Massage therapists say permit system could reduce trafficking in fake massage parlors

Council members agreed to let massage therapists consult with police and help revise the ordinance.

The city of Coralville is taking new steps to prevent human trafficking operations disguised at massage parlors.

This comes after former Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill into law last year on the subject, which gave cities the authority to require licenses for massage businesses. Few cities, including Johnston, have been using this law to create requirements for massage operations in their area and crack down on illegitimate locations.

"Iowa is very open to the practicing of massage therapy," said resident Darryl Dodd.

Dodd, who is a licensed massage therapist in Coralville says human trafficking operations disguised as massage parlors exist in the area and are hurting the industry.

"Even if they do have a massage license, they might have staff or people working for them that do not have a license," said Dodd. He said no regulation by the city makes it harder for police to have any authority on shutting down those illegal businesses.

"We will not tolerate any kind of prostitution and human trafficking of any kind in Coralville," said Coralville City Council member Jill Dodds. "We're just not that kind of town."

In June, the city introduced an ordinance that mimicked some of the regulations the city of Johnston enacted. It stated that massage businesses must fill a one-time application for a permit to operate and police would have the authority to deny or approve the permit based after background checks.

"They're going to be able to go in and not only close the places down, but keep them from opening up in the area," said Dodd.

Many therapists agree giving police the tools they need to narrow down which practices are not legitimate could work to eliminate human trafficking operations.

However, other provisions in the proposal left some therapists concerned about their own businesses.

"We would just like to not be mixed in with the whole bunch," said Dodd.

The ordinance also stated businesses could only operate between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Therapists like Dodd said this would hurt their ability to help all of the patients they see.

"I've been working till 1 o'clock in the morning," said Dodd. He often works with athletes after they finish in a tournament or event.

After discussing it with the business practices in Coralville, the city agreed to let massage therapists consult with police and to help revise the ordinance.

"Everyone is being able to put their input in," he said.

The city council is expected to review a new draft of the ordinance at a work session on July 24.

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