Politics & Government

Trying to fight sex trafficking, Tacoma limits massage business hours

Massage businesses in Tacoma will no longer be able to operate in the late night and early morning hours.

The Tacoma City Council passed an ordinance late Tuesday that limits their hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The move came at the suggestion of Councilman Marty Campbell, who introduced the legislation in September as a way to cut down on illegal sex trafficking and prostitution.

Campbell referenced busts this year that shut down nine massage businesses in Lakewood and Tacoma in prostitution stings.

Those places “were operating and calling themselves massage parlors, but what we found is they were open all hours of the day and you had a steady clientele of men coming and going at 2 in the morning,” Campbell said at a meeting last week, at which the legislation was introduced. “The massages that they were looking for at 2 in the morning are not what most massage practitioners go to school to get a license in.”

At the time of the sting, police would not say whether sex trafficking was involved, citing the ongoing investigation. Campbell described the businesses in a post on his Facebook page as “human trafficking operations masquerading as massage parlors” and cited involvement of Homeland Security, the South Sound Child Exploitation Task Force and the Missing & Exploited Children’s Task Force as evidence of human trafficking of foreign nationals.

“This helps with really making it so that we don’t have all-night massage parlors going on anymore — what we had happening in the city of Tacoma was human trafficking. People were being brought in, forced to work in these massage parlors, and the amount of money they made depended on the services they offered, and that’s not acceptable in the city of Tacoma,” Campbell said.

The ordinance adopts language from state law that allows the city to charge a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor to the business owner and the massage practitioner when a person is found to be providing massage services without a state license. Those businesses won’t be allowed to advertise that they are conducting a specific service on the property unless the people conducting the service have valid licenses to do so.

“I’ve heard from several massage practitioners. They’re very thankful we’re bringing this forward,” Campbell said last week. “Prostitution and human trafficking trying to masquerade in an industry that they’re trying to work in makes their job hard.”

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud