City Ordinance Debates Licensed Massage Therapy, Sex Trafficking

Human TraffickingLaw & Policy

The city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa is debating a new local ordinance that seeks to shut down illicit massage parlors linked to human trafficking.

However, the ordinance has come under criticism as licensed massage therapists do not want to be tied to language around sex trafficking, while others say the proposal lacks support for trafficking victims.

Under the proposed ordinance, massage businesses in Cedar Rapids would have to be licensed through the city and they would be barred from employing anyone who is not licensed by the state to practice massage therapy.

Furthermore, it calls for disclosure of business information, including location, hours of operation and services provided, as well as a list of all employees, their criminal histories, and proof they are licensed by the state.

The Gazette reports that local massage therapists want the ordinance to focus squarely on licensing:

“Massage therapists didn’t want any language about prostitution or sex trafficking included in the ordinance,” said SAFE-CR Program Manager Amanda Greider. “They only wanted the facts about how they would be licensed, because that language could be harmful to their businesses.”

Wahneta Dimmer, who started Hands in Harmony Spa, said she lobbied hard to have the language scrubbed of any reference to sexual activity, prostitution or human trafficking.

“We understand that human trafficking and prostitution is a problem and that they’re hiding behind our shingle,” she said. “But if an ordinance is going to be written to regulate legitimate massage therapy businesses, it cannot include any sexual language because that has nothing to do [with] what we do.”

Dimmer said if the real goal behind this ordinance is to target human trafficking and other types of exploitation, then the city should write different rules.

As it stands, the current draft of the ordinance does shy away from mentioning prostitution and human trafficking.

Cedar Rapids officials have also received public feedback on how effective the ordinance would be in supporting victims.

Christian Shields, a pastor with Christian Life Church, said “I haven’t seen any language about victims, (and) I believe this should be a victim-oriented approach.”

“In my experience, shutting down businesses does not free women from human trafficking,” he said.

“All it causes them to do is be trafficked elsewhere or be trafficked deeper underground. I really appreciate that something is being done, and I support the CRPD fully in working to address this, but it seems to me that … this ordinance is going to be woefully ineffective in actually rescuing women who have been trafficked.”

Last week city council members voted 2-1 to table to proposed ordinance next month. City Council member Dale Todd said he would like to see a cost analysis before implementation, while City Council member Ashley Vanorny agreed that more needed to be included on victim support.

“It’s a good start,” said Vanorny. “That being said, I still have a lot of reservations about where we’re at currently with this.”

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