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Politics / Issues

Tampa Passes Stricter Regulations On Massage Parlors

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
The Tampa City Council voted unanimously to approve the bathhouses ordinance on Thursday morning.

New regulations on Tampa's massage parlors and bath houses have been approved by the city council.

The new ordinance forces any businesses offering bathing as a service to provide human trafficking classes for its employees and submit to background checks. These businesses are frequently accused of being fronts for illicit sex work.

The ordinance also forces these businesses to close by 10 p.m. and open their doors to yearly inspections by law enforcement.

Niki Cross, a human trafficking activist, said she hopes the new ordinance will help close down an outlet for trafficking.

Cross was herself a victim of sex trafficking when she was just 15.

"There's been too many investigations where officers have gone in and been able to report that 'No this isn't a straight up massage parlor,'" she said. "But we haven't been into enough yet."

The Tampa City Council voted unanimously to approve the bathhouses ordinance on Thursday morning. Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin of District 3 was absent for the vote.

Councilman Luis Viera of District 7 read a note he said he received from the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office indicating that the state attorney was not interested in prosecuting victims of sex trafficking for prostitution.

Opponents of the ordinance argued that it would  it would re-victimize sex workers by arresting them, rather than the people who actually benefit from trafficking.

Julie Solace, co-founder of the Sex Workers Solidarity Network, said she believed the ordinance further enables harassment and surveillance of sex workers, but said she is opposed to forced trafficking.

"[The ordinance] is not very cognizant of the effect it could have on victims," she said. "I think it's using the arm of the law to push for more tightened legislation, rather than more compassionate legislation."

The new ordinance also requires any business considered a bath house to apply for a new license every year. It does not affect existing regulations on bath houses, massage parlors or saunas not offering the service.

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