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Massage Today
July, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 07

When Massage Isnít Legitimate

Professional Massage Therapists Struggle to Separate Themselves from Illegal Prostitution Rings

By Dixie Wall, Contributing Editor

Enormous amounts of illegal activities are conducted and advertised under the guise of massage therapy in publications for all types of races, genders and even sexual preferences.

This is a multi-million dollar business and massage seems to be one of the most common ways to cover up the operations of these prostitution rings. Should professional massage therapists be striving to create an obvious distinction for themselves? The opinions vary on what exactly should be done to separate legitimate massage therapists as professionals.

In Santa Ana, Calif., there is an ongoing federal investigation targeting the Jung Organization, accused of human trafficking and harboring illegal immigrants. This operation allegedly transported Korean nationals into the country with the intent to engage them in prostitution. The charges include money laundering through the massage parlor industry.

The investigation led to four more arrests after a 40-count indictment was unsealed later in federal court. The accused head of a string of Los Angeles-area brothels is among the four charged in an ongoing multi-agency investigation. In response, the Feds seized more than $4 million in assets, including four motor cross tracks.

Jong Ock Mao, 47, (aka "June,") head of the brothel operation, was arrested April 11th in Madisonville, Texas. Federal agents also arrested Edward Lutt, 43, of Paramount, Calif., and Randall Johnson, 51, of Los Angeles. Additionally, Charles Fields of Long Beach, Calif., is being sought. Lutt is suspected of managing the operations while Johnson and Fields were the so-called owners of the brothels, despite the fact that Mao was the "de-facto owner," according to the indictment. The brothels were located in a variety of different businesses, including spas, tanning salons, massage parlors, chiropractic offices and acupuncture clinics.

This recent series of arrests involves conduct that has existed since the beginning of recorded time. The complexities include human rights, the harboring and transporting of illegal immigrants and, sometimes, the very abusive treatment of women. Most were brought to America only with the impression for them to "massage" (prostitute) until their entry fee was paid off. What's presently being done about this horrifying situation?

San Francisco's solution was a law which began in July 2004 that relaxed the permit process and clearly distinguished therapeutic massage therapists from adult entertainers. This shifts the authority of regulation from the police department to the department of public health and creates a two-tiered system that recognizes "therapeutic massage practitioners" on the one hand and "adult entertainment massage workers" on the other. The first system is required to have 100 hours to practice, while the advanced practitioner is required to have 200 educational hours.

On the San Francisco Massage Ordinance Web site, the San Francisco Coalition of Therapeutic Massage and Body work Practitioners, a group of professional massage therapists, said, "Most [San Francisco] elected officials have no desire to wipe out the massage parlors, so the net result is that therapeutic practitioners have to coexist with adult entertainment practitioners. We have come to the best compromise that we believe possible at this time...We feel that the DPH is more responsive to the needs of therapeutic practitioners than the police department has been and support the creation of an Advanced Massage Practitioner better define the distinction between adult entertainment and therapeutic massage practitioners."

Moreover, therapeutic massage practitioners deserve to be seen as professionals. This leaves the responsibility to dispute the connection of massage with prostitution to the therapists. In Orange County, Calif., the problems recently have subsided due to the extraordinarily high requirements for getting city permits to do massage therapy. Police departments are busy examining, fingerprinting and giving written tests to prove validity. This does not solve the entire problem of association with the sex industry; however, it does require a lot of expensive and time-consuming work for therapists to prove their validity to the police department.

Some say efforts to legalize prostitution make the most sense and will officially separate the industries. Brian Goodwin, BA, NCTMB and a massage therapist for more than 10 years, suggested "an interview process with clients before business to avoid embarrassing solicitation from happening." Goodwin also said, "If my primary business problem is prostitutes/clients confusing massage and prostitution, I need to ask why this problem exists and look for answers...Maybe we could stop using the word massage." But does allowing the adult entertainment industry to be legally regulated say that therapists agree the behavior is morally correct?

This lack of distinction between bodywork and prostitution causes more suffering to the public as well as massage therapists. Every day, more people are experiencing the health benefits that come with receiving regular massage. However, many are still skeptical due to the common perception that massage somehow is linked to prostitution. By making the significant difference clear in the public eye, these hesitations and embarrassing situations might be prevented from happening. The public would more likely be open to trying massage if they knew they were in a legit situation, where they could feel comfortable and safe in the hands of an educated and professional therapist.

Nevertheless, Beverly May, co-chair of government relations for the AMTA, explains "the intent of massage regulation at the state level is not to prevent prostitution under the guise of massage, but to pull massage therapists out of local regulation intended for prostitution that currently regulate massage. One of the reasons some massage therapists state that they oppose state regulation is that they don't feel it will stop prostitution in the guise of massage, just like it still occurs under other state-licensed professions. But the weakness of that argument is that even though prostitution may occur under acupuncture and chiropractic, acupuncturists and chiropractors are not regulated as vice. Those who violate the law are charged and may lose their licenses. In massage, we are all treated as a vice issue under most local regulations."

However, for the rest of California, it looks like SB412, the current bill in California for state licensing, will pass through the appropriations committee next year. According to May, "the hearing will now not be until thing for sure it will be interesting to see how local ordinances, from the tough Orange County ones, to the odd San Francisco one, will apply when SB412 passes." It seems any issue within the industry will be easier to work on as a whole when everyone shares the same state-recognized license. Along with state regulation, a board of massage professionals will be created to look out for common professional interests. 


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