Roseville fighting illicit massage businesses

Law-abiding massage therapists are jumping through frustrating hoops in Roseville.

An effort to stop prostitution and sex trafficking are underway in Roseville.

In June of this year, Roseville City Council passed stricter regulations on the massage industry and created permits specifically for massage businesses.

The side effect, however, is that law-abiding massage therapists are having to take extra, sometimes redundant steps, which can be frustrating.

Diana Ellering, who owns Restoration Massage by Diana in Roseville, said the fight against illicit massage businesses is important, "but I don't think the means of implementing it are quite solid yet."

She applied for and received the city's new permit specifically for massage business owners. It costs $28 the first time and has to be renewed every two years, at $25.

Roseville Police public information office Dee Dee Gunther said it's not about the money.

"We're really here to keep our communities safe and clean for everybody and to uphold all the good therapists out there," she said. "Almost every jurisdiction we know has some kind of massage permitting process in place. It's very, very common. Not unusual for Roseville at all."

The city's previous ordinance against prostitution and sex trafficking in the massage industry targeted individual therapists - not massage businesses. That allowed therapists suspected of prostitution to skip town, Gunther said, while the business that facilitated their work could remain open. The new permitting system and set of requirements allow the city to target business owners.

"We know that there are still some illicit businesses operating out there, and we'll get to them," she said.

The new permit requires business owners to maintain liability insurance up to $1 million, avoid sexually-charged advertisements and keep a log of all clients and practitioners if the business owner employs therapists.

"If you have employees that you're responsible for, then you need to maintain their identification and their training records and things like that so that we can look at them if we need to," Gunther said.

The permit also requires massage business owners to get fingerprinted, but Ellering said she already got fingerprinted through the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), which certifies therapists statewide.

"We went the state certification route so we didn't have to do all these extra steps, like a second Live Scan with the same fingerprints," Ellering said. "It's double coverage, it doesn't make sense, but we all understand that the underlying theme is to get those people out that shouldn't be here."

She said the fingerprinting she had to do for the new permit cost her about $66.

The new permit also requires that massage business owners have 125 hours of massage-related education. That's not enough, Ellering said, and sets the bar too low, especially considering the CAMTC requires 500 hours. She thinks the city should raise that minimum education requirement.

"I think the higher requirement of hours will weed out some of the more illicit places that shouldn't be here," she said.

Gunther said the 125-hour requirement came from talks with some existing massage business owners.

"We had some therapists in town who had about that amount of education, and they had an established client base and they were doing fine and they said, 'Hey, why should we have to go through the CAMTC and get all those hours? We don't want to, we don't need to for our business,' and so we kept our requirement down to 125 hours," Gunther explained. "But if they have more than that and they can show us their certificate from their school, that's awesome."

Ellering said she doesn't buy that reason.

"Even those that have been in the industry for 20 years, I mean, they've had enough continuing education to where, unless they've had a red flag against them, making the minimum 125 hours to grandfather them in, I think, is kind of an excuse," she said.

In terms of keeping track of clients, Ellering said she's worried an inspector will ask to view her client log, which contains sensitive information, including some medical history.

"With the clients, we're not asking to look at their client records," Gunther said. "What we're asking them to do is to maintain some kind of log, whether it's in the computer or whether it's on paper, or who is coming in for a massage, and we're asking them to check their ID to make that they really are who they say they are and have some mechanism of tracking that. We're not going to look at those records without a search warrant, but we just are asking them to keep those records, should the need arise."

It's a "people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear type situation," Gunther said.

"Should we have to do an investigation later, perhaps of prostitution activities, we might want to go out and get a search warrant and ask for those client logs, and so we're just asking them to maintain them but we're not going to ask them to produce them and show them to us without a search warrant," she said.

Roseville Police have recently begun compliance checks on the changes implemented this summer. They've visited 80 massage therapy businesses so far.

"The vast majority of them were largely in compliance. There may have been a few technical violations where there was some confusion over paperwork, and they just got a warning, you know, and hopefully a little bit of explanation of what is required and the detectives promising the come back another month just to make sure everything was fixed," Gunther said.

However, seven other businesses were cited for "more serious, concerning violations, where it did look like there might be some illicit activity going on," Gunther said. "Perhaps having sleeping quarters inside for their therapists. That's a red flag for trafficking. Having clients come in through the back door instead of the front door, that's another red flag."

She said Roseville police treat prostitution and sex trafficking differently. While prostitution is a crime, people involved in trafficking are victims, coerced into sex work. The police department offers those victims services, not jail.

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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