtown St. John's. ((CBC))

"I first started off as a dancer here in town, and I heard from clients that there were such places as this," said Janice. "The way I look at it there was a fine line between what an exotic massager was and prostitution."

Massage parlours — not to be confused with therapeutic massage clinics — are often not hard to find. Many advertise prominently, while with others, you need to know where to look. Some operate in houses with boarded-up windows, while others are tucked next to businesses you may see everyday.

Exactly what is for sale varies from one parlour to the next.

"I work in an erotic massage parlor. Guys come in and they pay for usually a half an hour of my time," said Anastasia.

'That's part of the deal'

"You give a guy a bit of a back rub, and then he supposedly gives you a back rub but it's more like a boob rub, or whatever. And he, you know, probably feels you up a bit and then you ... do your thing," she said with a laugh.

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Cocaine and other drugs can become an ensnaring part of life for some sex-trade workers, as this re-enactment depicts. (CBC )

Asked to explain, she added, "You know, give him a hand job, obviously. That's part of the deal."

The women all insisted that in some massage parlours, that is as far it goes, with the women's hands staying on the outside — a strict "no oral, no insertion" rule.

However, they say there are other places with other rules, where sex — and drugs — are always for sale.

"Some of the girls would perform oral sex and they offer as well intercourse and stuff like that. In most cases those girls were on certain types of drugs," said Janice, a former employee of a massage parlour called AAA, or Ace Angels Agency.

That business is based on Queens Street, a small road across from St. John's City Hall. Owner Fred Doucette is now serving time for drug convictions following an arrest last year.

The women interviewed for this piece said hard drugs are part of the more dangerous side of the business.

"These owners, if they can, get the girls hooked on drugs, they're set," said Danika. "Because they're going to need to make money, they're going to need to do extras to make money to get high."

'Just really scary stuff'

In an interview, Janice said she recalls what happened to a colleague who went on a call. "She came back and she was completely covered in bruises. There was another incident as well where one of the girls that I know, she went out there and she got completely stranded out there for a day," she said.

"Just really scary stuff."

The women say different factors — shame, fear, addiction and debt — keep people from walking away.

"There are definitely people who are stuck and couldn't get out if they tried," said Anastasia.

With files from Zach Goudie