Letter Writer: Massage Licensing Will Not Solve Prostitution Problem
Kathryn Z. Berg reiterates stance: measure will not limit prostitution in Woodbury.
I see that the City of Woodbury has jumped on the massage therapy licensing bandwagon, thinking it is going to solve prostitution problems that occur within city limits. This will not solve the problem.
I sympathize with the plight of the children and women who are forced into slavery through the sex trades. It is awful. Women who are fooled into thinking their life will get better if they come to America, become beaten down and can’t get out. There are more people in slavery today than any other time in history.
But the fact remains that there will not be a dent placed in the world’s oldest profession via a massage therapy licensing ordinance in Woodbury.
There are several reasons why the city should not license Massage Therapists and why any massage therapist in Woodbury would not want to be licensed.
Licensing massage therapists does not stop prostitution. Florida has had state licensing since 1939. If you do a Google search on massage therapists in Florida (or any other state), you will find listings of businesses with titles like, “Happy Ending Massage and Spa (with comments)” or “Double Dragon Massage.”
In Florida, the prostitutes are also massage therapists. They have gone to school, have a state license, and can’t be shut down any more easily than if they didn’t have a license. The police still have to go undercover and they still have to undress, just as they do now, and wait to be offered an illegal activity. It may help at first, but over time, the pimps will figure a way around the laws.
Do we know what percentage of the prostitution problem in Woodbury comes from people posing as Massage Therapists versus the other sources of the problem, such as CraigsList, Twitter and other internet sources? Will it really solve anything, or is it just getting to a very small portion of the problem? I recently had a conversation with former St. Paul Police chief, and now State Sen. John Harrington, about this issue.
The gist of our conversation is that he feels it is very old fashioned to be spending resources and energy in licensing the massage therapists. With the internet there are so many other ways to run a prostitution business, while bricks and mortar are on their way out.
Don’t kid yourself. The police know who the prostitutes are and who they aren’t. They recognize sex slavery. Why try to solve a small portion of the problem on the backs of massage therapists. We need to support Woodbury’s prostitution and adult entertainment ordinance. Perhaps City Council should start there, rather than a massage therapy licensing ordinance.
Why should a massage therapist, who is serving the community and may be supporting their family and trying to make ends meet, be met with suspicion in Woodbury? Why do they have to prove they are innocent. I believe the constitution still says we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Do we really want to criminalize a sector of our economy for no reason? Remember, the police know who the massage therapists are. Just ask any officer.
Many massage therapists in Woodbury think they favor licensing. In the draft ordinance, it refers to “the protection of the city’s legitimate massage therapists’ profession and reputation.” In reality, it truly does little to protect the Massage Therapist.
Too many massage therapists think this is the equivalent of a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for massage therapists. As a business owner and resident of Woodbury, I’d love to have the city give me a Seal of Approval for $50 a year. But the fact is, it is meaningless.
Our reputations are earned, not given by the city.
It is not the responsibility of City Hall to protect someone’s reputation. Just because I sell some furniture on CraigsList doesn’t mean I am automatically grouped with those posers who sell “massage services” on a website.
Similarly, a massage therapy business should not be automatically associated with a prostitution business that has a massage sign on the building. Many, many occupations have “bad eggs” which spoil the reputation of others. Is the city going to step up and help them?
I have been told by both the city administrator and the mayor that the massage therapists want this regulation. Sure, why wouldn’t they.
Basically they are having the city do some marketing for them. It is the best $50 on marketing any of them will have spent. But just because someone wants something doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Any good parent knows that. What if they wanted steaks every Sunday? Would you give them that?
Furthermore, since the cost of the license has been dropped dramatically, it means that all the residents, that is taxpayers, will be subsidizing the marketing of massage therapists. If you are going to do this, at least make them pay their own way. If the city wants to elevate the profession, perhaps they ought to declare an annual Massage Therapy Week and let the therapists do some marketing around that.
What most people don’t realize is the a license ultimately means the city will have the ability to go into your business at any time, without probable cause or warrant, to check on you and what you are up to. A license would allow them to do that. Why would any business owner want to give up their privacy? Don’t give up that right. It isn’t worth it. It is a slippery slope once you start giving up your right to privacy, even if you aren't doing anything wrong. Hang your diploma on the wall next to your Client Bill of Rights (pursuant to MN Statute 146A), earn your reputation in competency, and forget the Seal of Approval from a prostitution ordinance posing as a Massage Therapy license.
Massage Therapy and other Complementary and Alternative Practitioners have been regulated by the State of Minnesota since 2001. The Complementary and Alternative Freedom Access Bill (Minnesota Statute 146A) created an Office of Complementary and Alternative Practices (OCAP) within the Department of Health which investigates complaints on Complementary and Alternative practitioners in Minnesota. This includes not only Massage Therapists, but homeopaths, naturopaths, rolfers, colon hydrotherapists, etc. A quick Google search will show that OCAP has shut down businesses in Minnesota. There have been roughly 100 complaints since its inception in 2001 and only about 20 actionable complaints. Massage Therapists are the group with the largest number of complaints, but then there are, by far, more Massage Therapists than any other modality in Minnesota. MN Statute 146A is a consumer protection law and it works.
One could argue that the citizens of Woodbury aren’t currently protected from prostitution adequately under current ordinances. If that is so, then the ordinance must be about Prostitution or Adult Entertainment, not about Massage Therapy. Woodbury’s Massage Therapists are NOT harming the citizens of Woodbury, but Woodbury could be harming innocent citizens.
Statute 146A does require that non-licensed (by the state) therapists give their clients a Bill of Rights and have them sign it and keep it in a file. The johns are probably not going to sign a piece of paper with their name on it. It is a simple way to shut down a business. No undressing necessary.
National Groups like the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has been moving individuals into states like Minnesota to try to get state licensure passed. The AMTA currently has a non-Minnesotan whom they presented as a licensing expert who is concerned about protecting citizens from the therapists and advancing the profession. Unfortunately, advancing the profession is not among the criteria for implementing licensure in Minnesota as spelled out in MN Stat 214. The reason they have been unable to pass licensure is that MN Statute 214 requires that there is a risk of harm and the harm must be recognizable and not remote. In 2010 they were unable to provide the Senate Health Committee that information. No consumer protection group has ever brought forth a massage therapy licensing bill in any state in the United States. It is always the schools and the associations, who are hoping to gain more business through requiring education and CEU’s. Licensing Massage Therapists is always about protecting turf and not about protecting citizens. The consumers are already protected in Minnesota by Statute 146A. It usually ends up that one massage therapist will turn in another massage therapist for not having a license. You can figure out why.
The AMTA has sold the city Snake Oil in the form of a massage therapy ordinance to fix the prostitution problem. Why would you buy something that you know doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for other cities in identical situations?
If the AMTA and similar groups were really concerned about the citizens of Minnesota they would have supported the change to MN Statute 609 which makes it a felony if a massage therapist is convicted of sexual impropriety with a client.
If the AMTA were really concerned about the Massage Therapists of Woodbury, they would have included a reciprocity section in this ordinance, which they helped draft. Currently our neighbor to the north, the city of Oakdale, requires a massage therapy license. Why should someone who has already gone through the background check there also have to apply for a license in Woodbury. Shouldn’t they just be granted one through some form of reciprocity? It would also improve the business climate in Woodbury to include such a feature. Shouldn’t the AMTA be working to make the massage therapy ordinances in all cities reciprocal? If you are trying to get state licensure, you wouldn’t do that. You would hope to license so many cities that pretty soon the state acquiesces and passes a state licensing statute, much like what happened with building contractors.
I am glad that the city of Woodbury is concerned about protecting its citizens. I honor their work to protect the victims of sex trafficking. A recent document entitled Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota published by the Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis only mentions Massage Parlors as a front for sex trafficking and does not, in any place in the document, recommend licensing massage therapists as a way to manage the problem. They recognize who the victims are and who the perpetrators are. Massage Therapists aren’t the problem. Let’s leave them alone.
—Kathryn Z. Berg, MA, CCH, Woodbury, MN
Vice President, Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project (MNHLRP.org)