Tampa City leaders are closer to cracking down on Massage Parlors that do a little more than the average massage.
This is all part of a long-awaited draft ordinance, that passed the first step to becoming local law.
Council members asked Tampa Assistant City Attorney, Michael Schmid to rewrite the current Bathhouse ordinance during a September 28th meeting.
It was written in the late 1980's and has many gray areas that allowed these illicit massage parlor establishments to stay open.
It also made it difficult for Tampa police officers to shut them down or make an arrest.
Thursday morning, Council members approved the draft and will have its first reading on December 21st. It then must pass a second reading before being approved.
Schmid made it clear during the September meeting that many of these “businesses” shut down and reopen under a new name, which prompts police to restart the investigation.
Some of the changes made are as follows:
- They must have a daily log of clients
- Clients will not be allowed to enter through a rear door
- Managers and employers must have a permit to operate and it will now be harder to get said permit
- Must go through a waiting period to get a permit
- Managers and employers will be required to take a human trafficking course
- They will be inspected regularly by the city. Currently, they are not.
- A bathhouse operator or manager is to be assigned to ensure lawful operation
- Set limits on the hours of operation of a bathhouse
- Requires property owners to disclose information and be responsible for certain violations
- Allows enforcement to be shared between the Planning and Development Department, Tampa Police Department, and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, depending on the punishment being sought.
Upon applying for a permit, the person will need to provide a photo ID issued by a government agency along with listing all criminal charges they’ve been convicted off.
TPD will also conduct a pre-inspection of the bathhouse and provide a report of findings to the PDD. (Planning and Development Department)
Three women who were sex trafficked on streets here in Tampa shared their stories in front of council members during the meeting.
They spoke so that others could understand why passing the ordinance to protect victims is crucial.
“Folks have said to me, they made a choice. Well, you know what, I was 15-years-old and I made a "choice" to be a prostitute, because quite honestly, I didn't know what else to do. I was being sexually abused from the time I was two,” says sex-trafficking survivor, Connie Rose.
Another sex-trafficking survivor, Chelsea Hernandez, has helped many local women leave these illicit massage parlors, where she says they get raped multiple times a day.
“We build relationships with these women that are working there so they build trust with us, and they know they have a safe place where they can talk to us,” says Hernandez.
Rochelle Kahoon with Polaris, a national nonprofit working to combat human trafficking, says this updated ordinance will no doubt run these parlors off, but they will adapt to changes as they have in the past.
Members of Polaris also brought the website "Rub-maps" to the attention of Tampa council members.
It's a website where users can share feedback on massage parlors that offer sex.
Quotes from local men, who gave reviews on women at certain parlors, were read out loud to council members.
WARNING. The quote is graphic.
“This place was good for the price but Anne's mood was kinda killing my vibe. I hate sad providers. On the flip, I had a few attempts to get a feel and she was giving me a lot of resistance. I told her I needed a happy ending and even though she was less than thrilled, she did her thing.”
Polaris has been working with the City of Tampa on this draft ordinance to figure out what needs to be updated.
They've also been flying in from Washington for the past eight months to attend each city council meeting on cracking down on these parlors.
“They went to neighboring towns that had no ordinance or were much more lax in their enforcement of those ordinances,” says Kahoon.
For now, advocates of sex trafficking victims say this is a step in the right direction.
We’ve done several stories on the group “Clean up Kennedy” who had protested for weeks outside many of these parlors.
►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10 News app now.